Earlier today I took a drive, to pick up some food from a restaurant for Mother’s Day. It was the first time I drove somewhere other than the grocery store since the first half of March.
The restaurant was in Aurora, so I took 43 into town. At the big intersection of Frost and 43, a sign advertised construction ahead, and possible delays.
I was passing through the industrial park that separates Streetsboro from Aurora, where – how many? a dozen, twenty, thirty? – businesses mediate inconsequential purposes in low buildings, all differently ugly. On the left there’s a relatively new building, one of the biggest and most penitentiary-looking; before this was built, the bare acreage stood there for years, with a For Sale sign drowning in a sea of long grasses that were consistently dead from spring through fall year after year. During the winter, the snow fell on this field evenly and undisturbed, and the wind would move across it like an animal bolting from the distant treeline, and rattle your car back and forth on the cold dark road.
Passing here, my mind dropped out of the present into the buried archive of a thousand sensations or half-memories of other times I was in this same spot. And all these other instances were connected with each other not only by the location itself, but because they all took place in times not defined the COVID 19 modifier. I didn’t forget where I was and what was going on now, but I did feel, very cleanly and for just a minute, the sensation of that time – the true sensation, deeper and more visceral than only a remembrance.
And then I felt the obligatory hurt for old times, an acute perception of misjustice, a major desire to make this complication to go away. Like if I could unearth a grudge inside me big enough, like some massive grievous fossil, I could shift the world away from the ignominious terror of an impartial disease and let myself back into the problems of regular day-to-day life – which were overwhelming and crushing in their own ways, but at least allow you the nobility of being able to act upon them. There’s nothing more humiliating than a loss of agency, which is what all imponderables like sickness and death inflict upon us. How can anyone speak or think favorably about fate?
We feel robbed right now. Something has been taken, and we’re bereft. And this loss echoes of all the other ways in which we’re robbed, the ways we lose or are never given things we’re told from somewhere we deserve, or will always have.
(Now its raining outside, I can hear it in the high corners of the room like a ghost drifting around in the attic. The rain’s Soft Million Touch, the undine sound of its caress that makes me feel like the house is slowly sinking to the bottom of the sea.)
I went into the restaurant, a place called Erawan – a Thai place. A man in a mask was coming out of the door; he went to his car with a bag of food. He was the only person I saw wearing a mask while I was out: inside the other cars I passed, I saw only maskless people.
Inside, the restaurant was small and dark, with a bar lit up by a coiling purple LED strip light. In one corner, the chairs were up on the tables, and three or four toddlers sat beneath them in a sprawl of blocks and toys, babbling to one another or themselves.
The only other person was the hostess, a high school kid. She brought my food and politely sanitized her hands before taking my credit card for the order.
“How are you doing today?” she asked – or, I think she asked; anyway, that’s the question I answered when I said:
“I’m alright, how’re you?”
“I’m okay! Really tired,” she said.
“Oh yeah?” I said. I started thinking of follow-up questions but before I could ask any of them she said:
“Oh, and by the way: Happy Mother’s Day.” I’m not sure if it was the simple way she said it, or the funny fact that she was wishing me a happy Mother’s Day, or what, or a combination of the two, but I was weirdly touched by it.
“You too. What about you, are you gonna be able to spend some time with your family today?”
“Yeah well I get out of here by 8:30, so.”
“Oh nice, so you’ll have time then,” I said, trying to make the words sound bright.
She handed me my card back and pushed two receipts across the counter, both identical.
“Oh,” I said, “Uhh, which of these is for me?”
“Oh,” she said, “Either one. Sorry, I was just shoving them in front of you without any explanation.”
“Oh no, that’s okay,” I said, and then with an attempted comically dramatic air, “It’s just been so long since I’ve seen one of these things in the wild.”
“Right? This ancient relic.”
“Exactly, exactly.” Chuckling mildly, I signed one of the receipts and gave it to her, then picked up my bags of food.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Sure thing!” And then in one of those awkwardnesses that only happen in conversations with strangers she said, as if we hadn’t just been talking about them: “Do you want your receipt?”
“No, that’s alright, thanks again!”
“Thanks, have a good night!”
“You too, be well.”
And then I went back home.