A Life Contained
Working, gardening, and processing from my postage stamp in Northern Virginia
This week marked eight weeks since my job became 100 percent remote. That’s 56 days, 1,344 hours, and two month’s worth of hives since I stopped looking forward to my next vacation and started looking forward to the next trip to the grocery store.
Friday, March 13th
It’s the last day in the office. No one wears masks, we don’t stand six feet apart. We don’t even know what social distancing really means. But we have been washing our hands emphatically.
Leaving the office — my second monitor, wireless keyboard, and trackpad pressed to my chest — I decide to avoid Metro in favor of an Uber. I can feel the warmth of the early spring on my skin, a cut of cool breeze cast off the Potomac.
“I just want to protect myself, so I can do my job,” says my Uber driver, who can’t find hand sanitizer for purchase anywhere.
The toilet-paper hoarding has only just begun.
Saturday, March 14th
At home, amid a pandemic’s worth of groceries, I dice and peel — the closest thing to meditation I can muster. I slice the top off of a head of garlic, douse it with olive oil, wrap it in tin foil and place it in the oven. Two weeks of work from home? Sounds delightful, peaceful even.
Thursday, March 19th
Fiery red welts spring up from my skin. One on my ankle, three along my lower back, a bullseye in the crux of my inner elbow. The hours I spend at my desk are long and unforgiving. Hardly the respite I had envisioned.
The sky drips and drizzles, stormy grey and absent of sun outside my office window. I try to remember to be grateful that I have an office in the first place, that I have a job and a paycheck.
In ten days, the small press I helped found will publish its fourth collection of poetry. For weeks I have queried and re-queried hundreds of reviewers. Today — by some dumb stroke of luck — I receive a single response: the poetry editor at the New York Times. They’re remote now, too. No, he doesn’t have the galley I sent. Can I send a digital copy? I cross my fingers, press send.
Sunday, March 29th
“STAY HOME!” people write in all caps on their social media feeds next to pictures of nurses with deep red gashes cut into their cheeks.
My partner — who is still working five days a week at the fine-dining-turned-fast-casual restaurant he manages — and I abscond to the garden center.
Is a garden center an essential business? One could make the argument, though our mission is anything but: we’ve come to buy a tree in honor of our dead cat. We sprinkle Tessa’s ashes along the root ball of the redbud, small slivers of bone sinking into wet earth.
I dig half-moons in my skin — the tactic which I have developed as an alternative to itching. After nearly two weeks, it is fair to assume these are not mosquito bites.
Friday, April 3rd
I’ve started doing social distance walks with my neighbor. She has an autoimmune disease of the lungs and we keep our distance, her on the curb, me in the road.
“Their son, Chad, just died of COVID,” she tells me, as we pass another neighbor’s house. “He was 49.”
I did not know Chad, but the name feels strangely familiar.
At home, I look up the NextDoor.com message I posted when Tess died the year before. She was something of a mascot in our small, close-knit neighborhood. It’s still there, memorialized into the tomb of Anything Ever Posted On the Internet: a message from Chad, more than a year now passed.
My hives scream to be itched, raising up in a violent, angry patchwork along my side.
Sunday, April 5th
I risk a trip to the 7-Eleven up the street. There is it in the “New and Noteworthy” section of the Sunday Paper — Megan Merchant’s Before the Fevered Snow. It’s a small, but glorious feat.
The day before, we held a virtual Zoom reading with three other small press authors. Minutes before the reading was due to begin, we realized our Zoom had been hacked with anime porn, live streams of prison inmates, and images of a woman violently vomiting.
This is the world in which we now live.
Wednesday, April 8th
John Prine is dead, Bernie Sanders has officially dropped out of the 2020 Democratic race for President, and the birds won’t stop building nests in our eaves, carelessly dropping their would-be offspring at our feet.
It’s too fucking much.
Too much death.
Too much change.
Too much living room yoga.
I just want to sit at the bar at 2Amys and drink a goddamn Vesuvio.
I yearn for meals I didn’t cook, dishes I don’t have to wash, a world where politicians aren’t actually talking about sacrificing the elderly and immunocompromised to save the economy.
But the final frost seems to have come and gone, the lettuces are rising up from their earthly beds and finally, finally, I’ve managed to grow a decent harvest of radishes. Soon the snap peas will arrive.
And I guess today that will have to be enough.
Sunday, April 19th
It’s our first hike of the season and the chlorophyll is blazing like neon. We’ve come to forage for ramps, the elusive spring allium that crops up along the southern shores of the Potomac just before the canopy grows in each spring.
Later, in the back yard, I process the ramps, slicing the leaves from the bulb, my knees sinking in the damp grass as I recall a line from Zadie Smith’s Grand Union — the only book I’ve managed to finish these last few weeks:
“You don’t say to a witch: the reason they’re dunking you is because you’re a witch. You say, the reason they’re dunking you is these motherfuckers believe in witchcraft! Their whole society is based on it. Nobody put a spell on them! They produce witchcraft everyday, collectively, together! Their whole reality is constructed on a belief in witchcraft!”
This is not some Salem witch shit. This is America.
Wednesday, April 22nd
After no new hives in more than a week, an angry resurgence alights across my stomach.
I have resorted to reading Amazon reviews, which, as it turns out — when you’re in the market for a chest freezer — is actually pretty good quarantine entertainment.
In truth, I’m happy they’re sold out of freezers. Though Tiffany’s review is a ringing endorsement, we all need a good excuse not to fork over more money to Amazon.
We all need someone to hate right now, and while the president is an easy target, I’ve grown bored of hating him.
Saturday, May 2nd
In the kitchen, I chop onions and chipotle peppers in adobo, add a tablespoon of cumin, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a touch of salt. I cook this down into a bubbling mess, strain it through a mesh sieve.
To this I add hominy, black beans, shredded cheese.
I provision a tortilla.
Fill and roll.
Fill and roll.
Fill and roll.
Sunday, May 3rd
The tomatoes are potted up and almost strong enough to go in the ground. Almost. My partner is a green-thumbed perfectionist.
“Just be patient,” he says.
But patience is no virtue I’ve ever known. I steal away a single purple plum and press its still delicate root system into the soft earth. Next week is calling for a potential frost. But I’m tired of waiting.
That evening the owner of the restaurant my partner works at calls: one of his co-workers has tested positive for COVID-19. The restaurant will be closing for at least the next two weeks.
We sit on the back deck and sip wine, the sky threatening to open up and drown us.
Thursday, May 7th
It’s almost mid-May — Cinco de Mayo come and gone without so much as a whisper.
A video released this week shows 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down in the middle of a suburban Georgia street while out for a jog. Despite this video, Arbery’s killers — 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his adult son, Travis (34) — have walked free for more than three months.
“They produce witchcraft everyday, collectively, together.”
Today, the McMichaels were arrested. Arbery is still dead. Thirty-three states still have some form of “Stand Your Ground” laws. And it’s only a matter of time until the next black person is murdered for no reason except the color of the skin they were born with.
My hives have begun to fade without much fanfare into my pale white skin.
Saturday, May 9th
Little Richard has died, my strawberry patch is beginning to fruit, and our cat seems intent on killing every small critter that has the poor luck of stumbling into our yard.
The theme of death is alive and well in our home — even without all of the cable news reports.
Sunday, May 10th
In less than a week, Virginia will begin a phased reopening, following more than half of U.S. states. This even as the number of new infections and COVID-related deaths continues its upward trajectory.
Will we survive this? Yes, some of us will.
Those who like me are fortunate enough to have a job, a roof over my head, the luxury of paid sick leave, and healthcare.
But no one wants to hear what from me anymore. Despite a brief spell of rational collective thinking in late March, there’s no appetite for socialism in this country.
Healthcare for all, they said.
A universal basic income, they said.
What about us? the airlines said.
And well, you know how this story ends.
Meanwhile, in the corner of our yard, a lone tomato plant basks in the dappled sunlight — still standing despite two nights of near-freezing temperatures.