Letter to my son from my future self
Written on day 186 of quarantine
Your first year of life was one of the strangest years of my life. You were born at the end of 2019 and by the time we were ready to emerge from our post-partum cave into the world a strange disease was spreading. It was still a distant rumor, but one that made me clutch you tighter to my body the few times that I took you to the farmer’s market or to pick-up your sister from preschool. The little germy hands of her friends pawing at your tiny feet. Within a few weeks all that was over. The virus was here and schools, cafes, parks and everything else closed and we entered a long twilight. A year of twilight.
It was a year in which we stayed home. Our world shrank and we watched from a distance as the virus snaked around the earth, surfacing and submerging. We became friends with our neighbors. Danced with them in the street with our faces covered and our bodies dispersed down the block, like atoms bouncing off of each other’s energy. Howled with them each night out of collective rage, frustration and gratitude. The sidewalk became our living room and we learned how to breath with our mouths covered, how to celebrate birthdays on the computer, how to be aware of every surface we touched. We let our hands crack with dryness – a sign that we were doing our best. And most of all, as parents, we learned how to pretend that we weren’t terrified, how to fake it for our kids. I was forever stroking the velvet orb of your round head, more to comfort myself than you, who, blissfully unaware, would throw your head back in laughter revealing the impossibly soft intersection of your cheeks and neck. If I was quick I could steal a kiss on that pure surface.
One day in early September the sun didn’t rise. Even clichés were broken. Or at least it’s light never reached us. We all sat together eating breakfast in the dark while what little light there was waned away and the sky over the city became a dark orangish-gray. Your dad and I tried not to seem alarmed – our eyes meeting and silently reminding each other to act normal. I thought that this was what it must have been like in the early days of the dinosaur extinction. But your sister knows how that story ended, so I stifled the urge to say it aloud. She was strangely elated by the inversion of natural rhythms and wanted to explore it. I took you both for a brief walk down the block. It was almost too dark to see her fifty yards ahead of us, bolting down the sidewalk. We stopped to smell the yellow roses that we always stop to smell (a promise to myself) and as I leaned in I saw that each petal was heavy with a thick snowfall of ash. I faked an inhale and then turned and rushed us back inside our house.
That year we were waiting: waiting for a vaccine, or for herd immunity, waiting for schools to reopen, for Covid test results, for the fires to be contained, for the evacuation warnings to be lifted, for the air quality to improve, for the smoke to move through, for the heat wave to pass, for it to rain, for financial relief checks, for more information, for the government to do something to help…. Somedays I wasn’t sure what we were waiting for; just for anything to change, to get better, for something to be hopeful about. And of course we were all waiting for the election, our last best hope. It finally came a few days after you turned 1 and a few days before I turned 40.
Waiting is a kind of desire for time to pass. And yet with you, I wanted the opposite. I wanted to freeze time, to keep you forever the way you were, soft and round like your body was made of circles, joyful and unaware, trusting and delighted by the simplest things; a cracker or a ball. Safe in my arms, nestled against my body, trusting in me completely to be your world. And I longed to share you like that with everyone I loved, your round thighs and easy smile. You were the antidote to everything else that happened that year. A dose of you could lift the darkness.