Sun came in the windows for a brief moment today. There’s been a lot of gloom. I’m used to being outside. I went from buzzing around all day every day to sitting on my butt in a nest of blankets and pillows playing video games and reading the occasional book. And writing. Sometimes. I’m supposed to be writing. I’ve written some, every day of quarantine, but I’m trying too hard and I know it. I need to work on something else. I need to write but I want to be outside.
The weather is reflective of my mood, though I can’t think of a metaphorical way to say that. It just is what it is. Perhaps the sun too fears the virus; it hides behind clouds and peeks out sporadically to see if the coast is clear. I am reminded of a professor long ago who used to joke about English majors being ready for the zombie apocalypse. When I look outside, when I go outside, that’s what it feels like. The few people who are out wear masks, and those who care queue up six feet apart to enter their destination. They’re talking about creating mass graves in the city parks to deal with the overwhelming number of dead. I never imagined the world would really be like this, despite an upbringing of disaster and horror films. The back of my head echos with thoughts of who the first to zombify will be. As a result, I don’t go outside much. We aren’t supposed to anyway. Stay at home. Social distancing. I’m an introvert, yes, but it still sucks. I miss it. I want to walk and run and breathe fresh air and, for lack of better imagery, frolic in the tulips. Divorced nearly ten years, I find myself in a place mentally that I can’t define, a void where I can’t go out and I can’t see friends and I can’t work. And I can’t go outside.
It feels like my marriage.
My ex-husband wasn’t too keen on the outdoors normally. He was a pretty boy; he spent more time in the mirror getting perfect every morning than I spent in an entire week. He didn’t like to sweat. I’d camped with my grandma a lot as a child, but the ex wasn’t into that. He was, however, into ultimate frisbee. To this day, I don’t know why. The park surrounding the college near where we lived had an amazing frisbee golf course. He called me after my merchandising shift one night to tell me to meet him, and his family, there. He and his brother and his mother and his father and his sister and her maybe by then husband would be playing the entire course. I wasn’t in the mood after a ten hour workday to battle bloodthirsty mosquitos in near darkness when I hadn’t even had dinner yet. But I went. I had to. I was driving his car to work after my recent accident, and I knew he’d want me to drive him home. So I changed in the work bathroom into something more presentable.
The then-husband took my hand when I got there, wove his sweaty fingers into mine and soaked my palm. I could tell by the way he squeezed that I had pleased him. It wasn’t often that he gave me that feeling. I breathed in the dark air, the unidentifiable-to-me tree scents. I took all that for granted back then, when I could go outside whenever I wanted. The most important thing to me then was that the husband was happy. He wrapped an arm around me to pull me in, whispered “I’m winning.”
“I know,” I replied. It seemed like the only thing to say. Anything else that hinted he might not win didn’t feel right. I was in enough trouble. I had to be careful.
I crashed my car on a Sunday afternoon, a few weeks prior.
The husband and his family were at a concert by the lake in the city where I lived then. Normally I loved concerts. When I was a kid, my grandma would take me to see big band concerts, jazz, symphonies, and the like. But on that particular weekend, sitting in a green camping chair under the white temporary tent, watching the husband press buttons and sliders and try to make the band sound good while everyone praised him for being such a wonderful Christian example and starting his new sound engineering business, it was all too much. I had always thought that because he was a Christian he was good. I didn’t know then that those two ideas weren’t necessarily married, but I was beginning to get an idea. I feigned a phone call from work that urgently needed my attention and promptly got in my car and took off.
I drove towards the store, fully intending to go there so he’d see me on the GPS. I remember the soundtrack to a “A Walk to Remember” blaring as I opened the car windows to enjoy the 80 degree day, not caring in the slightest that people could hear me singing along with Mandy Moore. It was a straight shot down the rural highway, a maybe twenty minute ride.
At the third stoplight, a Ford F150 slammed into me from behind. My singing stopped instantaneously as I tried to rapidly process what had happened. The thoughts came quicker than I could hold on to them:
Was this my fault? I was stopped at the red. He smashed me from behind. The husband is going to kill me. Oh god, he’s going to have to leave the gig. What am I going to tell him? How much is this going to cost us?
I got out of the car. I’d never had an accident before; I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. My chest, face, hurt where I’d slammed the dash, but the injuries my car had sustained were much worse. The enormous back truck had crunched its way over the truck of my Oldsmobile accordion style. Glass from the back windows was all over the highway.
The truck was driven by an off duty police officer who summoned his coworkers before I really understood what was going on. He claimed I had failed to signal a lane change before stopping at the light, despite the fact that my signal was on. By the time the husband showed up with his entire family in tow, I had been issued a citation for failure to signal and a tow truck had been summoned to remove my totalled vehicle from the road.
He wasn’t mad. Somehow, he wasn’t mad. We went back to the gig in the family van and packed up all the sound equipment, headed home, and watched “A Walk to Remember.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t my favorite movie anymore. But for the following weeks, he made me pay for my transgression in different ways. A sideways look here. A changed channel there. An off putting comment about the dinner I’d cooked or the long hours I was working, that I couldn’t always go to church on Sundays. He wasn’t working by that point; his budding new business had taken over all of his time yet produced minimal income. He was jealous of me, but I didn’t see that then.
That felt erased as we stood on the path in the middle of a bug-ridden unlit woods, searching for the next frisbee hoop. He pointed with the frisbee. ‘Think I can make it?”
My answer was automatic. “Of course.”
He didn’t make it. The frisbee bounced off and got lost in the darkness, but I plunged after it without a second thought. Into the bushes I went, scraping my arms on prickers.
“Do you see it?” He made no effort to follow or help me.
As I plunged further in, a branch grabbed my untethered hair and pulled, eliciting a yelp.
“What’s the matter? See a ghost?”
I kept my mouth shut, my fingers closing around the blue plastic disc. Gently disentangling myself from the wooded bark fingers, I slipped back to the path and handed him his treasure. “Try again,” was all I replied. “You can make it.” And he did.
He was the victor of his family unit, and we left the woods hand in hand. He was happy I’d come, happy I’d played along. He liked when I–
A blast of light greeted us in the face as we emerged from the trailhead to the parking lot. Headlights. I’d left his car headlights on. Did he blame it on the ten hour work day, the lack of breaks or food? No, he blamed it on my ever-present idiocy, a fact he drove home without speaking as his nails dug into my palm.
“Let us drive you both home,” his mother insisted when the car wouldn’t start. We lived around the corner from them then so it wasn’t inconvenient.
I knew when he said no that things wouldn’t end well. I feared what would happen in the dark as we waited for the tow truck to arrive with jumper cables. I was right to fear.
I was right to fear then, but am I right to fear now, fear that I can’t go outside, that I might get sick, that the not-real zombies might get me? The fear is different now, but it feels the same today as it did back then, fear of this virus that waits in the unknown, fear of the husband that cracked in the dark. And I don’t know what that means, if my life is any different now than it was then, if I’ve come so far to be the same person I always was, trapped inside without friends and unemployed. I watch an episode of a zombie show where one of the survivors gets the phrase “I lose people; I lose myself” sharpied onto his forehead with permanent black marker. I realize how much I miss a life it took me so long to rebuild, a life quarantine makes me feel like is being erased. I try the words on my tongue, “I lose people; I lose myself.” I hold my furry best friend a little tighter, and I count the days till life might resume again.