It’s Spring inside quarantine and I am holed up in the downstairs apartment trying to make like a happy hobbit, writing at a desk set before a window ringed in leafy greens. This is Iowa. Where the virus is spreading fast, yet where I’m lucky. I’m lucky for sunny days and growing things, and lucky for my children who I hear above me through the ceiling, in a tussle, or head lock, issuing full throttle screams that could mean joy, rage, or injury.
While I move on the page; back and forth, erasing, rushing, holding up, they move in their bodies. They charge at one another, lash out with slaps, hit the ground in laughter. They run past my window (my littlest one without shoes -- even as I know there is glass down in the ravine.)
This is the way it has to be.
I in my hobbit hole writing about a place all the way across the country, a person I knew, and the person I was a lifetime ago. By doing this I am ungrounding, yanking my newly formed roots at a time when I want to feel thankful for where I am: my material reality, privilege and the company I keep. I am unsettling myself to go to a place that’s frightening, and where I’m vulnerable, knowing it may take all the emotional reserve I could be saving for my children.
On a break from writing (yes, I’m allowed breaks from writing and, no, writing itself is not a break) I steal outside, careful to avoid son and daughter who are scaling the pine tree, climbing 20 feet on tender branches into the air. In the garden behind the garage I try to make new discoveries among growing shoots. I try this every Spring, to develop a long term, cyclical connection to blood root, damp soil, and the sunflower seeds I hastily planted which may or may not be sprouting. Do all sprouts look the same? I grew up in the South West, with dry air, large swaths of open earth that reflect and hold the sky.
The children rush by and I curl into the wall of the garage and duck. I see my daughter’s bare feet again, a white flash. My son may or may not be leading her to the ravine. But it’s my husband’s turn. I try to squelch the “mother panic” on principle, which is like trying squelch a weed. A weed that turns out, in the end of the story, to have special life giving powers.
Walking back, the tulips grown from bulbs I planted on suggestion of my husband last fall have appeared in full bloom overnight, as if a UPS delivery person went straight to our back yard and stuck them in the ground. How did this happen? They grow like my children grow, or the way I hope my children grow: with little intervention. Since the beginning of quarantine both the 7 and 11 year old have grown in inches, and teeth and silky hair. I think their eyes are shining, now that I’ve let them go wild.
The tulips don’t feel entirely real to me. I don’t feel responsible for or connected to their growth. Because of this I take a picture of them and post it on Facebook, “I planted these beautiful tulips” I say, and wait for people to respond.
Sometimes I post pictures of my children for the same reason. So people will say “They are lovely, you are doing so well, continue!” And for a little while I believe them.
Outside of quarantine I struggle with the gap between myself and the world, the slight selfish writerly divide, a little hurdle I need, nurture and want to jump across, in order to process, to get into an experience and make it my own. Yet now that my children and husband are here with me all the time, pressing in, this gap that I now see as fertile ground is under constant threat of collapse, and I feel like I cannot catch my breath. My “monstrousness” if that is what it is; my need to retreat, my hunger to create and experience things on my own terms, is made more visible to me.
Yet I choose most days to write. And I use my wild children, and the green spring as growing matter to get to something else. A place across the country where the air is dry and therefore clean, where eroded rocks reflect mica, reflect large swaths of the sky. Here is barbed wire, and asphalt that holds heat, and a person who knows the smells of his cell mates but not of children. Not of lilac, not of earth.