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Amy Bergen

Thanks for asking – calm and tranquil right now, though ask me again in 15 minutes, 40 minutes, a year. The spring birds are asserting themselves, emboldened by the reduced traffic or joyful or, I don’t know, bored.

I got the bike out yesterday for the first time since October. The seagulls and I are enjoying ourselves sailing through vacant parking lots. The drivers are not; they seem more tired than they’ve ever been. Some wear masks within the hold of their machines. On more vacant streets the city looks eternal, haunting. The bay glitters with blinding light.

This is the "otherworld" of pandemic spring: helmet, sunglasses, and mask together create a space helmet effect. The glasses fog. Gold light strains as if through a screen, in one of those 3-D movies that held children of my generation in awe. It’s my neighborhood but it’s really not. Writer Elmo Keep, reporting on the failed Mars One mission for Medium, compared a one-way Mars trip to a death row sentence. The door clicks shut, the old world fades, and survival becomes a delicate, hellish calculation. I’m terrified of making a simple, costly mistake, as I imagine an astronaut might be. The truth is a year and a half ago when my father got an infection in the nursing home, where diseases spread like spilled liquid, I never thought of responsibility or blame. The facility could meet his needs; we couldn’t. That was the bargain we struck. Whatever the nurses and other staff members were paid, anyway, wasn’t nearly enough.

Of course we got to see Dad before he died.

The news felt like a rocket into outer space. That’s the best way I can describe it. Something in the ether was holding me here, in this space and time, and it dissolved like gravel or gravity, the curtain pulled back – here you are! Life!

Since time collapsed all my past selves have crowded in, even the inner child, permanently home from school. Yesterday I ate leftover pasta for breakfast. In the public park I lay down and looked at the sky. Reminders, deadlines, reprimands seem to be shouted from a muffled loudspeaker, laughably irrelevant to wherever the hell I am. And where is that? Does location even matter? Do I exist if no one can see me?

I don’t feel nonexistent now but I did once. There was a year I got laid off and lost health insurance and found bedbugs in my second NYC apartment as I had in my first. Et cetera. Most days – this is hard to explain – I didn’t want to survive. I still feel loyalty to the person I was then. I know what she was thinking and feeling. You might know as well, reader.

At this point I’m curious enough what happens next, because this is one hell of a plot twist, and the medication appears to be working, and I have a community, and I can write.

Another thing I’ve been doing is taking distant pictures of empty playgrounds. What an under-appreciated architecture, one that urges us into another version of ourselves, the one that likes to climb.



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