Today was hard. Today, I felt what it’s going to be like when my parents die.
First, I woke in the wee small hours of the morning because I felt one of my children scream. I have two boys. They are two and are currently with their father, with whom I share custody. You can imagine how I feel when the boys are out of my hands, particularly because they are four hours away. The further the boys travel, the more my imagination runs. After I awoke, I dreamt of a killer who couldn’t bring me down regardless of the weapon he chose. Eventually, the killer invested in a semi-automatic weapon. My last memories of living that dream are of trying to convince the boys to quietly hide under their beds while I was pelted with round after round of ammo.
That’s what happened underneath.
Above, there was nausea and vomiting. For a moment I thought I was pregnant. The next moment brought me to corona, the next to cancer, which I recently fought for two years. The final? Emotional unrest. Under any circumstance, not being able to touch the people you care the most about is a dystopian cruelty, but being forbidden to touch them, is unbearable.
We are currently part of a collective near death experience and part of that experience is looking at someone you love—being within touching distance of them—and not being able to give them a hug or feel the thinness of the skin of their hands or smell the powdery scent of their neck. Here, I describe what it’s like to touch my parents, not my children.
My parents live a mile from me, watch my kids at least twice a week and own the compound where the bulk of the family gathers. My brother and his girlfriend live in the converted loft above my parent’s garage so they’re backyard neighbors and my sister and her family live forty-five minutes from us. Now, we only see each other over Zoom coffees or happy hours or at a six-foot distance like the one we created today when my partner, his daughter and I delivered a box of recently transplanted tomato seedlings to them. My parents knew that we were coming and watched for us at the window yet even if we had tried to sneak in, they would have heard us before they saw us. The streets these days are too quiet for silent visitors.
“Ahhh!” Mom said. It was the first time six weeks that I had seen either of my parents in 3D. My partner and I self-quarantined at least two weeks before Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued his stay-at-home order on March 25, 2020. Cancer left me with a compromised immune system and both my partner and I are—luckily—very attached to older people so felt the gravity of the duty to protect them well before the general population. The thought of losing my parents’ or his is, quite frankly, horrid and so we follow the rules.
“It’s so good to see you!” Mom said through the screen door. We both paused as I walked toward the invisible six foot line that guides us all. Then, mom did the thing that unites she and my sister in excitement: She bent her arms at a ninety degree angle, placed her fists near her ears and shook with happiness. “It feels like it’s been forever.”
For a social society, six weeks without touch is a kind of forever, one that slams open the door of immortality. It won’t be long and I’ll always be six feet away from my parents, unable to touch them or let them hold me when I come undone.
This is why today was hard.
During our short conversation, my parents stayed behind the screen door. Not long after my mom did her little excitement boogey, my dad popped up behind her shoulder.
“Yeah, one of my client’s father’s got the virus. Dead five days later.”
My parents have been retired for more than ten years. My dad’s hobby is investing things that will bring him a profit and significantly help others. I believe the dead client’s father is one of those.
“That’s uplifting,” I said, scoffing death as I haven’t since I was a child and believed that doing so would extradite the Grim Reaper.
“Well Mrs. Fauci over here…”
Mrs. Fauci is how my dad now refers to my mother because she is trying to keep them safe.
“Mrs. Fauci says no more takeout.”
“They say this week and next are the big ones. Only go out if you absolutely have to.”
“Takeout probably isn’t a good idea,” I said.
“See? She agrees with me.”
The rest of the conversation was innocuous as conversations now are. First we talk about the same things that we’re doing at home. Then we talk about the eye popping things we’ve learned about the virus. Finally, we get close to death, sheathe our eyes and turn the other way.
“Have you heard about the mobile morgues?” I asked. “I think the article I read took place in New Jersey, semis lined up, their trailers open waiting for health care workers to stack the bodies.”
My mom’s face started twitching.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Did you know about that, Mrs. Fauci?”
Here we returned to center, to safer interesting things like the number of Amazon delivery vans on the highway and our gratitude for frontline workers and the jobs us kids—there are three—still have. The knowledge that my parents will bail any of us out if we hit financial skids is our first golden parachute for the fall of the Golden Age. The second parachute, which comes with a few booby traps such as the collapse of global markets, is that we all have jobs. Not only do we know that we can cover our monthly expenses, but most of us are saving money. This is because we are of one economic class and many others who are experiencing extreme suffering right now, are of another. The class divide in America is real, it is vast and it is divisive.
But I digress.
My parents have helped me financially numerous time. It’s always humiliating, but it’s not they who make it that way. It’s because I don’t want to fail them. I want to show them that my off-the-beaten choices were wise. I want this because my parents are good and kind and honest and generous and true. For all they’ve given me, I want one thing for them: A reason to beat their chests about me.
I’ve deeply loved people who have died in painful and confusing ways, but I’ve never loved a single person, my children excluded, like I love my nuclear family. Corona’s asking me, “What does family look like when the patriarch and matriarch are gone?”
My parents are the guardians of my life, my sister’s life and my brother’s life yet like us, their path is death.
This is what I learned standing six-feet from their screen.