Ebb

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythm

*

When crossing the street in Vietnam, you do it with rhythm

Two, four, six lanes of traffic, steady. Cadent.

Like how you pass days in quarantine.

We’re stuck here

For the first couple days after the COVID test, each ring of the doorbell, each wail of a siren makes the heart skip

Are they coming for us

It’s not rational, this response.

But neither is 2020

The hours dim and bleed into days. No ambulance visit, no PPE squadron, no alarms.

We gain confidence.

Most interruptions to the daily rhythm are benign, helpful. Even comforting.

ding dong

I mark the now-worn path to the door, slip the mask over my ears, and crack it ajar.

If the walkie-talkie is echoing, it’s probably food. A rattling cart, housekeeping, gifting towels and soap. Young Duc, smiling through his mask, attentive and eager to make our stay better. He’s doing the hard work for us.

Or it might be the nurse, resplendent, head to toe in cadet blue, mask, and glasses. Thermometer in hand and now, my face.

35.4

Still free.

Her visits give rhythm

But something about her, perhaps that blue suit, triggers

the bus coming to an abrupt halt and jerking my lagging neck. it’s next level disorientation, the kind that could only arrive after 48 hours of transit, four flights, 11 time zones, and a disaster nap

where are we

I fumble for the zip on my suit, restore my mask and glasses, and stagger down the steps to the assault of humid and hot

The roundabout and facade confront us, but it’s not a typical hotel welcome. No refreshing face towels, no friendly smiles.

This is all business.

We pull our bags off the pile, staggering, stumbling, incoherent, messy humans. As we approach the entrance to the hotel, we hesitate.

A man with an insecticidal spray can gives a couple quick pumps. Our bags and pants are saturated with what smells like home

if home was a chemical factory

We disrobe and discard. Stumble into the lobby

your name please

We are ordered into the elevator

ten ten and ten twelve

The realization that we will be apart now hits. Rhino with me, Elephant with Mama. A hurried, bleary farewell, as we are ushered into our spaces

Alone. Separate, but together.

I pause as the door closes behind. Heart races, breath quickens, I feel dizzy. Then exhaustion hits. There is no sense of calm, for now, no cadence.

No rhythm.

Mercifully, we find sleep, and sleep finds us.

*

The floor to ceiling windows light our way and offer the distraction of the world, moving along, taking place

without us.

We are both absent and here at once. Observers of the world, we call out to see if we still exist.

We are here

can you see us

Endless bikes pursue the expressway below, diverting only so slightly when a brave pedestrian makes her way to cross the road

She moves with confident grace, purposeful,

She lends us her rhythm

And as we watch from above, stuck inside, life, here, and now,

We are grateful.

We send messages through the wall, sneak peeks around the corner, blow kisses through our masks

And find support from friends, some old, most new. Sequestered together within these walls. We share worry, grief, exasperation,

We make use of granite table tops, soft chairs, the same worn carpet, our gym for daily workouts

We ebb, and flow.

Alone. Separate, but together.

We navigate with humour, gratitude, kinship, patience. A shared determination that we will get through this.

That all is relative, impermanent, and so many have it worse than us.

*

The breathtaking lightning storm that visits tonight

Reminds us of what is out there

That at its heart, this year is teaching us all that we are entitled to nothing

but the rhythm of our days, in all their uneven glory.

And, so.

we take nothing for granted

and look forward to the next time we can cross the street.

*

*

i didn’t know

Treasure waits patiently at the base of the tree for the seven-year old to discover

cracked open, stained. all hardened amber

spoils long gone, lunch, for a peckish gecko

or maybe it’s instead a gecko’s egg

It has Elephant wondering

what kind of mammals are birds?

We’re quick to respond

birds aren’t mammals, mammals don’t lay eggs

Wait

we pause for a second

The platypus lays eggs. It’s the only mammal that lays eggs.

Elephant seems satisfied. But Rhino is not.

No.

We look in his direction.

Remember the echidna.

And I’m struck, by the wisdom, here, in this innocent reply.

These unprecedented, tumultuous times, news comes with a daily smack, all anxiousness and collective angst. Too many unknowns. All bets off.

But the echidna is unfazed.

Don’t mind me

he says

Just hanging out, foraging over here, feeding my young without nipples, enjoying my unusually large brain, extraordinary privates (look it up), living slow…taking my time, in a largely solitary existence.

I was social distancing before it was cool

So.

We pause to appreciate patient treasures.

The gift of space, to be with only ourselves, to remember who we are. The extra moments captured, held close, by those who love us, and those we love.

There are hopes.

Above all, for health.

But also, gratitude, and grace, for family, community, friends, near and far,

Those who love us.

And those we love.

That this, like all things, is impermanent – and a gentle reminder to always, but especially now

remember the echidna

precaution

I really love to gamble.

At first, the mask is uncomfortable as it rings my ears and defines the lower half of my face, all tiny checkerboard, black dancing with white. My nose whistles gently as hot breath filters through.

I get used to it though, and forget that I have the mask on. Until I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and am taken aback. I am the king of the elves in Amulet.

are my ears really that pointy

Every day, my hands are so dry.

I’m tired of washing them, sanitizing them, rubbing them.

But don’t worry, I’ll keep it up.

We’re all just playing the percentages, trying to beat the house. Hoping a flatter curve makes this less worse, hoping to learn from the global stories that encompass us all., these days.

They say the house always wins.

But there’s exceptions to every rule. And like a great heist, we’re hoping to take the house down.

Inside the air conditioned, neatly aligned and spacious store. I prepare to sign and pay for the SIM cards. The near-empty bottle of hand sanitizer sits just adjacent to the spray bottle

kills 99.9% of germs on all surfaces

It reassures

sure, but what about the 0.1%

I counter.

But then, step back, and realize

that I can play those odds.

it’s the little things, today

pip

pip

fizzzzzzz

pip

pip

The clear glass lid doesn’t quite fit the pot we’re using, but it doesn’t matter.

I grasp the handle and hold it in place as I shake the pot.

be sure the kernels are coated in oil

I remind myself. I sneak a peek, and confirm that they are.

A sizzle, more pips, and suddenly, all is full of love.

They dance, and sing, celebrating a change of state.

we live for this

I turn the heat up and the bouncing intensifies. Because the lid is not quite right, I slide it too far forward.

ouch

Minute drops of oil demand my attention, spitting way, escaping their glassy confines and landing on my wrist, as if to say

Come on guys, we’re making a break for it!

pip

pip pip pip

pippippippippippippipipip

It’s a free-for-all, caroms off lid and each other.

The original mosh pit

And moments later, after the dust (and the salt) has settled,

Nirvana.

7

Feeling a bit of the non sequitur tonight

make the most of this

I remind myself.

Apropos of nothing

a buddy just shared that Boris Johnson has COVID.

Despite disagreeing with much of the man, and what he stands for,

I don’t, and won’t, wish it on anyone. I’m hopeful he will, thru his experience, learn and grow.

Build empathy

And understand that there is a collective, and we are all connected

In policy, attitude matters.

And so, I harbour hope, that through all of this, our dialogue, our discourse, the arc of our collective ethos bends toward compassion.

We did manage to track down a bottle of Hibiki Whiskey

so that helps

and it’s the evening before spring break

so that helps, too.

I don’t always do well with breaks.

I get inside my head, torn between

you’re not doing enough

and

you’re doing too much

We all need a break, in these times

And I’m planning to make the most of mine.

poorly lit

nights as a boy often went like this

I remember sprinting home from school, throwing my backpack down and bundling up in my toque and jacket. A flurry of boots and mitts, I sprinted back across the street to the parking lot.

Where, on the daily, magic happened.

Usually me and a buddy or two, a hockey stick and tennis ball, and a rusted, falling-apart goal held together mostly by love. We’d play through dusk into dark. Being the north, this was, of course, well before dinner.

So, we played under a little old , lonely streetlight attached to the school, orange-tinted, and not all that bright. But warm enough. It watched over us, all scuffle and hubbub, lighting our way, just enough.

For magic.

he shoots

he scorrrrrrreeeessss!

And, now, here, tonight, it’s like that.

The setting is different, warmer, quieter.

But equally dark.

Nobody around now, these days and nights.

Instead of hockey, it’s a soft, nerf-ish football arcing delicately through the air. The light is coming from an equally-lonely streetlight, seemingly wondering

where are all the people

For now, two of us are here.

And it is enough.

Our throws bending spiral bats, echolocating, impossible to see until the last minute. Flapping their way, and once in a while, even landing in our hands.

Like magic.

getting closure

I tend to hold on.

Sometimes, too tightly.

And in a moment where control, any control, is a darting fly, daggering here and there, unpredictable.

so much is beyond us

But, what is not beyond us, today, is a morning trip to the park.

We meander towards the entrance. All is in order, under control.

And then I spot the two employees, out of place, chatting, a four-legged sandwich board sandwiched between, making a four-legged sandwich.

Park closed

We apologize for any inconvenience

I am chuffed.

THIS IS INCONVENIENT

I want to say to them, as perhaps I raise a fist, in a sweeping gesture befitting a noble gentleman.

I SHALL BE WRITING A STRONGLY-WORDED LETTER TO YOUR SUPERIORS

But I don’t.

Instead I smile and wave. From a distance, of course.

This was to be the respite, the one place, the source and space for sanity.

But these are unusual, challenging times.

Sanity is at a premium.

We turn around and head back, and I attempt to make the best of it. Luckily, the boys are unfazed, like this pandemic thing is just another way to pay homage to Plastic Man

It’s okay Papa. We can be flexible.

As I get older, I fear that I am becoming less so. My joints creak, I’m not nimble, my energy fades faster. I can’t bend like I used to. And I used to not bend much.

I tend to hold on.

But the lads have my back, today.

We wander down the road and Rhino suggests stopping at a patch of grass just off the now-shuttered golf course. We kick the ball back and forth a couple times when the course truck slowly pulls up.

Hey guys, sorry, course is closed.

IT’S OKAY, WE DON’T WANT TO GOLF

I want to yell, with a flourish.

AND I AM NOW GOING TO PEN A STERNLY-WORDED MISSIVE TO YOUR OVERSEER

But, instead. I take a breath and consider the circumstances. This random and good natured fella doesn’t mean to ruin our fun

And there’s something bigger at play

So.

We pick up the ball. Wish him good health, with a nod. Look up at the sky. And practice

letting go

abundance

At first, I’m not sure what to say

I wander through the produce section, and it all feels foreign

but familiar at the same time.

Perhaps it’s the four-odd years’ absence from these stores that has made my heart grow. I’m awestruck, at what is here, in front of me.

Almost ripe, immaculate avocados, impossibly perfect hothouse tomatoes, three (!) kinds of kale, the biggest, orangest, juiciest looking oranges I’ve seen in a couple years.

It’s out of context because I’ve been out of context.

This abundance that I’d previously taken for granted, it stares me in the face and hits me between the eyes.

we have so much

Malaysian Ronny Chieng, like all great comedians, captures the absurdity. His amazing (NSFW, btw) take comes to mind as I navigate the choices of onions (there are 5, because of course there are 5).

We are breaking the laws of reality with the abundance

He opines, hitting so close to the mark.

I pause briefly to gape in wonder, finishing my turn through this impossible collection of plants become food

And round the corner to the rice aisle

Only to see the handwritten sign

Out of consideration for shortages and other customers, please limit rice purchases to one bag

And I gape, once again, this time

at the empty shelves