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Jill Christman

Dear Nicole,

Wow. Hello out there. I thought I would have my reply to you the next day and here we are three weeks later, so I can begin by saying that one way I am is adrift in the amoeba of time, jellying about in the primordial goo. Everything feels slippery or slipping or already slipped away. I am trying to get a grip. Is it just me? Everything I do takes at least five times longer than it should despite having nowhere to go. I have nothing to do and everything to be, I lie kindly to myself when the book review refuses to write itself or the email stacks up like knotty cord wood or I realize that the new tax deadline that once seemed endlessly far in the future is now urgently scratching at the door of the bedroom where I have closed myself in to write. The question that dogs me: what can I do that actually matters?

How am I doing? I’m as lucky as we come—food, shelter, beloveds—but when I’m not scared for the future of our whole broken beautiful planet, I’m mad—and usually I’m both. Yesterday, I wrote a letter to the principal of my kids’ school: get rid of the armed “school resource officer,” dismantle the culture of surveillance, and use those liberated resources to build actual relationships where all kids—not just my white ones—can trust the adults who are charged with their education. We are all grieving, aren’t we? Last night, I dreamed I was trying to clean out a giant fish tank, but the fish, snails, and crayfish were my family, and I needed to catch each one before they slid down the drain. I remember this feeling of slippage from other times of loss and I know there is no going around. The only way is through, and I’ve got to tell you, the trail is sucking at my boots. We have all the trappings of luckiest pandemic shut-ins: the sourdough, the herb garden, the hummingbird feeder with the freshest, most carefully measured nectar in town—but nary a hummer. I hung a bright orange Camp Half Blood t-shirt on the branch behind the feeder to bring them in, but so far, nothing.

How am I doing? I so appreciate you asking and I want to tell the truth. When your email arrived, I mentioned it to Mark because the occasion of having you, the kind and brilliant Nicole Walker, enter our house here in Muncie, Indiana, albeit electronically (as one does), all the way from Arizona, counted as newsworthy. We got to reminiscing about the Time Before and do you know what we realized? Not only was the reading at Moses Rose’s Hideout in San Antonio on March 6th the very last time we stepped foot in a bar or restaurant, but you were the last human outside our sheltered-in-place-family-of-four that either one of us hugged. Nicole, you were my final pre-lockdown hug. I was in that weird but brief elbow-bumping stage, but you were quick, you came in from the side—and had I known? Well. I would have better marked that moment, raised a cold can of IPA to human touch.

On the day you asked, we were on Day 74 of sheltering in place and in the three weeks since we’ve been gradually testing the waters: twice I’ve taken Henry to the pool where they shoot your temperature at the gate, all the employees wear masks, and kids can see other kids—real kids who laugh IRL and splash back with the kind of water that’s actually, you know, wet—outside under the bright sun in a big blue bowl of water so chlorinated I’ve convinced myself it’s a chance we can take because this thing isn’t going anywhere soon and at this point in the pandemic I feel like Philippe Petit dancing on his wire between the Twin Towers, but I’m balancing a kid on each end of my walking pole and my knees are quaking with fear. It’s a thin line between staying safe—and losing our minds and our hearts and our hope. I am putting one foot in front of the other.

The towers fell almost twenty years ago and Petit is seventy and living in New York City. I wonder how he handles this species of fear, don’t you?

I am wishing you and your dear ones health, Nicole.

Onward with love.



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