Decade: March 2020By Steven Arcieri
April 01, 2020
Pola said she needed space and time, then gave me the hat she had finished crocheting, which, I noticed, after she left, smelled exactly like comfort and security and happiness and her bedroom, so I stuck it in my bureau, so cigarette smoke or fresh air couldn’t take that away from me. One of the trucks from my job swerved and flopped onto its side, and there was footage of it on the internet which I watched over and over while intermittently looking at the truck itself standing upright in the garage with a gouge instead of a windshield. Whoever sequenced the stoplights and walklights at this intersection, did it with the intent of killing people. A part of me wishes I believed so deeply in astrology that I could explain this all away with mercury retrograde. When I listen to music in the shower in the morning, it’s often interrupted by alarms I neglected to turn off, and I get frustrated, but then I feel a little guilty because they were only trying to do what I instructed them to do, so then I think, “I’m sorry for getting upset with you. You were just trying to wake me up.”I was able to speak to friends without going into the Pola stuff and I guess that’s progress. The woman who gave me a haircut wouldn’t stop talking shit about her son and the man who gave me a tattoo didn’t say a word to me the whole time, and it felt like both could sense what I needed from them. I heard somewhere that a ringing in your ears meant someone was thinking about you, so maybe that’s why I listen to music so loudly through my headphones. The weather got better and I considered taking a walk, but opened some windows, stripped off my clothes, lay on my back, and looked at the ceiling instead. I didn’t expect anger to crop up in this carousel of emotions, but it did, and now I have to untangle the implications of that. It’s kind of funny having a cigarette cough in a landscape of overhyped COVID-19 panic. At first, I was insecure that Pola never saved me as a contact in her camera phone, but eventually the whole thing mutated into an ongoing gag we had, she would joke that I needed to earn it, at one point even going so far as to save me as a contact by typing out my phone number in the space a name should be, so I was saved as a contact, but you would never know; one of the last things she said to me in person was that she wanted me to know she had saved me as a contact in her camera phone, name and all; I asked, “when,” she said, “a few weeks ago,” and this is my new definition of bittersweet. It’s been hard to tell my psychiatrist how my upped dosage is treating me because life things have been going on. I pulled novel after novel off the shelf, settled in, and tried to read their first pages normally, abandoning each when I couldn’t, until there was a pile the size of a small body next to me in my bed. I watched the Democratic debate with my roommate, Will, and when I stepped away to grab my water bottle, my bedroom seemed to be smoldering, and I looked everywhere for something on fire, but there was nothing. Around this time of year, in 1918, the Spanish Influenza originated, looking nothing more dire than a run-of-the-mill, seasonal flu. “Pinch Me” by Barenaked Ladies played through the speakers in Stop & Shop while I scrounged the near-empty shelves for pasta. They’re saying that Italy has more infected than hospital beds, so their doctors have to determine which humans deserve a chance at not dying. I had an initial screening phone call with a talk therapist and she was shocked by how quickly I was able to open up, but I’ve been trying to open up to a therapist for months now, and she was the first who took my insurance and had an opening, so it really wasn’t difficult at all. It was easy for me to chalk up all that went south with Pola to her giving up on me because I had a real bad panic attack and she wasn’t equipped to understand the ins and outs of what happens in my brain, but I realize the hurt and stress I inflicted upon her with what I said, and the responsibility that I have as a person who lives with mental illness to not use my diagnoses as an excuse. Relationships are fluid and dynamic, words are concrete and definitive, and it’s a weird position to be in, needing a certain string of words said to you to understand how you are supposed to navigate a relationship or the disintegration of one. I whittled it down to a single question: “Are we broken up or are we taking a break?” But I hadn’t yet landed upon that particular string of words when I did reach out to her. Texting her has taken on the texture of playing a game. They’re saying refrigerated trucks are driving around New York City to scoop up the bodies of the dead. I moved about my room in the dark, inadvertently kicking over and shattering a wine glass I had left on the floor, and I had to turn on the lights to sweep it up. A girl walked by and, for the entire length of sidewalk visible from my bedroom window, she was scrolling through her phone with one hand and steadily dribbling a basketball with the other, and I had nothing but admiration for her ability to multitask like that. In 1918, spring gave way to summer, and summer all but swept the Spanish Flu under the rug. Pola makes her living in a lab, studying pathogenic bacteria, and ever since the shit hit the fan, I’ve wanted to talk to her; she’s so knowledgeable and passionate about what she does, and even though most of the jargon goes over my head, I still love to hear her talk, to listen, and I realize I don’t need an answer to my question, I understand and respect that she may not have one just yet, and I’m okay with that now. The Spanish Flu reared its head again in autumn, much more sinisterly this time, taking more casualties than WWI combat. I take back what I said about the panic being overhyped.
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