ELEVEN MICRO-MEMOIRS FROM THE PANDEMIC
by Freesia McKee
1. To mix the kimchi, I used two precious latex gloves, so that later, I could take out my contact lenses.
2. Took a long walk by myself. At the crosswalk on Biscayne, someone in a white work van held an N95 mask out the driver’s window in the hope that sunlight would kill the virus. I finished crossing the street, then burst into tears behind my own face covering. Such a safety measure is so inadequate, and yet, this seems to be about all we can do.
3. First COVID death here in Miami-Dade County yesterday. Early this morning, I saw Dmitri walking his dog. He said that the guy who died was his workout buddy at the muscle gym they both belonged to. “He was in his 40s, completely healthy, didn’t have HIV or nothing.” I wonder what it means to escape one pandemic and succumb to another.
4. Talked with her on the phone today. She’s waiting to postpone her wedding.
5. On my walk, I saw two men helping each other cut down a large tree with a chainsaw. Not only were they not wearing masks, they weren’t wearing any kind of eye protection, either.
6. Trump said a few hours ago that he thought injecting Lysol into the body might kill the coronavirus. On a scale of “it’s worse than I thought” to “it’s better than I thought” to “I told you so,” where are you, now, in relation to the level of personal horror you experienced in late 2016?
7. At a demonstration in Wisconsin denying the science of our sad reality, one suburbanite held a sign reading, “I WANT A HAIRCUT.” I downloaded the image from the Internet onto my phone. Using my finger as a stylus, I carefully altered the text of the woman’s sign to the words I thought reflected an accurate description of her message’s trajectory: “I WANT YOU TO DIE.” I texted the photo to my partner Jade in the other room, and we both got a good laugh. During the first weeks of social distancing, my friend Will said on Google Hangouts that people in situations like the pandemic develop a gallows humor in order to cope. I responded that gallows humor was a variety of humor I would never be able to identify with.
8. My cousin in Bellingham texted that he thinks he has the virus right now, and he’s doing okay. I’m going through another cycle of anxiety, of not being able to read. I’m spending entire days online. One of the bad feelings is reaching nightfall and feeling like I have nothing to show for it. Why am I taking so long to text back my cousin?
9. Our neighbors have become an integral part of our lives. Pat dropped off six fish she caught in a canal in Northwest Dade. Jade spent several hours on the phone trying to help Mary apply for unemployment. Paula bought us milk with her grocery delivery. Jade’s been doing yardwork behind our place so the landlord doesn’t have to come too close to our apartment. Mary wears a mask. Kenny wears a mask. Marvin sometimes wears a mask. Marvin’s kids don’t wear masks. Dmitri doesn’t wear a mask. We wear masks. Outside, we all talk with each other every single day.
10. I’m planning to wake up early tomorrow. But tonight, vodka with lime and honey and salt. We’re eating curry. I have been thinking about the last normal day before we parted from each other. It was the occasion of a personal milestone, and the small room was crowded with people there to support. I remember vigorously washing my hands every hour, all day. No hugs.
11. Every morning, I walk or jog past the Arch Plaza Rehab and Nursing Center, and I think about the residents inside. Sometimes, I can see the silhouettes of residents and nursing staff through the second-story windows. I think it must be a scary feeling, to live in a place like this where the only people who can visit you are dressed like astronauts. For the first month of social distancing, I cried for the residents every single morning when I passed their building. But now, I don’t cry on my walks anymore. When I get home, I set an intention for my meditation practice, who I want to meditate for or in honor of. Only sometimes, I remember them, my inside neighbors. We will never meet.
Author’s note: I was not much of a diarist before the pandemic, but I felt that such a crisis would present some important moments to document, so I started keeping a daily journal when I began social distancing on March 13. These micro-memoirs are based on entries I made during my first three months of experiencing the pandemic, March 13 to May 30, 2020. I filled up a whole notebook during this time, 100 pages, front and back.
Freesia McKee is author of the chapbook How Distant the City (Headmistress Press). Her words have appeared in Flyway, Bone Bouquet, So to Speak, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Virga, Painted Bride Quarterly, CALYX, About Place Journal, South Dakota Review, New Mexico Review, and the Ms. Magazine Blog. Freesia’s book reviews have appeared in South Florida Poetry Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, Pleiades Book Review, Gulf Stream, and The Drunken Odyssey. Freesia was the winner of CutBank Literary Journal’s 2018 Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry, chosen by Sarah Vap. Find her online at freesiamckee.com or on Twitter at @freesiamckee.