We settled ourselves in the evening on Friday after dinner, the kids in the living room playing “educational video games” their school had sent them home with along with emails full of emphatic pleas to “please, please, PLEASE have them reading at LEAST fifteen minutes a day!” (lest the test scores should suffer) along with all of the contents of their cubbies, lockers, and desks. Greg cracked open a beer.
I had spent the day at the super market, stocking up on different items with the vague notion that we could perhaps avoid or might even be ordered to avoid the grocery store for three weeks, and poring over the New York Times coverage of the coronavirus. Normally, I merely dapple in news but these days I’m like a news junkie. Just one more article, I swear. Then I’m done until tomorrow. Or at least an hour.
People in the store were a little frantic. Some wore face masks. Some wore gloves. All scrubbed their grocery carts with antibacterial wipes with ferocity. Miles and Iris were with me and people eyed me accusingly, as if to wonder how I could expose my dear offspring to deadly pathogens. Either that or they were peeved that I had unleashed all their germs into the populace. “Stop licking the cart!” I whisper-yelled at Miles, fighting back a wave of mild panic at how many people had touched the cart before us. If there is one thing I’ve learned so far from this crisis it’s that kids do NOT understand how to not pass germs around.
I saw two separate people eye my cart, see the coffee and run back to the coffee aisle to stock up. I spent an extra hundred and fifty on my grocery bill than usual and needed an extra cart and assistance to get it out to my van. I don’t even know what I’m doing, I thought to myself. Still, as right before having a baby, I felt compelled to stock up and hunker down. A primal urge, I guess, in times of great stress or strain.
After leaving the store, my chest began to feel tight and heavy, as though a virus had gotten a hold of me and was going for my lungs. This is what being a hypochondriac looks like during a pandemic.
Greg started talking about John Muir. I was looking up the latest infection rate. He turned the lights out and started playing music. I said, “Please put something upbeat on.” Greg said, “Tomorrow, we’re going to the mountains.” I barely heard him.
We woke up on Saturday and Greg again announced that we would be traversing into the mountains. I attended to the usual household maintenance, not really paying attention. He started quoting Muir, saying, “I went into the woods to find myself” (or something). The kids started bickering. I made the lunches.
As we piled into the car, the sky overhead was mottled steel, the air was bitter and sharp and a vague sense of doom still lingered in my belly. “Where are we going, Greg?” I snapped finally allowing my incredulity to show. Sometimes being married to someone means doing things that would never occur to you in a given situation and trusting that there is a method to the madness. He remained calm and unflappable even as the kids squabbled in the back and the drive took longer than expected, over an hour.
Finally we arrived at our destination and as we got ourselves out and on the trail, a sudden sense of peace and security settled over us. It’s always so quiet in the woods. It’s always the same. The kids started running and playing, the cold fading away with sweaty exertion, the squabbling tension of the ride melting away into a memory. My chest suddenly lightened. I could breathe.
The air tasted raw like ripe mud. The trees were bare and stark in the early spring light. The ground was firm underfoot and felt like a reassurance. It looked lifeless and desolate but truly the sense of renewal is palpable just under the surface of all of that brown and grey. It was contagious and soon we could feel the resurgence of life within ourselves.
We easily spent the entire day outside wandering the trails drinking the cold fresh air into our lungs and just feeling so good and happy to be together. It was just what was called for. I looked at Greg, like I often do, with gratitude for all the things he has shown to me in my life. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for him.
In many ways Greg and I might be polar opposites but sometimes that’s the best thing. Such can be a marriage. Such can be a family. An odd, tangled web of things and feelings and perspectives and experiences that can be at times frustrating but is overall something you can’t really feel anything but immeasurably grateful for.