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Sylvia Torti


How am I? Today? Amazed and joyful. My son turned 21! We’re not going to the cocktail bar and then out for music as originally planned. We’re doing what we’ve been doing since he returned from New Zealand in March. I get up early. Email email email. Zoom Zoom Zoom. I feel grateful to be working from home. Both parts in equal measure: the ‘having work’ and the ‘not going into work.’ In between meetings and emails, I pull weeds, turn soil, plant seeds, refill sugar syrup for the new bees. I drink coffee, and eye the ever-more-assertive, constantly chattering, annoyingly active Fox squirrels, which first arrived to Utah in 2011.

“They’re an invasive species!” I tell a friend, defending my off-comment about the value of bb guns.

“So are you,” he says.

My son sleeps until one. I make him breakfast. He finishes schoolwork, goes to his job, and then in the evening we eat on the patio outside. The virus feels far away and I am happier than I’ve been in years. I so want to be ok with joy today because we’ve stopped driving around and the valley air is clear like it hasn’t been since he was born. The temperature is delicious, the bees have taken hold, two hummingbirds seem to think my garden is alright, and the arugula is spicy delicious.

“Why do the squirrels bug you so much?”

“I honestly have no idea. They just do.”

We are talking! After years of grunts and half answers and glazed, pot-heavy eyes, my son has ideas! And, he wants to hang out and tell me about them. Last week, floating on a desert river we saw an otter family, a great blue heron, a black-capped night heron…. My son! He knows how to read the water, how to paddle. He tells me about the forty days he spent on an Alaskan river (first I’ve heard of these experiences though they happened two years ago). He talks about the Maori, their cultural and values, and the ways he wants the world to be organized. He’s thinking about power and environment, economy and culture.

The next day he posts: “Seemingly unchanged in its rhythm, the desert continues as if nothing has happened. For our species, it feels as though the world has stopped. However, the world continues. It remains constant. It is only us who feel a difference, a shift in perceived power. That power was always there, and will remain there.”

My son! A writer! Years of worry shedding away. Maybe I was okay all along? Maybe he was ok too? I remember 21 years ago. I was so afraid of the birth, afraid of being a mother, afraid of being trapped as a wife. I’m thinking about how in the past four years, I’ve been existentially, and practically, afraid for democracy (even if we’ve only ever approximated it), afraid for women, afraid of global warming and fires, afraid of last year’s cancer and the resulting surgeries and the fake breast (which fear I am admitting for the first time). But most of all, I have been terribly afraid that I am becoming inured and cynical.

Corona has meant slowing down and going on hikes, and as my walking legs come back, I realize I’m not cynical or uncaring. I’ve just been exhausted and too stretched to reconcile the levels of agency we have with those we don’t. With the slowing down I have time to think, and what I think is that the squirrel I so dislike is the me in that ‘other life,’ the one where I’m working and producing and always rushing. Where I’m moving and consuming and planning with frenzied style.

Living within the expanse of geological time and Trump, invisible viruses and cancers, before my body turns to soil, I want to do more of this joyful slow time. I want to plant and walk and sustain. Seeds, body, friendships. A new relationship with my son, a new one with my community, a new one with myself.

My son has turned 21!

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