This is the seventh of an essay series that will be published as long as social distancing is necessary. All pieces are written by Litchfield County residents. If you are interested in submitting an essay for consideration please email us at [email protected].
By Jessica J Russell of Litchfield
March 13th, 2020
“It’s just like a snow day,” I say to the bank teller.
Except it isn’t snowing, and the driving conditions are fine. Ah to be muffled in white—we may as well have been—the streets and storefronts were that quiet. Everything blanketed in stillness. Banking at the drive-through in my black gloves, not because this March day was cold, but because I couldn’t find the box of those blue latex surgical gloves I had stashed after the divorce. And it’s weeks before we start to wear masks to do the groceries. It’s the beginning.
I would imagine a snow day, a game of pretend. This ability to substitute a present reality with a more desirable one is among the gifts of childhood. What a useful trick, to reconstruct the circumstances of joy: awakening to a whiteout, a transformed world, a changing landscape, freedom! Weights lifted! Pressures and obligations dropping away, we would remain ensconced at home, allowing for only the important things to come back into focus.
In our snow-day isolation we gaze out the window, drifts and accumulations burying all that is familiar. The snow is evidence that we aren’t the only ones under this crystalline spell, and we remain reassured by the recognition that we were among the fortunate: with warmth, with food, with shelter. I need this illusion like a drug.
March 16th, 2020
“Anxiety, my old lover, what do you want with me now?”
Bedtime and early mornings are the only time I have to myself, and so I begin a ritual assault on my snow day bubble. Absorbing statistics and unknowns, pieces of news, clips, quotes, tweets, posts. But this is beginning to have an effect. Waking sweaty, heavy heart sinking, pulse rising with the awareness of a new day where nothing is the same as the day before. Grief hangs murky over the dawn. It’s like Christmas morning on opposite day.
March 24th, 2020
To mark the days, our town has begun a nightly bell ringing tradition. From 8:00 – 8:02 the church bells toll, and from our doorsteps we make a sound, our rejoinder of singing bowls and little brass Indian bells heard at least as far as across the street. The silhouettes of our neighbors wave to us, we wave back. This sound, resonant with many lifetimes, is like a call to remember.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
—John Donne (1572 – 1631)
March 30, 2020
“Fire can be made to cook your dinner, or it can be left to burn your house down,” said the sage.
Cohabitating the three of us here, it’s hard to believe entire weeks have passed. Time and work have begun to speed up again; we lapse into easy routines. Wake, meditate, create, consume, clean, repeat. Because they are now nearly fully grown humans, its easy to imagine myself back in college, with roommates bearing an uncanny resemblance to my ancestors. With that association, I conjure a sense of camaraderie. Yet as I watch them at bedtime wrestling like kittens, I remember how close behind their childhoods lie. I witness them play, the bonds of early childhood rekindled, and I see they have all the tools they need. They tumble and tickle and ignite small joy-fires that burn away pain.
April 11th, 2020
I learned recently that trauma is usually recalled in fragments. The frontal lobe, recognizing danger, registering damage, shuts down the careful recording and ordering of experience, protecting us from painful replay. Poetry—an articulation of fragmented, condensed human experience—is the direct expression of trauma. When we feel safe, we will spread out these words, images, and sensations, and begin ordering these fragments. Let us begin tender sorting, let us begin the healing. There is much to be done.