Lara Haynes Freed
Counting forward exponentially during pandemic days of March: from small-town-suburbia, it's all on-screen and on the news and not yet at my door. From here in March, it's all still data. But still the days march on.
Counting forward expectantly: years of panic prepped me, made me resilient. I never did know how many days I would have. How many birthday blues, how many New Year reboots, how many sleeps, how many words, how many breaths. Who knows? Counting forward from square one engages uncertainty but for the square I'm on.
But I can count the orange juice bottles in the fridge, the loaves of bread in the bin, the toilet paper rolls in the closet.
Counting backward: one glass of juice each quiet morning at a time, one sacred-lonely-morning-before-the-rest-of-my-close-and-captive-household-wakes at a time. Spring birdsong, early sunrise, silent streets. Thoughts mutate and multiply, new strains. Who among us has it? Where is it? What kills it? How long can it survive on metal, paper, plastic?
Counting backward: two slices per sandwich, one sandwich per kid, each one losing educational traction. YouTube read-alongs, classroom Zooms, math class on a Chromebook app. PB and J, PB and honey. Peanut butter barely prompts a count—multiple massive Costco jars stowed beneath the kitchen counter in a deep and unfinished cupboard space—yet I know that sense of infinite supply is an illusion, an untruth. Dual-mega-pack-Jif hubris.
On a roll, square by square, barely into April. A thinning roll, a flattening curve. "I don't have a square to spare," Seinfeld’s Elaine says on a TV in Kansas in the nineties, a lifetime ago.
Then it's back through the open doors of the grocery store with hope for more, but who knows? It’s just down the street but feels a million miles away. The workers there are heroes. Every surface is uncertainty. Each customer sniffle, wiped nose, slight cough: uncertainty. Every kindly neighbor's smile, every fearful gaze in the near-empty aisle: uncertainty. Every hoarded sundry, every extra bottle/loaf/roll, is an instinctive animal act prompted by: uncertainty.
We're using it all up at home, counting backward. Flour, eggs, rice, beans. How many days remain?
Schools close as April unfolds. The kids at home use every toy they own, some long-lost or put away, thought never to see the light of day again. Hexbugs, Hot Wheels, Nerf, plastic army guys. Star Wars action figures in three sizes. And Lego—Lego everywhere. The plural noun gains irony as they hive-mind-multiply, edges spiking daily underfoot.
They mutate and multiply, as if some new strain.
May rolls around. Its calendar squares all look the same. Dates cancelled, appointments erased, life pushed out, masks pulled on. When did we last see parents and grandparents? When did we last visit Kansas? When did we last sit in a Red Robin and draw on the kid menus with crayon and go to the mall down the street and "get some exercise," walking its shiny, expansive floors and browsing the stores and perusing things we didn't need but who knows?
How many shops will remain? Which doors may be transformed, erased? How much is needed to help and for how long and when and what then? Who worked there once, and what will they do next? How long can one survive on any given surface?
Counting on tech to connect: remote desktop, VPN, cloud-based apps, Verdiem. Line in, line up, login online. A paycheck still arrives, enough for now. I'm thankful but exhausted and uneasy. A sense of trepidation claims the hours gained from commute-free days, swipes them from sleep and swaps them for dread.
As breath grows short for thousands, I speak of fresh air and Fitbits. How many steps today, this week? The dog and I stroll. She scrolls down the sidewalk slabs, a newsfeed of scents, pee posts, and poop shares. Tweets and tails, roped-off trails.
As breath grows short for thousands more, I run under the fine spring sun. In Brooks and with hubris, aerobic and moving fast. Fast, yes—but going nowhere and unaccompanied, keeping six feet distant even in the street, seeming free but tethered to my home by Governor's decree, releasing endorphins and reducing stress and metabolizing air through deep and hungry breaths, and it feels like I'm using them up, more than my fair share, but there is no closet-keep of breaths or days—no bread-bin-stash of steps or words—no backward-hoard-count to a certain end. How deep a divine irony can we endure? How sharp a sublime wit can we withstand? Breath is held, expelled, shared, and used again. It is lost and found and passed around under this beautiful, impassive spring sun.