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Robin Hemley


How are you? Is probably the most complicated question I can be asked today. How am I? I don’t know. Maybe you and I can jump on Zoom and you tell me how I am? But it will have to be brief because I have another Zoom call in a few. I attended a Zoom reading last night and one of the audience members said she and her family have banned the word, “Fine” in response to the question. I have never liked “Fine” very much as an answer for anything, just as I have never liked the term, “interesting,” which is what my brother in Israel termed a column I wrote recently for the Dallas Morning News, just as I dislike the term, “very unique,” or the word, “suddenly,” which the short story writer Grace Paley once told me was the least sudden word around. But maybe it’s a good answer to the question, “How am I?”

“Suddenly, very unique, thanks for asking.”

But that’s not really so. I am anything but sudden or very unique today.

I find myself suddenly sharing a condition with most of the rest of humanity that is so common that it’s shocking. Before six weeks ago, I thought the only conditions I shared with the rest of humanity were death and taxes. But perhaps this new condition is simply a permutation of death and taxes. Perhaps, Zoom is a form of death and Covid-19 is a kind of tax that has suddenly come due.

Fortunately, we have enough rooms in our house that I do not have to hold Zoom meetings in my bathroom as a Dean had to do on a call with me recently (she had the video off) because her husband was rehearsing a Zoom theater production in her living room.

A kitten has suddenly appeared in our midst. This kitten’s name is Covid-20 (truly) and he’s a black cat that we were given by the neighbor of a friend when all this started. I did not name him this. Margie, my wife, who is a nurse and is from the Philippines, wanted the cat but did not know she was getting a black cat. Her mom, back in the Philippines, asks her, “Why did you get a black cat?” Not why did you name it Covid? As a Jew married to a Filipino, our penchant for gallows humor predates the current crisis.

Margie works 12 hour shifts at the University hospital. Every morning, after her shift, I pick her up, and I ask her, “How was your shift?” which is my way of saying, “How likely am I to die from kissing you today?” But so far, she has not dealt with any covid patients, or so she says. She knows I will freak out when she starts treating covid patients, so she is likely lying because she knows that this is for the best when it comes to dealing with me. I can only take so much.

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