I have not missed you, and I have not been counting the days. But in about a week, it will have been exactly a year since. Do you still recognize me? You gave me a year of holding my breath and clutching my beating heart with my bare hands. You told me to love the sound it makes. I keep your memory in my jaw-joints; our anniversary feels like a dentist appointment after a lifetime of plaque buildup.
When you first arrived, we locked our doors. We strapped on masks and flashed our lips and nostrils only to those we trusted the most. Today’s gawky high schoolers have it so easy, I thought. They’re literally required by law to cover their braces.
I had just moved into my friend’s apartment in New Haven when the pandemic began. She started going to virtual Shabbat dinners and bought us enough toilet paper to last for months. (Evidently, we too were fooled into thinking that a global pandemic meant that we would suddenly start shitting eleven times a day.) We thought we should be grateful for the rest, which is to say that we took the extra time to tell ourselves very expensive lies. She got an MCAT study guide; I bought a paint set. But though I ended up painting maybe twice the whole summer, and her “study sessions” lasted a week max, we still laughed that the world was healing itself because everybody started baking sourdough bread.
Soon, we fell into a routine. We found our stride. We broke that bread over wine and made merry like your cousin May would’ve wished. Those early summer days were filled with long walks, and yoga, and winding car rides. The evenings were my favorite— when you live in confinement, it’s a small miracle to see the sun overstep each day and stretch into the nighttime.
But you, more than most, know how all good spells must come to an end. In April I was bow-legged, in May punch-drunk; but by June, I was stumbling through life as if it were a practice run.
My summertime lease was ending. Everyone was thinking about going home for now and making plans to take leave next year. My home government announced its closed borders just as this government threatened deportations, and I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the task of finding a crevice to shove this body into. This body belongs home. I joked that, without a place to legally send me, ICE might have to drop me in the ocean instead.
For the next month, I uninhabited myself. Planning for the future became less about where I wanted to be and more about where this body could not. People that looked like me started dying on the street; I recoiled further from my skin for my own safety. My step counter said that I averaged just over one-thousand steps a day for the whole month, which is equivalent to not leaving your bed for five days and then hiking to a neighboring town on the sixth, just to be sure that your legs still work. I have never felt anything so doubly-penetrating and void as being estranged from my own body. I want to scream at you to give it back! Give it back! Give it back to them, give it back to me! Because all we had left in this world was our hot flesh and hollow bones to hold us sturdy and, dammit, this was supposed to be the one thing that you couldn’t take.
I moved into a new house in the fall, and immediately painted over the walls. I was determined to love this home into existence. I grew my hair out, got lipstick stains in my masks, and took up smoking gas station cigarettes with my coffee instead of eating breakfast. Maybe it was ironic, or maybe irony didn’t matter in isolation. After pulling a late night, my roommate and I took turns reaching for tobacco to coax our bleary eyes and tired throats awake, the way one might reach for seawater when dehydrated at the shore. This was my big fuck you, you know? These lungs are mine and I refuse to treat the air that was stolen from them as a gift.
I recently started seeing someone that I first met in a Zoom meeting. By now, my generation is used to loving through the chat icon and lusting after screens. Zoomman and I kissed for the first time in a graveyard, slowly and gingerly. This is partly because we were next to a sign that says “baby graves,” but mostly because up until then, we didn’t know if we were allowed to touch. Dating someone in the midst of a pandemic, as the world is setting itself ablaze, doesn’t feel like an equally large and ferocious monster. Instead, it is nascent and flailing—another chance to be uncertain in case you tire of the usual routes. I am reminded here of a post I read on Twitter from a desperate and confused mother. She said that her baby, born during the lockdown, cannot go outside without feeling overwhelmed and immediately bursting into tears. She asks: how do I teach him a normal he’s never experienced?
The world you gave us is liquid, and I am tired of gasping and sputtering and treading water and watching mothers and babies do the same. I want to scream that I hate you, that you took so much from me, and that I wish I could get over you. I will love myself familiar. I never loved you.
When the snow began to melt, people started saying that we lost a year. I am less angry now. Waiting for the winter was like waiting for milk to curdle, but watching it pass reminds me of our first encounter. I still think about all the empty houses and unused fridges and unlived lives that have existed over the past twelve months, and I am reminded of those that never got to see it through. I am still holding my breath and my heart, in that order. But perhaps worse than the knowledge that I lost so much is the uncertainty that I will ever have Anything again.
Dear March, you will exist even though I do not love you and that gives me comfort. The unknowingness threatens to pull us under, and yet you have come twice and my heart still makes its sound. So, when I am afraid of what might not come tomorrow, at least I will have this. I remember that June faded just as February melts, and you will bloom, so April must.