Autumn Postcard, Virginia

Exhaustion seems to be the order of the day.  The year has taxed everyone. Most of us have behaved admirably, but we’re tired.  And there seems to be no rest for the weary.  Here in Virginia, after the initial explosion of hospitalizations and deaths last spring, when my former students at hospitals here in Richmond wore the stripes of N-95 masks on their tear-streaked faces as they told of their labors, there was a lull across the summer, Governor Northam having imposed lockdown rules that seemed to work (at least among those of us who followed them), but here we go again. 

What a beleaguered summer it was, too.  For two months protestors marched on Monument Avenue, making a communal art project of the Confederate statues that came down one by one, until only Massa Robert is left (soon to fall).  Tear gas, cars set on fire, right wing provocateurs driving their F-150s through crowds.  Eventually, when the General Assembly came into session, some changes were made to policing, not enough but a start, and the protests petered out. 

A national exhalation last Saturday with the election decided for all except the die-hard MAGA contingent (ironic in a year of on the nose ironies that Biden won by exactly the same electoral college count as Trump had in 2016, and which he had touted as a “landslide”).  But this week, shoulders slump. What can Biden do?

Lonely.  No closure for so many things.  Our grandma, my dear friend Sarah, colleague Rondalyn’s husband all three dead but no funerals yet.  Chris’ other grandma in isolation in a New York nursing home all these months, anxious and confused in dementia.  My friend Corey in a low security federal prison where Bill Barr’s trial of herd immunity has killed at least 30 of his fellow inmates, where more than 1000 have tested positive. 

I teach via Zoom, my students stony-faced on the expanded Hollywood Squares style screen. I see them once a week for face-to-face labs, but in masks and goggles cannot make out who they are, have forgotten some of their names.  My boys completing their senior college year in their bedrooms.  All of us knowing this is not an education, that this whole generation in virtual school is getting ripped off.

Meanwhile, the powers that be grind on.  The stock market soars, the rich get richer, that old song.  Of course, Chris and I are lucky to have jobs, to have so far avoided the virus, to be resilient enough to carry on, all of us at dinner every night and our dog Buddy at our feet. So many have it so much worse, we all know that.

But I miss my friends, I miss the ceremonies and celebrations that mark milestones and offer closure, the interactions among colleagues and students at work, scribbling a poem over coffee at my favorite breakfast spot, going to a movie, having drinks with pals in a noisy bar, browsing museums, and jogging along in a local road race.  I’m an introvert, a loner, but maybe not as much as I’d thought. 

And with the cold weather upon us, the toughest months are coming.  A midnight call from the nursing home to say Grandma has developed a nasty cough, a friend coming off his last chance chemo, first holidays for families who have lost loved ones, laid off colleagues sending out resumes into a jobless void, my inmate pal getting shipped off to a faraway prison as a way to pretend they’re doing something about the virus, the President, of course, ignoring the pandemic entirely as he pouts about his loss over golf. 

Our fatigue is physical, emotional, spiritual.  We all need a good hug.  Somehow that socially distanced Wakandan salute doesn’t cut it anymore.  Trudge on, live in gratitude, one day at a time, yada yada.  You imagine that a time will come when all these photos of people in masks will spark nostalgia – as Springsteen sang, “One day we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”  One can only hope.

4 thoughts on “Autumn Postcard, Virginia

  1. You’ve clearly expressed what is palpable to all of us. Thank you for using your talent to share those thoughts and experiences to which we can all relate.

    We talked with Ken last night — he mentioned your visits and how special they have been. He’s turned over the keys to the apartment, winding up the storage unit(s), ready for a crew to take away the “too much stuff” in his home — it sounds like he’ll be able to relax a bit. Getting back to his work at the museum is great. Hopefully he’ll get back into his own shop and lose himself there, too.

    Bill has suffered a bout of gout — very painful. It has subsided, but not being able to walk was quite an experience. We’re in the throes of deciding about visiting our grands on the far side of WV. We haven’t seen them for 11 months. At 13 & 9, each of those months is like donkey years and I feel the NEED to be with them. Bill has fallen into a COVID-related depression — insisting we wear both face shields & masks the whole time we’re there, and eating in a separate room when we must take off our masks. Groan. Taking food in the car, we’ll only stop for gas & toilets. The hotel nearby takes all the important precautions, so that’s OK. I don’t know what to do. Maybe we shouldn’t go. But then I’ll probably fall into a depression.

    Thank you for posting your piece. Misery loves company. I’m glad your family is together and I’m glad you can still count your blessings. I think about you often — missing the camaraderie we were establishing earlier this year. Since your post didn’t show up in my regular email — I’m glad I noticed it in the “social” category.

    Best to you and yours.


    • Thanks, Ginger – I miss our e-chats, too. Hate to say it, but think Bill is right about precautions. Hope y’all will go and mask up as best you can. Did you see the article in the NYT today about the history of gout? I’ve so enjoyed hanging out with Ken, doing a little woodworking, hob-nobbing…. Safe travels! And thanks for writing!


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