The best thing I did for myself this year was to adopt Dutch on my birthday in November. He is a sweet, five-year-old Lab-shepherd mix, weighing in at 70 pounds. On March 26, when the president of the educational testing company I work for emailed us, saying that our salary would be cut 20 percent due to many states expecting minimal or no testing, I sat on the living room rug with Dutch. I hugged him and cried for a long time. Fear. Anger. I was mad at the Corona virus, at the government for shutting down, at my company.
I knew I could not pay my bills on the reduced salary. It was a struggle to live on my full salary. I had options, but that night sitting on the floor with Dutch, I did not know what they were. I was isolated from the world, living alone, and working from home. Dutch had no idea what was wrong, but he licked my tears and was content to lay on the floor while I cried. My company has since gotten a PPP award and our salaries are restored. But on March 26, I felt helpless, as many of us have, due to the Covid-19 -shelter-in-place.
Now I realize that pandemic that I was so angry at months ago is responsible getting me out of my shell. It is hard to imagine that good could come from this disease, but it has helped bring me out of the isolation I experienced for years. You might ask how being shut in alone would help with isolation.
I talked to my therapist yesterday for a half hour about just that. (Yes, I see a therapist and believe everyone should.). I told him that at age 57, I believe I have finally grown up. He said, “That’s great. Many people never do.” And while he may have been joking because he uses humor as part of his therapy, I it rings true. Why else would people react with such appalling behavior during this pandemic.
My therapist says the lack connections with people forced me to reach out and reconnect to the people in my life. I talk to my mom twice a day now. This has helped me so much. I started calling Mom because I was worried about her living alone in South St. Louis, near Ferguson. This is an area where Corona cases are high. She lives in a retirement home where no visitors were allowed and at least one person there died from Covid. So I called her every other day or so. Then I found myself calling Mom every day and then twice a day. But I wasn’t calling anymore because I was worried about her, I needed to talk. And she enjoys my calls. She lives in a one room apartment with only herself for company.
I also reconnected with two of my sisters who live in San Diego. We have a weekly Sunday evening call. I hadn’t been close to them in years. I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen in months and some years. Now I drive to see a friend who lives out in the country every other week or so. We sit on lawn chairs and talk. Sometimes Dutch comes and plays with her dog.
I also contacted members of my former critique group. We’ve started meeting virtually—what a huge difference this has made in my life. I am inspired to write again. They helped me polish my story “Personal Best,” which I submitted yesterday to literary magazines. My first submission since 2013. The happiness the simple act of pressing send gave me is indescribable. I have not written anything other than educational articles and test questions from the time my late husband Harry got sick in 2011 until now. Here are a few lines from the story:
A couple walks by holding hands. For the first time in two years, I don’t feel envy, anger, or annoyance to see them together. “I am happy. I’m alone. But I’m okay.”
There are parallels in my life to Maria’s in the story. I loosely based her character on me. In my real life, it took me five years after my husband’s death, not two, to be able to watch happy couples and not tear up. Maria in my story healed faster than I did. She experienced a tragedy that cost her everything, much like my own losses. She struggled with addiction and despair but was helped by the enduring spirit of her daughter. I believe my daughter and husband have influenced my life from their heaven. I feel them in the decisions I make.