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Annamarie Carlson


I find myself thinking about my childhood more than usual. In a time when El Granada, California was encased in fog almost daily, we lived just blocks from the harbor and the stretch of sand known as Surfer’s Beach. At night when I couldn’t sleep, I would listen to the fog horn. I would try to count the seconds between blasts, but it never seemed to be a pattern I could follow.

When I taught in Japan, teachers came to work no matter what. During typhoons, teachers filled the communal staff room as rain lashed the windows and the TV on wheels was connected to the cable for emergency updates.

The only other time the TV on wheels was brought into the staff room during my tenure was on the day of the 2016 US General Election. Coworkers stared at me across the room as the results were tallied on screen, whispering just loudly enough to be accusatory. “You don’t look so good,” a Government and World History teacher remarked as I shuffled up the stairs to teach a class of high school seniors looking to me to make sense of a rapidly changed global reality.

Teachers came to work during emergencies, it was explained to me, because of the school’s function in the community. If a student needed help, they knew exactly how to reach their home room teacher.

I usually used my paid leave to stay home during typhoons.

My students struggled with the passage of time after we moved online in March. The foghorn blast of our weekly Zoom sessions faded away to summer vacation. This time I tried to be the home room teacher my students knew how to reach. I’ll never know if it was enough.

We left El Granada in 2007. I am now preparing to move even further from that familiar foghorn to begin PhD study in Bloomington, Indiana. Moving during a pandemic is strange. I count the weeks since I last had dinner with a group of people (eleven) while standing on the marked socially distant square in line to buy boxes at the U-Haul store. I tally miles and fuel costs alongside hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for gas stations and the potential risk if I’m a vector for the virus about to drive across seven states.

Sometimes the sound of the foghorn was interrupted by a howl from our cat, Sammy. Sammy was the reason my first word was “kitty.” Losing his vision at 18 years old, Sammy would get lost in the dark of the kitchen and cry until he was found. I feel like Sammy now. Disconnected from even the imperfect measure of “day-to-day life,” I can only howl into the darkness.

But howling, at least, feels active. The foghorn howls, however atemporally, to warn of the dangers of the dark. I intend to find my way howling until I bump into the kitchen table and know where I am once again.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020