It doesn’t start out that way. It never does. I’m almost always oblivious first. Greedily sucking down lovely experiences with the verve of someone half my age, once again assured that since everything is beautiful and nothing hurts for a whole three seconds, surely this will be forever. Totally sensible during a pandemic, right? I mean what could possibly happen?
The lovely part is just so lovely though. My contract from Llewellyn for my next book is in my hot little paws. Jow and I take off for Jamestown for a week where we see our New Englanders. We always stay at the same place, a little townhouse where you can hear the ocean from the bedroom. It has a porch for our people to lounge on, which has become way more important than it was before. We’re taking all the cliff side ocean walks. We’ve perving on all the sprawling shingled houses hidden behind hedges. We’re eating charcuterie plates overlooking the ocean while drinking cups of Babablon tea. I perform a Venusian rite on a Friday on the cliff that’s steps away from our back door as the waves crash. The same bluegrass band that often stays when we stay is there, playing and gossiping in our backyard. We get to go to our favorite oyster farm for big plates of oysters and soup, sitting outside overlooking the beds in the pond (twice!). We’re eating every sea creature who does not have the sense to hide from us, some of which we’ve obtained from a fish market in a nearby town that resembles Stars Hollow. I’m drinking aviations at my favorite place outside before noon (twice! In one week!). I had plans for elaborate drinks, but our signature cocktail became melted chocolate gelato with cafe Patron and smoked bourbon. The fog is romantic, there are days we read and sun outside. We walk Trash Beach (A2 has a Trash Beach in New Jersey she likes. I like calling this beach Trash Beach because it’s a beautiful private beach but after season, dogs are allowed on it and me and Jow too). There are middle aged surfers and paddle boarders. We watch children learning to sail on teeny tiny schooners, with lots of angry whistling from the coach. Jow and I slow dance on our back porch to Autumn Love (Deathcab for Cutie), my phone dangles in one hand and a s’more beer in the other, the bridge twinkling in front of us. We see MFGH and then we Mx Spice lounging on our back porch, enjoying the salt in the air. We see Alx and go on an adventure, tearing around the grounds outside of the Elms and The Breakers because they have allowed us to get tickets to both for just the grounds (which they never do). I pick the fanciest garden at The Breakers and we take our picnic there, much to Jow’s everlasting shame. I’m loving trashing it up just by virtue of our peasant presence since we would have likely be lucky to even work there in service there back in the day, let alone picnic on the lawn. We eat brie with apples and lie on the lawn. Alx and I play beer pong with rosé cider and tiny solo cups and tiny pingpong balls on the marble porch which makes Jow want to die more, making it that much more fun. We go to the Elms and climb the trees, looking at the goddess statues and tromping through all the gardens on the grounds. It’s a wonderful day that makes me feel at home in my body, as we tromped a couple miles over the various grounds.
We return home and do my photo shoot outdoors for my next book. NurseCat helps me get ready, JohnM does the pictures, Jow is ever my guy Friday. My sister makes my little team lasagna and enchiladas, we are shooting near her house at the lake. The trees have changed color. I had been drinking a lot of collagen for my skin to look decent and less still full of stuffies and clam fritters. I start to settle back into my routine of exercise, tutoring and housework and start preparing to work on my next book.
Later in the week, I am driving home from my sister’s house on a highway. It’s raining and I’m thinking about if I feel like going to the gym or if I want to pretend going to Target is the same thing. An accident happens in front of me, in my lane. One car hits the other. It happens so fast. I slam on my brakes and I start spinning. I see the 18 wheeler truck, I think oh god, this cannot seriously be how I die. Slamming into a truck thinking about Target. I keep spinning and try to steer. I think, oh dear god, please just don’t let me hurt anyone else. Please. Please. For a moment I think I can course correct. That I will be lucky, that my heart will be pounding and I will be safe and my car will be safe and this will just be a little story I tell off handedly.
But it’s not.
I can hit another car or I can hit the divider. I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I hit the divider. Hard. Hard enough that my air bag goes off. I’m shaking really hard and I’m crying really hard. Usually tears are like blood from a stone for me but I’m really shaken up. My right hand hurts very badly, it’s burned a little from the airbag. I will have really terrible bruises where my seat belt was, though they heal well perhaps due to all the collagen. Vanity as a saving grace. There’s an awful smell from the air bag. I call my mom. I don’t want to call Jow, he’s still on shift. I want him to be able to concentrate. I note the time so I know when his shift will be over and I can tell him. I start texting A1 because I know she can be calm about this. I dread telling everyone else. I can’t think about that yet. I have to concentrate on my next steps. I limp my car to the shoulder.
There are a lot of accidents on the highway so the trooper is very brusque with me, a warm up to being shoved into the tow truck and dumped at a convenience store to wait for my mom outside in the rain. I call my doctor and make an appointment. I wait for my mother. By the time the insurance adjuster is on the phone flatly tells me no one else is to blame, I’m pretty numb to shitty dudes in authority telling me everything is my fault. I have been crying in front of all of them, especially for some reason when I say I didn’t want to hurt anyone. That is about impossible to get out without sobbing. I still feel it in me if I think about it too hard. Because I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as a survivor, as a Queen often in exile. I don’t think of myself as a soft girl who would literally rather die than hurt another person. But under the hard layers, there it is. And it’s humiliating to be this sobbing mess in front of these terrible dudes. Because I would also rather die than be exposed like this in front of them. But I don’t get to chose. And that’s another layer of awful. It just keeps happening. All the calls, all the paperwork, all the running from place to place. All of these men, almost all of them acting like this was some flightly choice I made, like a deer running into traffic.
I had a really good driving record prior to this. Did they think I decided to slam myself into the divider because I was so jealous that everyone else got an accident that day so I needed one too? That I was really motivated in avoiding going to the gym? That I wanted to be injured and car-less? This would go on and on for days and days. My doctor looks me over and she is kind. She says I don’t ever want to be the most injured person in the waiting room or the worst off in an accident. She said I tried my best. She said it will take time to get over this. I’m relieved that it will not impact my recent surgery. I was also relieved that the first day was by far the worst for me for pain, though I would be very tired for the days to follow from the trauma and from the adrenaline.
While I start to untangle all the paperwork that goes with this, the election is soon under way. I feel like a frog in a pot. I’m churning and waiting. Waiting to see what happens with my car. Waiting to see what the election count is. Waiting to see what the next four years of my life holds in this country that I love so fiercely but makes me despair so much. Waiting to see if I qualify for a medical cannabis card in New Jersey because fuck it, my car is totaled out, they’re saying it could take all month to get the results to the election, we’re legalizing for everyone to have access to cannabis as a state anyway (party over here in Jersey! Not as great of a party as Oregon who took it a step even further and decided fuck it, drugs. Why not us?). What’s more 2020 than being laid off with a husband on the frontline with a totaled out car and deciding to at least getting one’s med card out of all of this?
We all knew that this election would take a long time to figure out. It was hard for many of us to know what it would feel like to wait. Almost no one I knew was sleeping. I was sleeping very soundly due to the shock and trauma I had just gone through. I think it was hard to viscerally understand what it would be like to be holding this vigil for days on end about who would be deciding what happens to us on a federal level (and local levels as well) for the pandemic, for those of us who are on the front lines, for those of us who were laid off, with this new Supreme court, with a president who seemed unconcerned with the established laws of our country. So we waited. We waited and we waited. I remember thinking that I have found in pandemic exile a patience that I didn’t know I had that sprang from a well within me that ran so much deeper than I ever thought it would. And that perhaps that has served me better than almost anything.
I was outlining my next chapter for my new book outside at a local cafe, drinking a mocha hot chocolate with Jow and NurseCat while they studied various things when I read that the election had been finally decided, thanks to Philly. Usually when I thought of Philly, I thought of A2 calling it the city that Jesus loved last, a sentiment that I had come to agree with as the years rolled by. But I thought about how once, hundreds of years ago, in a too hot room it was where rebellion was launched. Hundreds of years later, it hosted so many dark clubs that I had danced in there- the ravers spinning poi, the hot tub on the roof I would dip my fishnet clad toes in, the elder goths draped in clothes we could not afford as younger goths but we loved to admire them from afar, drinking their absinthe in tiny alcoves, how we could shake the Troc from its foundation with the force of our stomping to make Melora play us an encore on her electric antique cello, the sweet tempered girls with long dreadfalls in cyber spangled bikinis dancing on top of the speakers. We called them the Goth Barbie Twins. I wondered now if they still lived there, if perhaps they bought neighboring homes in Fish Town when it was still up and coming, got married, had children, drove Subarus, became marketing execs and sometimes still dreamt of the way the bass felt through the tall heels of their thigh high boots as they neatly marked their ballots and helped deliver Philly in the election. I am once again fiercely proud to have called Philly a home of sorts once. But I can’t sleep. Between the endless phone calls to my insurance company, the never ending journey from dealership to dealership and my book’s deadline looming, the darkness that falls so fast, I feel the beginning of the familiar slow burn that will be my companion until Solstice.
I remember what Holly Black said once as an author – no one knows how you’re feeling when you’re writing something unless you explicitly say so. I find that really soothing sometimes. That I can write something beautiful and no one will know I felt like I’m at the bottom of the well when I wrote it. This has been difficult for me to write. It’s taken me far longer than I would like and keeps taking me down dark alleys. It has made me irritable and difficult to be around. I keep coming back to it, even when I tell myself to let it go. Remembering what it was like shuddering in my car, trying to figure out if I was hurt badly, the terrible smell in my car of things burning, the rain, the feeling of being engulfed in darkness, the sound of my own ragged breath, how the impact happened so fast that I have no memory of the moment, just the memory of the sound.
I need to put this to bed and writing it is how I do that. When I put this to bed, I can work on my next book, I can drive my new car that I did not want or ask for, I can take walks, I can go to the gym and to the market, I can get my house back in order, I can cook nourishing food, I can regain my status as head hausfraus while Jow works doubles and begins once again to work with Covid virus patients. I can sleep. I can begin again. This is my mantra.
I just need to believe it.