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Karen Hausdoerffer

Updated: May 12, 2020

“How are you?” A friend asks me in the grocery store, and I panic behind my floral mask.

“We got a puppy!” My answer doesn’t fit his question, though we do have a new puppy, all wriggles and joy, all shit on the floor in the dark.

How are you?

I dream in Zoom squares. I dream in Facebook scrolls. I wake to the puppy rattling the cage. My whole family sleep-talks now. They sleep-argue with dream friends.

We wake into homelife. We stop listening to the morning announcements online. Maybe the principal isn’t real. Maybe the teacher is only invented pixels on the computer.

How are you?

My students from Venezuela say this collapse of government feels like a second bad movie. I teach them the word: sequel. My students from China knew this was coming from phone calls across oceans back when Chinese New Year celebrations got cancelled.

My students from Colorado mute against squabbling siblings in the background, then flick off line when a cable gets cut.

An email informs me that one of my class sections will go to a full-time professor next year, to someone who didn’t accept part-time work those years ago when I started to raise children. I acquiesce politely.

Then I swear at everyone in my house. Even the puppy.

How are you?

I run up into the hills beneath snowy peaks, flying past Indian paintbrush as red as ever.

After, I lay in the grass, telling myself that my limbs can just flop in the sun, and I don’t need somewhere to go next.

I don’t believe myself. Without plans, I can’t remember what I want. Bad Buddhist—I like wanting things.

How are you?

I foster a rescue pit bull mother. When she leans her giant, smashed-up head into my chest, I feel I am holding my own mother. When she leaves for her new home, I kiss her snout and cry.

The neighborhood howls at eight each night, and my youngest human yips on all fours.

Afterwards, my oldest and I walk the quiet streets, passing the same houses we used to pass when she was too young to wake for school in the morning. Yellow lights turn on inside the windows to promise us that we’re not the only ones left alive.

How are you?

On my birthday, my friends drive by in a car parade and read me haiku from cardboard signs. The love buoys me up for days.

We call my parents and my brother to eat our separate cakes.

On the screen, my mother sees my image and goes looking for me in her house, her uncut grey hair floating after her like a cloud.

Now that the world has Covid 19, it seems unfair that people still suffer and die with all the old ailments from before.

How are you?

I was never good at algebra. “Write the equation neatly!” I shout at my daughter, and upstairs, my husband has to shut the door so his students don’t hear me through the audio.

On my birthday, my mother wanders back through the room where my father laughs at something my brother said on his square on the screen. Untethered, Mom hunches forward and peers around the room I used to sleep in.

Usually, we visit my parents this month. We hold each other close, and my mother smells like fresh leaves.

How are you?

Thank you for asking. I don’t know anymore.

How about you?

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