Thank you for asking how I am.
I have been thinking about my college English professor, Dr. Kroll. Her daily uniform was a navy corduroy skirt, a white button-down, and gold-rimmed glasses that looked like they needed to be cleaned. She had a white Subaru because “white is the easiest paint color to match.” More than once, she was late to class because she forgot what happens when you put tin foil in the microwave. I took every class Dr. Kroll offered: Introduction to Literature, Medieval Literature, Modern Drama. She introduced me to the Oxford English Dictionary. I would sit in the library until it closed, paging through giant faded volumes, stopping on words I had once thought were simple. Thirty years later, I look up how. From the Old English hogu. Strong feminine. A “doublet of why.” Care, anxiety, trouble, sorrow.
I have started keeping a list of things strangers have said to me while I am wearing a mask: Look! A bald eagle! I cleaned off this cart. Is it safe to pet a horse? I don’t have to wear lipstick anymore. I made a troll’s house with a glue gun and some moss.
Six weeks ago, I texted my sister a mundane complaint. She texted back that she and her husband were in the emergency room. His fever was 101, hers 103. If I didn’t have the virus coming in here, I do now, her text read. They sat on cloth chairs, surrounded by coughing people. A nurse tested Mairin, but not Tom. If she has it, so do you. It took ten days to learn she had contracted COVID-19. By then, they were starting to feel better, but still sounded breathless on the phone.
I have been thinking that I need to stop texting mundane complaints. I have been thinking about how vulnerable my Maymester students look in their little Zoom boxes. How when I asked a student from Saudi Arabia what befuddles him, he said, “People who don’t like cheesecake.” It is Ramadan. Because of the time zone, he is taking my class late at night.
I am thinking about a trailer I saw this morning, for a documentary about Judy Dench and her love of trees. “I think of trees as part of my extended family,” she says, then holds a stethoscope-type-thing up to a tree trunk, looks at the camera, and says what she hears is “riveting.”
I have been thinking of the things my spring semester students said after we stopped meeting in person. I would sit on my office floor, next to the dogs’ beds reading texts and emails, listening to voicemails, returning calls. I got a job at a plastic factory. My cat, Yam, is saving my life. Do you need any masks? If I can’t go in the ocean, I don’t know who I am. My father had a life-threatening bender. I am not good at leaving voicemails. My mother lost her job. I will be right here, ready to pick up the phone. There will never be another snow day. We stood on the lawn and paid our respects in a socially distanced way. I don’t have internet at home. I have been struggling with my mental health. I have been doing your writing prompts. Things will never be back to normal. I am looking forward to hearing about whatnot. I have been cleaning a doctor’s office. We will talk to each other soon.