Out Missing

The lane is quiet, for a moment.

I stop to gather my wits. It feels strange to be out and about after 17 days of isolation.

So this is what I’ve been missing

For years, FOMO had been a thing for me. The vexing, perplexing, wondering what’s nexting

Phones and WhatsApp groups didn’t help.

I’d like to think I’ve grown more secure, more able to deal. More assured of my place in the universe.

There are still moments where it rears its head. But fewer, and farther, these days.

Maybe I’m growing up

The irony is not lost on me that FOMO usually happens while staring at a phone. Distracted, taken out of this moment.

Missing out.

The single bike cruises by while I pause to write

Black hair unencumbered , he breezes, a single 5-gallon blue water bottle secured horizontally at the back. He’s on a mission as he darts.

The surprise in this always-busy alley is that, in this moment, he is the only one.

There’s something about his energy that draws my attention. He’s distracting in his pace, his intent. A real sense of purpose as he cruises, he is

secure.

Insecurity is a tough road. The sense of who we are, what our place is, how we fit.

And to whom we matter

And in these days and weeks and months of disconnect, of isolation, of living as outsiders, we reach out and cling to moments of here

And now

He gives me a quick nod, and as quickly as he arrives, is gone. And as I watch him get smaller

I don’t feel like I missed out.

Bumpity

We round the corner of the parking garage and careen up the ramp.

I’m in charge of bump spotting

Elephant offers.

Bumpity, bumpity, bumpity

He calls as we pass gentle potholes.

Lined up three, this motorbike has become our normal. We take wrong turns, amble this way and that. The boys don’t care, busy taking it all in stride.

The pace here is simultaneously calm and full of energy. Nobody is in a hurry, but everyone gets where they’re going. They are purposeful, in this dance. Pushing, darting, minding and then taking the gap. Not a whiff of rage or offense to any unexpected moves.

Move along, and keep things moving.

Vietnam is like that

Symphonic, in concert.

And ultimately, pulling in the same direction.

Flip

I know I should hurry

But hurrying, on these impossibly vibrant walkways disguised as streets, is a challenge.

And so, I somewhat oxymoronically hurriedly meander my way back to school. The narrow lane is all life and produce. Melons, greens, fresh fruit all vie for the eye. Butcher shops with fresh cuts, shopkeepers squatting and ready to serve.

Colours everywhere, perfectly arrayed, placed just so, for sale.

I round the last bend, squeezing past the badly out of context SUV, all width and annoyance

When something, amongst the colour, catches my eye. 

Flip

Flop

And then I spy the slender woman, blue coat and sandals, white gallon bucket in tow

She’s lost something

And it’s flipping and flopping

A silver street politician

Is that a chicken?

It’s doing its best to make a getaway, dead (live?) centered in the road. It somehow, against all odds, flies a couple feet into the air, finally emerging more clearly into view. All silver scales and flash.

This flapper is making a last gasp dash for freedom.

I imagine it an escapee, freed at last from its confines, roaring twenties calling it home.

Making a break to Tay Ho

The lake in the west

And it’s like I can hear its voice

I’m the king of the road! See ya later, suckas! I’m outta here! Wooooooooooooooooooo!

But my finner dialogue is interrupted.

She has other ideas.

With skill belying her frame, this tiny monger is ahead of the game. 

A lightning-quick squat, feint to the right, and a deft scoop of the bucket

This fella is bagged

Not bagged, bucketed

Back to the brig.

She laughs and smiles at me as I saunter by, the brightest glint in her eye.

Something tells me she’s done this before.

Mirror Me

He’s like a billy goat gruff

Which I guess makes me the troll, hiding under my bridge.

This comforting trip trap of R wandering up the stairs reminds me I’m not alone.

Hey buddy

Come over to the door

Just not inside.

Such is the nature of isolating at home. He’s masked, I’m masked. He’s on one side of the door, I’m on the other.

At least we can see each other.

Our bedroom door is an interesting choice for the interior of a house. Six rectangular clear panes allow light to reach the back of the house while subverting any chance at privacy.

But today it’s not privacy I’m looking for

Did you get breakfast? There’s fruit in the tray

Yup. Rhino did too.

I’m still not feeling well so we gotta stay apart again today.

Okay.

He taps on the lower window, keeping a rhythm from a song only he knows.

The sound satisfies and soothes my isolation angst.

I put fingers to glass and mirror his move. He raises his other hand and keeps a similar beat.

And then we’re all sympatico, instep. A mirrored duet.

Now it’s a dance. He moves one way, I move the same. A ‘mirror me’ jam session that neither of us anticipated but both of us needed.

Smiles turn to snickers, snickers to guffaws. It’s the connection we’d been craving.

I’m glad he trip-trapped across my bridge.

Sometimes Hockey

I stare

The implications are not lost

If they win this next couple they’ll have the longest win streak in team history

Such is my focus tonight

Elephant and Rhino have had a day. COVID tests and a PCR swab

New normal eh

As it turns out, these tests are positive. And as it turns out, we are all, thankfully, ok.

We keep our distance.

Physical, not emotional.

These fellas are absolute legends, they keep me on track, pick me up when I’m down, and chip in when we need

That’s something to celebrate.

And so, right now, I enjoy the moment

To think about hockey and forget about life a little bit.

When my reverie is interrupted from two floors up.

Elephant’s voice floats through the ether

Dreamlike

Lilting

Papa

I’m out of toilet paper

Shoulder Season

It seems warm tonight

Yeah. There’s like a three day window where people don’t complain about the weather.

I make a mental note to really enjoy those three days.

The sounds of 45 young footballers drilling fades as I slide my eyes back down to the page. I need to finish the last few pages for book club tonight but find myself distracted.

What do they call all these little rubber pellets?

I shake off the distraction and reset.

Stay on target.

A few minutes later, deeply ensconced, the sounds around me fade. There is only me, the page, and the words. I don’t look up, until

Are you Elephant’s father?

This can’t be good.

I glance up at the boys

He got hit in the face with a shot. There’s blood.

My head darts across the pitch. I see Coach Prince and a huddle of teammates crouching around what must be R. My mind goes to all the places.

Is Raffles clinic still open? Should I call my friend who’s a nurse? Are we going to need to go the orthodontist – yet again?

These questions skirt my mind as I hurry across the field and see him, his coach landing a consoling palm on his shoulder, tears tracking and blood dripping onto the field.

That looks like it could be bad.

 I squat down, fearing the worst

Did you lose some teeth?

Braces covered with blood, he shudders as his teammates look on, concerned.

I put my hand on his cheek and gently pull his lip up. There’s blood, to be sure.

It’s not as bad as I thought.

Just a fat lip, a ball to the face, a moment he won’t forget.

The club director comes over and tries to look at his mouth, and I immediately go into COVID mode. He’s just looking out, but in that moment I run the numbers and really don’t want him touching my son’s face.

There’s not many hand washing stations around.

I wave him off gently and tell him I appreciate his assistance.

You okay to get up?

I think so.

He stands and I give him a big hug as the bleeding slows.

We make our way across the pitch and I imagine this, only in a stadium of 40,000 fans. They serenade Elephant off the pitch, a hero to all.

We make our way to the bike. He tilts his head back and I dribble water over his lip. He swishes it around and spits the pink colour onto the pavement, making a divot in the little rubber pieces.

In this moment I’m not worried about cleaning it up.

His tears and sobbing have slowed.

We stand next to the bike, a moment to pause.

I think you’re going to be okay

And, through his tears, he replies

yeah, I think you’re right

From his response I’m emboldened.

Do you want to go back and play?

The response is emphatic.

No.

Let’s go home Papa.

I know he’s right.

Can I leave my mask off for the ride home?

Sure, buddy 

I ease the bike out and we throw on our helmets.

He nestles in behind, melting into me. His swollen cheek rests on my shoulder.

I take a cleansing breath and we make our way into the night.

Pixie Dust Kombucha

The magic stares me in the face as I peep the chill tray.

Where did those come from?

Have we been visited by fairies?

Home is a slumbering place these days. No coming, or going. No exits, or entrances. No ins,

No outs.

I scan for pixie dust, which everyone knows is the universally accepted proof that you have been visited by fairies.


Moldy March is an annual meditation. The temperature steadily climbing and humidity constant. It’s perfect timing for lockdown.

If you’re into that sort of thing.

We’ve been isolating now for what seems like a month, in actuality two weeks.

For the boys, it’s become old hat. They know the routines, the limits, the reasons why.

I’m struck by how absurd it all is, how strange it is that it is not strange at all for them.

What in the world do our young people make of all this?

An offshoot of our family’s nomadic lifestyle is two young humans who go with the flow, skirt the bends, navigate the rocks.

Looks like we have to isolate

I share, the result of two positive tests.

Ok papa

Is the predictable response

We can do this

These fellas.

They nestle in, keeping their distance as well as their sense of humour. Chipping in with laundry, cooking, plenty of hand washing with zero hand wringing.

We pass our days bungeeing around the house, caroming back toward one another to check in and take breaths. Grateful for the space.

I peek the fridge, relieved that we are still fully stocked, a few crisp apples and some cabbage catch my eye.

Stir fry tonight should work

When I look at the top shelf and spot three kombucha bottles

Fairies.

Magic.

I spy the shelves, looking for pixie dust.

Did you go to the store?

Nah, that was K&S.

They swung by and brought us some drinks.

Elephant pipes up

And some ice cream! Our freezer is way too full!

Ah, ok

Turns out it was magic, and fairies, after all.

Garbage Day

Why in anyone’s right mind would someone choose to get up at this hour?

The dream is a bad one. 

Mercifully, the relentless hammering of my alarm interrupts its flow, demanding and redirecting my focus, draining the Sandman of power

I can’t quite put my finger on what the dream was about.

Weird

I almost always remember 

It was something about lack of control

And it was uncomfortable 

But that’s all I’ve got.

I roll my body over, heavy and numb with sinuses and chesty fatigue, and fumble to off the buzzing bee

Swing my legs over the side of the bed and stagger downstairs

What in the world are people who get up this early thinking?

I mumble and mutter through the matte black ground floor, and as if by Braille locate the slatted door switch

Hope this doesn’t wake anyone

The accordion door slowly, noisily retracts into the ceiling and I’m struck by the engineering marvel of it all.

I unlock and open the inner door, expecting a blast of too cold, too early, much too bitter air.

But instead, I’m comforted by a light caress, unexpected freshness.

I slide open our gate and leave the wet bag of trash just outside, ready for pickup, possibly by rats but hopefully by our dog walking friend, doing us a favor in these quarantine times.

Hope he gets here soon

And in that moment,

I pause 

To remember what it’s like to be outside. 

In the distance, a rooster crows, a dog barks.

But here, on this street, at this moment, 

There is nothing

A moment of clarity, 

of peace

And I know I’ve just answered my question.

Scarlet Letter

We’re in day two of isolation when the doorbell rings.

I throw on my mask, unlock the door, and peer through the slats in our gate. The gentleman holds papers in his hand. There are only a few possibilities, having lived here for a couple years. A utility notice. Request for donations.

Or what I know is the reason he’s here.

I’ve got your COVID notice

I pick up, my Vietnamese limits straining

I thank him, take the paper and bring it inside.

The first page is exclusively in Vietnamese and looks official. I don’t really need to decode it yet. Pretty sure it’s telling me and the rest of the crew to stay home. Hunker down. I’m okay with that.

Why do they need 3 pages to tell me so?

Curious, I leaf through the rest of the pack and am surprised by what I see. A detailed list of every F0 positive case on our block. I scan the table, looking for Rhino’s name.

There he is

Turns out they’ve combined his first and first middle name into one, but it works. The list is 70 names long, and I’m amazed at the detail: names, addresses, number of people in the household who are F0

Wow, are expectations around medical privacy ever different in this part of the world.

Or maybe it’s just the times, worldwide, they are a changin’.

I wonder whether we should take comfort or be perturbed to know everyone on our block knows exactly which households are dealing with COVID.

**

There’s a pillar-style light that faces our street. Because we’ve been isolating, I haven’t seen the front in days.

So I’m surprised when I see the flash of reddish-pink.

Four corners, solidly taped in place

địa điểm đang thực hiện cach ly y te moi nguoi khong tiep xuc gan

And below, in English

Households with people quarantining please Do no make closre contact in order to prevent covid-19

Tuesday’s date hastily scrawled below

And my mind goes to plagues, and Monty Python, and scarlet letters.

bring out your dead

But then I remember, that living here is a choice.

At its heart, a collective sense of good.

There’s no question of it all, no ambiguity. And somewhat paradoxically, little evidence of blind adherence to authority. Vietnamese are not afraid to ask the questions.

But then, satisfied or not, they get in line.

They know.

That we are in this together. We have dealt with worse. We can trust those in charge.

And we can trust one another.

Despite the fact that numbers are up, that COVID is a steamroller, flattening the way

there’s no doubt of being ready to bounce back.

Rhinitis

Rhino has always had allergies. 

Late night allergies. Enough of the time that I think nothing of it when he sniffles up, loading tissues like a t-shirt cannon.

We think it’s mostly dust, stirred up in the evenings when we turn the ceiling fan on in his room. The first couple minutes are fine but then once the dust hits his passage, he’s all sneezes, and snotty nose blows echo the stairwell. After a few minutes it passes, he sleeps, and the echoes fade.

This morning, before school starts, the allergies seem more pronounced. He creaks his way down the stairs, unleashing his superpower to get places…just…on…time. It’s almost time for him to get to school and I’m gently not so gently nudging him there.

My nose is still running

he comments, nonchalant

I think you’ll be okay boss 

I reply, equally nonchalant

He steps outside and makes his way to school, and I’m so grateful that he’s able to be on campus again. We are in an interminable stretch of distance learning bookended by long periods of lockdown

It’s wearing us all down

Case counts have been steadily rising, rising since April in fact, a long long weekend that was the patient zero in a country that had previously thought they had COVID licked.

But as we have found,

COVID licks back.

On this day, I’m unconcerned. Rhino’s twice vaccinated now, my worries around it are less.

Until I get the call

It’s the school nurse, she’s also a friend.

Why would she be calling me now

And that’s when I put it all together. The runny nose, the mid-morning call from the school health center.

This can’t be good.

He’s got one positive and one negative test so we need you to go and take him to the clinic for a PCR

Shit

Okay, thanks for letting me know. I’ll be over as soon as I can.

In an already challenging few months, 

I don’t know if I’m ready for this.

But I have a reputation, whether in my own mind, or verifiable.

I step up.

And I’m good in a crisis.

At least that’s what I tell myself. 

And as I round up Elephant, throw my layers on and hop on the bike to grab Rhino from school,

It’s all I need to hear.