My life as I knew it ended on Thursday, March 12, 2020, though I didn’t know it or expect it. I took the subway to work for the last time, a nearly two-hour journey from my home in Brooklyn to the Evander Childs campus in the Bronx for a walkthrough of their AP and pre-AP English classes with Shoshana from the superintendent’s office and the school’s principal and assistant principal. I grabbed a mediocre second breakfast for the last time at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Gun Hill Road, and ate lunch with Shoshana for the last time at the Cherry Valley Marketplace across the street from the school. It was an utterly ordinary day that started like many others in the past four years of my career, but the signs were already there: Shoshana and I had offered, earlier in the week, to cancel or reschedule the visit as schools began to tremble with rumors of COVID-19 infection; she drove me home, insistent that I shouldn’t be on the subway anymore considering that I was thirty weeks pregnant. Rush hour in midtown Manhattan looked like an early Sunday morning, nearly devoid of both pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
I view my calendar for mid-March and I can see life ground to a halt: the book club meeting scheduled for Friday, March 13 was cancelled, as was the West Village Chorale’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil on Sunday, March 15. After that, the calendar just empties out, dotted only with doctors’ appointments and reminders to water my plants. I can look back and see my friend Daniel’s daughter Sophia’s Bat Mitzvah the previous weekend, and laugh, quietly and bitterly, at the memory of bumping elbows and ostentatiously availing myself of hand sanitizer while we sat cheek by jowl with two hundred or so folks at Beth Elohim (indoors! a house of worship! how naive we were!). A little further sees a reminder of our babymoon in Mexico at the end of February (airports! restaurants! vague reports of some virus out of China on CNN out of the corners of our eyes while we waited for our flights! it boggles the imagination); a little further than that and there’s the last show we saw on Broadway, To Kill a Mockingbird starring Ed Harris as Atticus; a little further than that and there is the ultimate forbidden treat, a professional haircut. It is who I was: urbane, cultured, sociable. It is hard to believe that I was any of those things, harder still to believe that I still am any of those things after three-plus months of YouTube-ing and Zoom-ing into church and book club and cutting my own bangs with too-large scissors and gritted teeth before my bathroom mirror and, now, nursing a baby according to her weeks-old whims. Any day I manage to put pants on is a classy one.
I accidentally re-discovered a consistently brilliant part of summer two summers ago: I secretly planned a trip to Wildwood, New Jersey for Dakota’s birthday over Labor Day weekend, and we had so much fun that we’ve gone back for the subsequent two summers. The key here is giving yourself over to the entire idea of fun, and a very specific kind of it: you need to roll the quarters you’ve saved all year for the arcade games that still accept quarters and not a prepaid card; you need to accept the idea that you are not going to eat anything healthy for a couple of days; you need to not get too attached to the particular look and shape of any individual plushie and allow yourself to be delighted by whatever the claw picks up and drops down the hatch. (Succeed at the latter and you, too, can be an adult hauling home fourteen stuffed animals.)
We took hundreds of pictures during our trip to Ireland, but I didn’t notice that the camera settings were wrong for the first few days, and the pictures I took in Glendalough disappoint me deeply in their low quality. This is perhaps the most first-world problem I’ve ever admitted to having in this space— my photos from a vacation some people dream about taking all their lives are too low-res— but there you have it.
Maybe it’s to be expected. The lush green that sweeps up the Wicklow Mountains, carpeting ancient ridges and tangling over itself, and the earthen tones of the rock and the trunks of the trees— how can any camera adequately capture the darkness of the embrace the woods offer, the softness of the greenery, the mystery of the tangle? Is it only words, in the end, that offer the depth of vision I want?
Somewhere along what is now called the Wild Atlantic Way, between Galway and Westport, my ancestors Ellan Moran and Ulick Walsh were born and later lit out for America. Like so many millions of others who have left their homes and crossed seas and oceans in search of different lives, they never returned to the shallow, rocky shores of the west of Ireland, to the shadow of Croagh Patrick rising through the fog over Clew Bay. So at first, standing on the shore of that bay with that same mountain rising behind me, felt like closing a historical and genealogical loop in a way I’d never experienced before. They left, and I, their descendant, college-educated and then some, with enough time and disposable income to be overseas, stood where they might have stood.
When we were diverted in the pouring rain on our way to County Mayo, exactly halfway through our road trip around Ireland, we wound up on a twisting, narrow, and nameless road through a boggy stretch of Connemara. I remembered our trip the National Museum of Archaeology in Dublin a few days before, where we saw the bog bodies— human remains found, eerily intact after hundreds and hundreds of years, in Ireland’s many peat bogs. One of them, known as Old Croghan Man, is believed to have been over six feet tall and was found with a braided leather armband around his left bicep, which, along with his manicured hands and his varied diet, suggest a person of high status. Cuts to his body, including the removal of his nipples, may evince a ritualized, tortured rejection of Old Croghan Man’s kingship, as suckling the king’s nipples was a sign of submission. The old kings were symbolically wedded to goddesses of the land and harvest; famines were signs of displeasure with the kings’ leadership, and the kings were therefore murdered, their bodies buried in the bogs that would later fuel the fires needed to cook the fruits of later harvests and keep the people warm, the same bogs that also hid gold and illuminated manuscripts, animal bones and broken pots. I thought of all this as I ate Frosted Shreddies, bought from a Tesco outside Wicklow on the other side of the country, straight from the box in the passenger’s seat of the car, as we listened to Van Morrison. I tugged on my polka dot raincoat to leave the car and take pictures of the landscape both lush with green and desolate with cloud and exposed turf.
I moved a small bookshelf in my apartment on Saturday, and was greeted by a dust bunny so large that it was more like a dust Flemish giant rabbit. I was moving the bookshelf in the first place because I’d decided it was time for some redecoration: I had framed some posters and pictures, and had some others I’d just never gotten around to hanging, so I enlisted Dakota in this fun project for the long weekend. We were trying to finalize the placement of the print from the recent Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum when I found Harvey, and in some ways, it’s been downhill ever since.
It’s hard to believe, when one is standing over a pile of grimy white folding chairs at eleven a.m., surrounded by a Pinterester’s nightmare of wooden crates and beer growlers and baby’s breath, that a wedding is going to happen in a mere six hours’ time. We’re short a table, unless ten folks want to try to jam ten pairs of adult legs under a table more ideally intended for six or perhaps eight; the high winds knock over fragile centerpieces, spilling water already discolored from plant matter in cascades over the rented robin’s-egg-blue tablecloths; there aren’t enough scissors or extension cords or wine glasses, the latter issue having already sent no fewer than four relatives on a desperate errand to Party City the previous evening.
Donna told me, when I was panicking the night before my own wedding, that things always come together, and that it was important to remember that it would be one of the very few times that so many people I loved would be all together in one space. I imagine something went wrong at my wedding, but who could say what anymore? I do remember all those people in that one space, and the way it added up to the only memory that really matters: that of being surrounded by love at the moment Dakota and I promised more of that love to each other.