Title: “How Are You? Letter”
Date: May 26, 2020
Word count: 574
Byline: Jenn Gibbs
How am I? Thanks for asking! Overall, splendid—a thousand glittering specks drifting on a smallish breeze. A few are bits of broken glass that might be nasty if caught in an eye. But even they can catch the light.
From the start I thought time at home might be good for us. Elder teen had become an empty fridge and sneakers by the door. Younger teen had been left to his own electronic devices perhaps a bit too much. And both Hawkins and I could telework. Commute time could be transformed into trail time. Or writing. Or—. We started to find a shallow new groove.
Then I woke to the sound of a million squirrels skittering down our roof. Hawkins bolting from our bed. “It’s an earthquake!” Still groggy, we Abbott and Costelloed our way to wake the boys.
COVID already had me thinking of the escape to the countryside in The Decameron and the choleric miasma in Bleak House—but my cogitations on human interdependence and contagion were from a scholarly distance, afforded by the low rate of infections in Utah. The drama was far away. I hadn’t yet heard from my friend in Corona, Queens or the neighbors whose small business was shuttered. Tales of economic hardship weren’t yet on the news. Thanks to the earthquake, I now saw in UHD precision how even if our cozy house was spared by COVID and/or quake, we still needed others for food, drivable roads, potable water, Internet. We needed the world more than the world needed us.
(Prepper bug farms began to make sense.)
Then: grocery shopping. The first time I ventured to Smith’s, the collective anxiety wafted like a rank odor. Only gluten-free and Lite bread. Only the gross peanut butter in the costliest-per-ounce sizes. People slumped before empty paper goods shelves like they’d been punched in the sternum. As I derided TP hoarders, I loaded my cart with a thousand packages of coffee. I bought a jar of that ghastly powdered peanut butter that no one anywhere should eat ever, envisioning us mouthing spoonfuls should we be unable to capture bugs. I came home feeling jittery, snappish.
That excursion taught me that masks and social distance couldn’t protect us from the other virus that was spreading faster that COVID-19: fear. The kind that paralyzes. Numbs. Or inflames. That makes us more concerned about our rights than our responsibilities. That makes us think if we just stock our own shelves and keep our distance, we’ve done our part.
My mom always says, “To eradicate evil, work energetically in the direction of good.” Since the earthquake, I’ve sewn masks for healthcare workers. Continued to try my best in work for an education network that supports teachers and students throughout the state. I relentlessly hurl gratitude at every gripe or hypothetical that could freak me out. I hike, a lot, and converse with the teens about game bosses, muscle priming, and reincarnation. I write poem-like things when I’m a cloud of specks and essay-like things when I’m not.
In The Decameron, the plague is like bitter cocoa encasing a truffle: sweet stories bulk the interior. But—and this is the most important part to me—after a pleasant interval of self-isolation, Boccaccio’s tale-spinning Florentines return home to their devastated city. I like to think they applied their good fortune to helping rebuild it. I hope to do the same.