When I entered Mercy as the freshest freshman in 2001, Coach Randy Fowler seemed to me like one of those perpetual creatures at a place. His saunter was confident and slow, his speech southern and concise, and his presence reliable and felt. He seemed like he’d been born at whatever age he was then, right there at Mercy High School. And there, he belonged.
I wasn’t a runner. My mom always had been and when basketball didn’t work out, I thought maybe track and field could be my only way to bypass needing to earn PE credits in junior year gym. I ran one afternoon with my mom, tracked my time on a one and three quarters mile route, and came in to school the next day ready to ask Coach if I was fast. I remember being in the hallway with Sarah, approaching him with more confidence than I actually had and saying something like, “Hi, I’m Jamie’s friend. Last night I ran a mile and three quarters in ___. Is that fast?”
He looked at me, side smiled with a face I’d come to know well and said, “No.”
I probably sulked off pledging to myself and to Sarah that’d be “the last time I talked to that man!” Though, for whatever reason, I toughened my skin and tried out for track anyway. Sarah had lacrosse and I couldn’t spend my afternoons eating chocolate muffins from the vending machine all alone.
As I got to know Coach and solidified my place as a distance runner, I came to understand him better. A former marine, born Floridian, comic, Jeep-driver, Coach was the type of person who made you want to work harder and be better, for him, for your team, and definitely for yourself. He had his own set of -isms, probably some are lost in the cobwebs of my brain while others are burned there forever and I say them to myself when I’m running or just trying to be a human.
Mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it won’t matter.
Put a little extra butter on your bread tonight.
I’m gonna go have a steak and a beer.
Charge those hills.
Got nothin’ but love for ya.
It’s a beautiful thing!
And all of our nicknames–mine was Tank.
In our senior year in cross country, we were floating in the top spots in our league, never top three, but usually ranked within the top ten in The Sun. Cross country is a weird sport for a lot of reasons not just because peeing your pants and chafing and vomiting are normal and also not just because of those weird little shorts we had to wear but also because varsity changed week to week. The top five runners were your scorers and whoever was in the five, would be varsity that day. Slots six and seven were tie breakers and eight and on ran JV. Our slots were often changing as we rounded out our season in October 2004.
We arrived for the championship at Oregon Ridge Park and stretched in a bandshell. Coach usually had a spot he liked at any given course in the Baltimore area and I assume that bandshell was his go-to at Oregon Ridge. We had sat down for our water-chugging and stretching when we noticed that there was a swarm of lady bugs. They were landing on us and on our stuff in that bandshell. Someone said that lady bugs were good luck.
We ran our race, did our thing, and sat in the awards ceremony expecting the usual. Fourth or fifth, maybe third. Aubrey remembers Coach McCoach (actual name) from Maryvale flashing a single skyward-pointed finger at Coach. And there it was. We’d won. By one point, we had won. Not just the first cross country championship for Mercy, maybe ever, but also Mercy’s first championship in any sport in years. At the end of year sports banquet, Coach called us the Navy Seals of the school and quite frankly, we believed that about ourselves too. Not because we were cocky or he’d inflated our egos more than we deserved, but because Coach helped us believe in ourselves. There are so many aspects of that man that I try to emulate as an educator. And I learned them when I was 16. Soon after that year, Coach left to coach at Calvert Hall–the boys school up the street. We’d always complained that the boys got all the attention and all the resources, and they did. But, I think Coach had success there, earned much better pay, and maybe coached a prodigy or two. Though, I’ve always imagined we were home for him.
I can still see Coach’s cadence, how he slammed his heels down first, rolling his feet toward his toes. We didn’t ever get details but he didn’t run anymore. Maybe it involved the Gulf War, maybe Somalia, maybe just life. When we went on runs off campus, he led us in his Jeep, a water cooler in the back. We ran from the man in that Jeep. We ran for the man in that Jeep and for one another. And once we’d been on his team long enough, we just ran.
Coach loved Jimmy Buffet and classic rock, his son Matt, new sneakers, dogs, Forrest Gump, effort, and Florida. He loved telling stories and playing the guitar. He loved people with raw talent and even more so, people with no talent who tried really hard. He loved speed workouts and competition, and when we beat rich schools. He loved his wife Pat whom he met one season because her daughter was in our class at Mercy, and after that he was always in a better mood. Coach loved progress and he loved winning. And I know he loved us, too.
This is one of those times when I say to myself, “Why didn’t I write this when he was alive?” And I think we need these reminders here and there. To tell people how we feel, to share how others matter to us, to do something to honor that person. I will go for a run when I can and I will make a point to have a steak and a beer and toast to Coach. I will watch a movie about Steve Prefontaine and text with my cross country friends, many of whom I am still close with today. I will put a little extra butter on my bread. But I did get to text with coach several months ago and I wrote him a card that said the one thing that I think matters the most, the one I will try to replicate for my girls and for Arlo: You helped me believe in myself.
It took Aubrey and me some time to convince our parents to get us a PlayStation. While we impatiently waited, we played at friends’ houses and pined for the day when we’d inevitably fight over and then grasp our very own gray controller. We’d salivate as the brain cells shot out of our eyes and into my parents’ bedroom television each evening following YMCA after school care. When we actually received our own console some late ’90s Christmas, we were in disbelief. Nancy and Dick had actually succumb. And we played one game: Crash Bandicoot.
During the pandemic, I have considered exploring whatever modern edition of Crash Bandicoot and learning how to import, teleport, transport it to Chas’s PlayStation 11, or whatever number they use now. I’ve resisted my own video game rebirth, but I have endured many hours of what I call “Shoot Shoot Bang Bang” flinging from Chas’s hands as he sticks out his tongue and maneuvers a sexy duck avatar with a screaming gingerbread man in its backpack.
As a team, however, in June, Chas and I found ourselves at the center of our very own live video game. A game many women have played before me. And many will follow after. (Well, if society doesn’t end, that is.) I never thought of it as a video game-like scenario, until I lived it.
The first challenge of our game began at 2 a.m. It was more of a natural disaster really. A flood. From my body and into our bed. I woke up with the sensation of liquid falling out of me, gushing without my control, painless, warm, constant. I shot up from an awkward left-side slumber and yelled at Chas, “I think my water is breaking!”
Earlier that evening we’d eaten his and hers crab cakes from Chesapeake Oyster and then watched Knocked Up on the couch. It only felt a little on the nose when Katherine Heigl’s character gets mad at Seth Rogan’s for “not reading the baby books.” My own stack sat completely unperturbed right next to the couch. We watched the version that ends with what looks like a real live birth–it was no different than anything we’d seen in our birthing class, but still, I remember thinking, “Well, at least I have two more weeks to go.” While watching, I noticed that my left foot had inflated like a bag of steamed vegetables in the microwave. We pointed and we laughed about it, me making fun of myself and Chas joining in.
Just five hours later and we found ourselves pretending to be calm while gathering items we thought we’d have more time to pack. I sat on a towel while I called Hopkins Labor and Delivery and when we climbed in the car, we’d passed Level 1: The Flood.
Level 2: Negative Pressure Room
When we arrived at Hopkins, we walked a long bridge from the garage to the hospital that made the whole thing feel eerily like an early-morning-hours international flight: stale mouth, emotional confusion, mild discomfort, nonsensical outfit, and extreme exhaustion balanced by an uncomfortable adrenaline.
We made it past the first desk simply by donning masks and asking for labor and delivery. The unfazed security guard let me down by not caring that my water had broken and that I was about to meet the baby we’d spent the past two and a half years trying to make–she also didn’t know where L&D was, a little disconcerting, but we suggested what we could remember from the phone call during the flood.
Riding the elevator to Zayed Tower Floor 8, I had the shakes. At desk two, the guard asked, “Can I help you?” And I said, “I’d like to have a baby please.” Laughter points for me. She made a phone call and we were carted off to a Negative Pressure Room. To pass this level, I needed a negative coronavirus test. Nose swab, 30 minutes, and we’d achieved release. While there, the doctors on duty “checked me,” a term I’d come to know well. I was zero centimeters dilated, with ten being the threshold to enter the upper echelon of levels. “We will check you again in two hours,” she said, “And then if you’re not dilated [HAHA], we will start you on Pitocin.” Still, I didn’t have Covid-19, so onto L&D.
Level 3: Oh, That’s a Cute Little Birth Plan
Chas and I had spent six spring Sundays taking a Holistic Birthing class (on Zoom, of course). I found it informative and fascinating and from it, I crafted a natural birth plan that involved the control I enjoy. I drive a stick shift, after all. I wanted no drugs, no induction, no pain meds, just me and my vagina and my baby, all working together. But the universe is hilarious.
My next “check” would be around 5 a.m. and I felt no different from my first at 3:00. So I started to get my power ups, knowing that once I’d taken Pitocin, there’d be no more power ups allowed, outside of water and that good ice they have at hospitals. At 4:30 I downed about 243 Goldfish crackers, slurped a pint of Gatorade, and shoved in two granola bars.
Around 5, much like Crash Bandicoot and his boxes of apples, armed with the snacks Jamie had given me (thank god) at my drive-by baby shower, they came in to tell me what I already knew: I was zero centimeters dilated. The medical team–from here on out known as “they”–explained that once your water is broken, you’re on a clock. The “water” is the fluid that keeps your insides clean and without it, you only have so much time for your body to remain clean and safe for your baby and for you. Basically, it was time for Pitocin. And the birth plan I’d had uploaded into my medical chart for two months would be impossible to follow. They were able to hook me up to a mobile IV which allowed me to walk around the room as my cervix decided what she’d do, and on what timeline.
I spent the day in rounds of: get up to circle the room while carting around my bag of Pitocin, sit down to write a thank you note, get up to pee, and repeat. They added in the birth ball, the peanut, and fun bed configurations which I added into my rounds. By the late morning, I lost the ability to comfortably hold my pen as contractions became less like suggestions and more like demands. I breathed through them, hung over the bed, attempting to make use of my birth class techniques. Chas helped me with each one and we noticed their quickening pace. Pitocin was kicking my…everything…and they kept increasing the dose as my checks’ results continued to be slow and fruitless.
Level 4: Fuck Your Cute Little Birth Plan
Around 4 p.m., I knew what was happening to me was outside of my abilities, forget the drugless birth I’d imagined, I was in tears with each contraction and seemingly no closer to meeting our baby. And with this realization, I asked for a new kind of power up. The ultimate. The epidural.
At this time I had a sweet nurse who was totally into my natural birth plan. She supported me in every way possible, helping me change positions, adding in props, telling me I’d be okay, welcoming suggestions, rubbing my back. And when I told her I just couldn’t do it anymore, I felt really bad. But, she supported that too and went to get the pain-relieving-they. If heaven exists, there is a special place in it for labor and delivery nurses.
The anesthesiologists teamed up and came in to drill a hole in my back and grant me relief so I could continue my hero’s journey. You know what’s hard? Breathing through the chemically-induced tensing of your uterus while two men nestle a giant needle in your back. Challenge met, I waited to feel less like I was dying. What natural birth plan?
Level 5: Night
As we crept toward 24 hours since my water had broken they continued to increase the Pitocin. I was worried about this level both because I wasn’t sure I was capable of sleep and because my checks were still letting the team down. My ally remained curled in a horrible vinyl chair in front of a fantastic view of downtown Baltimore. Sprinkly lights and movement hovered behind his contorted frame as he, too, attempted sleep. This was one of those levels that was painted gorgeous as consolation for being so difficult.
The night hours wore on with all types of masked intruders–all part of “they”–coming in to look and monitor and peek and use a gloved hand. Again, we were gifted with a fairy angel of a nurse who kept me watered and reasonably comfortable. As I worked my way through the late and early hours I could push a button to add more relief and put at bay the complete destruction of my insides.
I sailed past midnight and with it, the possibility of having a baby on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. And I floated past 2 a.m., the 24-hour mark, with my mostly closed cervix, napping here and there, hopping through contractions like Crash leaps over so many wooden boxes. And from that 8th floor room, our night sky backdrop cradled us in beauty, if not in peace.
Level 6: Dawn and Day
Morning brought a sense of relief, partially because it meant I didn’t feel pressure to try to force myself to sleep, and partially because I knew, no matter what, they wouldn’t let me go too much longer before meeting my baby.
Around 10 a.m., my cervix had finally received the memo that it had been pumped full of Pitocin and it was time to squeeze out a human. The doctor who said it was time to push looked mostly convinced. Though in retrospect, I think I may have caught a look of skepticism pass from him to other members of his team. He was small and kind and gentle and I think, optimistic.
So I pushed.
We had two nurses one who counted and watched and the other who helped with my right leg while Chas held the left. I did rounds on my back and rounds on all fours. And I pushed and breathed and counted to 10. I beared down and I let up and I cried and squeezed. I ate that good ice and sipped cold water from styrofoam cups and I tried. For three hours and some change, I pushed. There were no cheat codes or special passageways to serve as shortcuts.
But by the tones of the nurses, I knew I was getting no where. All this effort and struggle, using what I’d learned in birth class, this baby wasn’t showing up. When enough time had passed and I’d garnered the right amount of pity, I assume, they brought Dr. Optimist back in to tell me what I wish I’d known 35 hours earlier. My pelvis was too small for this kid’s head and it was time to get prepped for the OR and inevitable Cesarean Section.
Level 7: The Sunroof
The OR felt like a nightclub compared to the COVID-life I’d led the previous three months. There were maybe 14 people in there, all bustling about holding shiny things and wearing ridiculous suits of papery, Easter-colored armor.
If my birth plan was destroyed before, it was being exhumed, tortured, and re-buried now. They whim-bam-boomed my meds, leg covers, blankets, and whatever else they did to the body I’d now lost track of. Chas sat up by my head and a sheet shielded our view of the creation of my new sunroof.
Although I had no concept of time, temperature, I could feel. The room was about 37 degrees Fahrenheit as they sliced into my belly. What I felt…was pressure. I breathed through the prepping, the surgery, the vacuuming, and at some point in that breathing, a 15th person entered the room. They held up the baby for Chas to tell the room what he saw.
“It’s a boy!” he yelled. I think I smiled. And then I commenced violently shaking and shivering as they cleaned Arlo off and counted his toes. I could barely enjoy when they placed him on my chest because my shivering was so intense and if it was 37 degrees in there before, it had to have dropped to 15. They continued playing around inside my abdomen as Chas smiled at our new baby and I just tried to hold still so that they wouldn’t vacuum up my lower intestines.
It had been 36 hours and 12 minutes since my water had broken. “Arlo” (Charles Arthur Eby V) had entered the game through the sunroof, all goopy, and loud, and tiny, and so perfect.
I assumed we’d beaten the game. A couple of lazy days and a few hospital meals and we’d be out of there with my healing stitches and our new playmate in tow. I just didn’t realize this was the bonus edition, and there were several levels left to beat…
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?” …
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
Prepared a sinister mate
For her — so gaily great —
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
Alien they seemed to be;
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.
Of course you know Jack and Rose. Maybe you went to the movie theater in 1997 and saw a naked woman for the first time. You may have wondered about the “real Jack and Rose,” only to be let down by their fictionality. Maybe you sang Celine Dion’s theme song in the shower or fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio or found yourself at the bow of a ferry boat between Lewes, Delaware and Cape May, New Jersey proclaiming yourself the King/Queen of the World. Titanic could be Millennials’ Film of a Generation, or at least our youth. And while it is a good movie and does contain some historic truths, the real sinking of the Titanic has some striking albeit microcosmic parallels with the situation we are in today.
On April 12th, but in 1912, the Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, departing Southampton, England on the 10th, stopping in France and Ireland and then heading for New York City on the 12th. At 175 feet in height, four city blocks in length, and with as many elevators on board, she was state-of-the-art. Among the passengers were dignitaries, celebrities, industrialists, and other powerful people eager to sail on such a lauded ship. About 700 passengers boarded as third class, some paying as little as $20 fare. The first days of the voyage were peaceful for the 2,240 passengers and crew as they enjoyed the ship’s uncommon amenities.
Winter 2020 in the US was touted as a time of economic prosperity–granted not for everyone, likely not for most. But the stock market was hot and DJT (I just do not feel like including his name in this) was rubbing his own back for all of the things he felt like taking credit for. Americans enjoyed, many hesitatingly because of the environmental implications, an unseasonably warm winter. There was the roundedness of 2020, the convenient verbiage of claiming one’s “2020 Vision,” the hopefulness and then tragedy of DJT’s impeachment and failed removal, Harry and Meghan’s departure for Canada, someone other than the Patriots won the Super Bowl, The Academy Awards, primary elections began, Harvey Weinstein was found guilty, and the fun of Leap Day.
Then, 108 years ago yesterday, at 11:30 p.m. a lookout spotted an iceberg, the ship turned but not without grazing its side and sending ice aboard. The lookouts, however, were convinced the ship had scooted its way to safety noticing no visible destruction from their vantage, ignorant of the fresh 300-foot gash under the waterline.
On February 27th, the Dow Jones (whatever that means) plummeted amid fears of the Novel Coronavirus ravaging China. Putin wrote a constitutional amendment in Russia banning gay marriage–of course. A few more typical things happened as authorities either could not see or chose to ignore our own gash beneath the waterline.
Thomas Andrews, the ship’s builder, was aboard and as he and other authorities became aware that water was rapidly flooding lower compartments of the ship, he estimated they had about an hour and a half to evacuate. The bow was already beginning to pitch downward. The captain then called for help and ordered the lifeboats to begin loading.
On March 12, DJT instituted a travel ban for 26 European countries, as it became clear that COVID-19 was already in the US and being spread through community transmission. On March 13th, DJT declared a national emergency.
The first lifeboat departed the Titanic with 28 people. Its capacity was 65. In the mayhem that followed, almost every lifeboat departed for safety under-filled. But in addition to the empty seats, there were only enough lifeboats to save roughly one third of the ship’s capacity.
Many school districts across the US closed beginning on March 16. Professional sports begin cancelling or indefinitely postponing their seasons. Gross under-preparedness leads to shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital beds, and healthcare workers.
There are several theories about the Titanic’s “unsinkable” sinkage that led to the deaths of over 1500 people in the early hours of April 15th. The bulk heads were too low which too easily allowed water to pour from one compartment to another if the ship were to rock in any direction. It is also speculated that the ship’s skipper, Captain EJ Smith, was traveling too fast–some say to set a record, others that there was a fire in a lower bunker causing Smith to want to arrive more quickly to handle the situation. There was a potentially ignored warning of icebergs sent to the Titanic from another ship, a cost-cutting measure that affected the integrity of certain rivets, and with a century of hindsight, some historians speculate mirages or hazy conditions that night. Alternatively, second officer David Blair who held the key to the ship’s binoculars was transferred off the ship, neglecting to hand off the key, rendering all those in charge of the direction of the ship, binocular-less. Of all of these possible causes for the ship’s invincibility being so vincible, there are some inarguables. The ship was hardly unsinkable. And there weren’t enough lifeboats.
Many factors have stoked the flames of COVID-19, among them, our global travel patterns, unverifiable stories about bats, pangolins and mistakes in laboratories, and unhelpful rumor-flinging mires the largest nations in the world. We know we have a binocular-less, haughty “captain” who is trying to sail too fast. There have been cost-cutting measures in the past three years to divert funding to the border wall and away from the CDC. With a century of hindsight, what will that generation say about our unsinkable ship, about our idiot captain, about our lack of PPE and ventilators?
I had to read quite a few pieces of literary criticism on the Thomas Hardy poem in order to even understand it. Hardy argues that humans were too sure of themselves, that they had nothing on nature. He says that all the opulence of the ship’s mirrors and decorations are useless at the bottom of the ocean. It’s as if nature has proven humans wrong, again.
And here we are, on another April 15th. Without getting preachy, we all know what we have to do to keep our proverbial ship afloat. And in this case, I don’t think mother nature is mocking us, I think she’s crying with us.
You’re still three and a half months away from us, we hope. You kick and squirm and your dad does the same when he feels you through my belly. Tiny little you and your movements make a grown man leap and scream. You already have such power. Before you nestled inside my uterus, we knew you would be immensely powerful–when you were just a dream or a hope or a maybe because of everything we did to get you here. You may only be the size of an eggplant but you have the strength to grab our hearts and souls already.
Someday when you’re older and can understand, I will tell you about the late winter and spring of 2020. I’ll tell you how people looked at this year as a chance to live out their “2020 Visions.” How it was a fresh start for many because something about those two zeroes made everyone feel a new, clean hope. I’ll tell you about no snow days (or just one fake one) and a warm winter that was still wrapped in wintry melancholy, somehow.
Then, I’ll tell you about how your daddy worked 80 hour weeks, all of the sudden. His phone would TING TING in the night and his fingers would clickety-clack out emails at all hours. How he planned and calculated and attempted to save lives in our state. And how suddenly his brand of germaphobia became the way of the whole land.
And conversely, I’ll tell you how you and me were confined to 807 with the occasional fresh air mixed in. How our whole world became gripped by a new fear, for ourselves, for humanity, and for you. I’ll tell you how we loved sleeping for 10 hours, going for distance walks with our family and friends, drinking a pregnancy-appropriate-amount of coffee from a ceramic mug, and taking the most thorough notes for my 8th graders. And I’ll tell you how I had to stop listening to the radio, in favor of the slowest music or a podcast about presidents or the history of soda, because I didn’t want us to hear and feel the weight of the world, particularly on your brand new ears. I’ll tell you how your sweet auntie planned a baby shower for you and how she and I sat together picking everything out for you. Then we had to move it to after you were born. And how even though the world looked relatively normal, it was upside down or sideways or inside out, or all of the above.
I will tell you how we tried to plan for you in the midst of this thing, not knowing what a hospital will look like when you’re ready to enter the world through one–how I tried to prepare myself to be alone for your birth because some new mommas around the country are doing just that. But then I’ll tell you how your great aunts helped me pick paints and a layout for your room. And how I had groceries delivered so you and I could keep drinking lemonade every night.
Most of all, Baby, I will remind you over and over how you were my built-in beacon of light through the weirdest time our generations have ever known. How I rubbed your soccer-ball-sized casing for my own comfort, for yours, for ours, and how I hoped your arrival would be my bookend for this madness. And when I craved touch but your daddy wasn’t home, I had you.
I will tell you how before you were born, you offered so much comfort. But all of those stories are a few years away. So for now, stay squishy and squirmy and stay with me. We’re making a spring wreath today–I’ll need your help.
Well, COVID-19, you’ve created an interesting world for us here. Or perhaps, in many, many small ways over time, we’ve created it ourselves.
Every single email list I have ever joined or company I’ve ever purchased a product from has sent me its own Coronavirus plan. I’m sure this is the same for everyone. They could have just gotten together on a conference call and just used one template. From the Baltimore Chef Shop to Toms Shoes to Wolf Trap Concert Venue. Back on My Feet, About Faces Day Spa, Donors Choose, yoga studios I visited once, a restaurant we never went back to, and on and on to places I don’t have any idea how I got on their email lists. They say…
carefully watching this evolving situation
given the current circumstances
an abundance of caution
to do our part to protect our community
your safety is our number one priority
continue to closely monitor information
Of course the messaging is consistent, what else is there to say? We can’t have nuance in something that is so new and utterly unprecedented. Everyone is entering this moment thinking, “What in the actual ____?”
I’ve found that Coronavirus limitations come in waves of acceptance (unless you’re a dingbat and still chugging Coronas, like this is funny). If you start out thinking that certain aspects of your life will remain the same, you gradually become more accepting of your new isolated existence–just like the NCAA tournament. First I was teaching yoga with hands-on assists but not giving neck rubs, then I announced that I would stop giving the assists and walked the perimeters of the room like I was trying to avoid a security camera, and finally I told both gyms I had to stop teaching after I read this. The next day (March 16), Governor Hogan announced that restaurants, bars, and gyms would be closed.
With Chas working for MEMA, my slow, independent days are a grave contrast to his 7-day work week of 10 hour shifts which are topped off with him coming home to take calls, email, and pace.
Sitting down to watch the governor’s press conferences (always on Chas’s encouragement) means catching the tail-end of whatever TV is before the BREAKING NEWS. I’ve seen how far Rob Lowe has fallen–all the way to “9-1-1: Lone Star.” And why is the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls’ hair…that? Daytime game shows are a true horror, nevertheless, Drew Carey persists. Then there’s the commercials. You need a lawyer, you need a new job, you need car insurance, but what don’t you need? Good credit.
I’ve heard lots of comparisons. I think it’s the natural thing to do when a society is just grasping for meaning by connecting with an existing memory. One is to WWII–but those have been contrasts really. “Thank goodness, this isn’t that.” We’re not at war, many of us aren’t rationing food (though it’s really important to remember that some are). We aren’t fearing for our lives or being persecuted, not sailing across an ocean to be turned away.
Another is to H1N1, which doesn’t really work. All I remember about that is getting a vaccine, whim bam boom, we were okay.
The comparison that lands the most is to the 1918 Flu Pandemic, more aptly, it should be called the 1918 and 1919 Flu Pandemic. Estimates are that it killed between 20-40 million people. Read that number again. Have you ever heard this sung in a child’s voice?
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
It’ll haunt your dreams. The “1918 Flu” depressed the average life span in the US by 10 years, infecting 28% of Americans, and killing almost 700,000 of them. You want to feel bolstered and justified in social distancing? Read more about it. In particular, the comparison between St. Louis’s handling and Philly’s is fascinating and pertinent. I heard today on NPR that we, as a nation right now, are more “1918 Philly” than “1918 St. Louis.”
My plan is to use my goal sheet to guide my days. Feel free to click “File” and “Make a Copy” and create your own. Day 1–it went well.
Goals include working on my girls’ reflections and giving them feedback, FaceTiming, registering to absentee vote, completing the US Census, some furniture roulette to begin to prepare for a nursery, daily indoor workouts, writing, baking, crafts, gardening, meditation, and more.
I don’t have any real answers, obviously. Sometimes I have used this blog as my soapbox, my megaphone, my accountability method. Right now, it’s my binoculars and my therapist. Because of the uniqueness of this time, I think we could all benefit from some writing, to process, to remember, and to remind ourselves of what this was like. And yes, eventually, someday, it will be “a was.”
There is a window in a shuttered carry out restaurant, Mama Lucia, at the corner of Greenmount Avenue and E. 33rd Street in Northeast Baltimore. I first noticed this window because it appears to have cracks splitting it into an unimaginable number of pieces, yet, it stays assembled for my daily glance on my commute to work. But with a closer look, you can see that it’s not really shattered, not even at all…
Both the northeast and southeast corners house gas stations. One’s a BP with an outdated mural bordering it. The other seems to change hands a lot, maybe it’s a Crown. I remember a shooting there a few years ago but when I google shootings at this intersection, the results are peppered with more examples than I can sort. Two victims found in a car last year, a police involved shooting in 2016, another, a gun feud in the Giant Foods lot just a couple corners away. A neighbor is quoted in that article, “All I know is I was coming to get some treats for my cat and I don’t appreciate this at all.”
There’s an open food place called TEXAS Chicken & Grill. Why it couldn’t just be called BALTIMORE Chicken & Grill, I’m not sure. They’ve got platters and seafood and coffee and “NO LOITERING” signs.
Above the Mama Lucia, back on the southwest corner, is a carved sign from another generation that reads “Baker Block.” The “Baker Block” sign which looks like it’s part of a Mission-influenced part of the building led me down a rabbit hole that I don’t currently have the time to climb into, nor out of: The Waverly Main Street Historic District National Register of Historic Places application, approved in November 2013. It’s 97 rich pages of layered Baltimore History written about 6 city blocks I’ve been traversing for all of my 32 years. Just looking for Mama Lucia’s, I found this (from 2013, but now outdated):
“3240 Greenmount Avenue Originally 1-story ca. 1925 commercial building with 5 separate storefronts on Greenmount, combined with adjoining building on E. 33rd Street ca. 1950 Block 3882 Lot 012 Contributing Building This is an end-unit single story commercial building with Mission influences. The building has a painted stucco exterior and has a triangular parapet on the north and east side of the facade a well as pinnacles along the top of the facade. The building features multiple fixed display windows above a painted kneewall, and painted faux arches above each set of windows. It is listed as a ladies clothing shop in a 1928 city directory and then as Julius Adler’s clothing shop in 193 7. Stucco Spanish Colonial style building contains several storefronts. It is currently in use as Mamma Lucia’s restaurant and was recorded as a restaurant owned by Clarence Hasslinger in 1928. Each corner of the buildings has a front gabled look, although the masonry in fact acts as a pediment on the flat roofed building. Each pediment contains three prominent finials, probably constructed from precast concrete. The corner portions of the building have one or more arched openings. Between the corner pediments, the facade is covered by a short metal shed roof and the storefront openings are rectangular. The building’s name, Baker Block, has been embossed in to the stucco facade. The multiple storefronts include Mama Lucia’s restaurant, Luxx Nail Spa, Boost Mobile, Beauty Island, and China Express. A portion of this building was originally addressed as 3228 Greenmount Avenue. This was the site of Public School No. 51 before it relocated to 34th Street, and later housed a Woolworth’s department store.”
Within this 6 block area, there’s a 1920s potato shop that’s now a beauty salon, a once-upon-a-time-nightclub that is now the Community Mediation Center, out of which the Baltimore Ceasefire operates (Happy Ceasefire Weekend!), several former “confections shops” that are now serving fried foods, and many more make overs and repurpose-ments. I could keep summarizing the report for you, but I know you’ll read the entirety yourself.
For the past few months at this corner, the construction has been crawling–possibly backwards. More time waiting at that light has meant more looking around, but, construction moves more slowly in neighborhoods like this one. There’s often a large blinking arrow telling you the right lane (of two) is closed. There are orange cones, steel plates, random holes in the ground that have yet to be covered. Maybe someday, it’ll be worthy of its 97 pages, but right now, it’s really an annoyance.
A couple months ago while waiting at the light to cross Greenmount, I saw an old man planking on the median. Entirely held up by his own wrists, he held his body a foot above the ground. I waved to him and as he waved back, I realized that he is the man often doing yard work in the house across the street from my parents, where he lives. Just an elderly gentleman planking in a median surrounded by years of layers of history.
So when I look more closely at the shattered window, I realize that the cracks are just the reflection of the tree branches on the other side of the street.
“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
― James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
Being raised by post-hippies comes with a collection of odd details and memories that don’t make sense unless grouped together, especially in a rowhouse in one of the weirder cities in America.
Welcome to 1536.
There was the time Aub and I made superman capes out of white bath towels, adorning them with highlighter markers and running through the house humming a theme song we didn’t really know.
And the time we decorated our rowhouse version of a tiny foyer with pencils all over the walls and Mom and Dad didn’t paint over it for 20 years.
Our Northeast Baltimore rowhouse with corn in the front yard, Dad in his cut-off jean shorts working our small plot like a farmer way out in the “county” where he always said we’d someday move.
I remember Ms. Jean down the alley calling me Fat Baby for three decades and telling me how, as a toddler I liked Nike’s treats so Mom let me eat them.
I see the remnants of our childhood repurposed in Dad’s garden. The old marble coffee table that held Chuckie’s tank until Mr. and Mrs. Taylor from across the street overfed him while we were in Ocean City and he went belly up at 5 years old, still the largest domestic gold fish I’ve ever seen. In the peppers, there’s home plate from a tee ball set we haven’t used since the early ’90s. An old toilet seat cover is another stepping stone and the bathroom stool I remember from childhood holds a big pot of rosemary. The furniture that never dies.
We watched Seinfeld nightly on an 1960s-era black and white TV well into W. Bush’s first administration. It sat in our dining room, got a maximum of three channels, and could only be changed by a stubborn dial.
At some point the golf phone went the way of the black and white, its cradle a golf bag and each number a dimpled ball. Because life was more of a priority than cleaning, I remember once taking a phone message on the golf phone, which I wrote with my pointer finger in the dust on an end table.
One time in college when I lived at home for a semester, Dad redid the wood floors. I was upstairs doing homework in my room and had to go out the front door and around the block with my laptop cord dangling behind me to go back through the kitchen door to eat dinner. He also built shelves without nails that line the living room, now a veritable library. Aubrey’s bedroom window became a door to a second-story deck a few years ago, complete with park bench and space for Mom to sunbathe. I guess when you stay somewhere long enough, you eventually get that space to reflect who you are.
I got good at picking glass out of my knees and I had tough little feet from playing in the alley without shoes. We knew how to make the alley into a baseball field and which bushes were the best for hide and seek. I used to get nervous in my hiding spots and pee my pants. Once at Ryan and Tiara’s house, I peed my jean shorts, left my hiding spot, ran the alley back home and changed into my other pair of jean shorts, then sprinted back to resume hiding.
You had to be out of the alley when it started getting dark. One time a man stumbled over to us and asked if we’d show him where the McDonald’s at Northwood was. We pointed down Tivoly as his bloodshot eyes followed our tiny puffy fingers. He asked if we could walk him there and without any knowledge of the horrors of the world, “No,” we’d said, and retreated back to whatever we were playing.
The most magical the alley could ever be was during a blizzard. The street lamps and layers of glitter sugar snow. Thick cotton and no cars. Its flaws and trash cans covered. It is perfect.
Ednor Garden’s Lakeside’s rowhouses popped up as the the baby boomers popped out. “Lake” and “side” are both stretches but Lake Montebello, which began as part of the water filtration plant, is a destination now. Runners, walkers, bikers, eccentrics, and miscellany surround a modern rod iron fence with the lake decorated with ducks and geese in the center. Across six-lane Hillen Road, on the other side of MerVo and the other filtration buildings lies Ednor Gardens Lakeside.
Each blog of about two dozen homes back up to another set just like them. In 70 years there are a lot of changes that set each once nearly identical house apart. I remember my mom describing end of group houses like Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, the fish-killers, as “huge.” They had windows on three sides.
To drive down the block updates people have made are obvious. Solar panels on my parents’ roof, an awning there, a new porch over there. What I am fairly certain all EGL houses began with was a knotty pine basement, equipped with a bar.
Our bar is topped with pink laminate and we have two backed, swivel stools which must have come with the house because I cannot imagine my parents purchasing such a thing. As kids, we loved to play bar and restaurant. Now, it’s just another storage spot. Back then, it was magical. All its shelves and the mirror in the back and a crank pencil sharpener–seemingly a standard in houses built in the ’50s. Above the bar are stick-on letters that may have belonged to the first owner, the bar’s first barkeep. What’s left says in red block letters: “All drinks on the house. If we run out, U go out and…,” “some…more,” “Proprietor Sgt of Arms P White Jr.”
I wonder if P White could have ever dreamed up the strange concoction that are my parents, who would move in in 1986 then gradually become the only white family on the block. Could P White have imagined that in 1971 Ms. Mabel and Mr. Clyde would need a recommendation from a white person to move in? A $12,000 row home that would someday sit in an all-black neighborhood. Did P White have the honor of knowing Mabel and Clyde? Mabel who took care of us while our parents worked and is largely responsible for our sense of discipline, who bought us tights every Christmas, who wore backless slippers, and mothered generations. I wish we had a photo of this proprietor and could see what he looked like sitting at his basement bar in uniform. Maybe we’ll find one in a crevice somewhere, someday.
When I was a kid I was embarrassed about where we lived. It was so different from the siding-coated homes my friends lived in, out in the “county.” We were far down Loch Raven Blvd. Crime sometimes happened nearby. There wasn’t a lot of space to hang out (more because of the sheer amount of stuff my parents kept than a lack of room). We kept clubs on our steering wheels. Our house was inconvenient, deemed unsafe (although I never felt it), and pretty quirky.
I remember going to Calvert Hall’s junior prom with a guy named Jeff who reminded me of a dinosaur. He was from Harford County. He and his parents came down to pick me up for the dance. My mom said that Jeff’s parents were horrified, seemed like they couldn’t get the photos taken fast enough–maybe by the sunflowers in our front yard? Or by the view of downtown from the hill by the Y? Or by our 175-pound St. Bernard? That’s the first time I can remember feeling proud of our house. Proud that these stuffy people were scared of it. Proud that we lived in a unique place just a few miles north of downtown. Proud that we could see the Harbor’s fireworks from our porch. Proud that my parents raised us differently. Proud that we had a pencil sharpener in our basement bar.
1536 is imprinted in my mind as a member of our family. She might be worth a whole memoir. I can only hope we someday get the chance to create or piece together as interesting of an upbringing at 807, in our own rowhouse near the beginning of the middle of the block.
Universe/Mother Nature/gods/God/Yaweh/Allah/little-baby-Jesus/spirits have always confused me. And being an adult, and not knowing what you believe in, that’s confusing too. The older I get, the more I see, feel, hear, know, and realize that I don’t know. There are times when I think that there is no possible way there’s a higher power and times when I think that there just has to be. Catholic school taught me how to be a good person and maybe learning about Jesus did too. But it certainly scrambled my little soul.
You spend your formative years watching a man in a white robe sing poorly about bread then hold tasteless wafer crackers in the air as two children bustle around him assisting his table-setting, tiny priest-waiters. Napkins, plates, book with a ribbon bookmark. You can see their school shoes beneath their miniature white tunics. They’re just like your own pair. The annual suede bucks from Vandyke and Bacon. Two hundred people file to the front. Then two hundred people share the same cup. The body of Christ. The blood of Christ. And with your spirit.
When you pray before bed, you make up a sign-off you say every night: “Thank you. I love you. Bye bye. Amen.” You pray for the people you love, you think good thoughts for them, you hope that the boys you like start to like you back. Looking back, this was more of a meditation on things you hoped would happen. Is that what prayer is? You’re still not sure at 31. Thank you. I love you. Bye bye. Amen.
You “earn” your first confession in an old classroom where you tell the same white-robed man who’s now mysteriously wearing all black that you have been mean to your sister. He tells you that you’re absolved and you receive a metal pin. You likely continue to be mean to your sister. O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. The act of contrition. You’re seven, and you have no idea what “contrition” means. You’re told you’re supposed to feel differently than before, and so you try really hard to feel differently. You convince yourself that you do, that you’re cleansed. I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.
Now that you are cleansed of your sins, it’s time for First Communion. You dress like a child bride in a dress you love, veil too. You practice: left hand over right, put in mouth with right hand. He will say, The body of Christ. You will say Amen instead of “thank you.” Say Amen instead of “thank you.” Say Amen instead of “thank you.” You get a party afterward because now you, too, have the body of Christ in you. Adults are drinking orange juice with champagne. You are seated at the right hand of the Father.
In 8th grade, it’s time to be confirmed. You must confirm your faith. You are 13 and that is what you do. You choose a new name because now you’re an adult in the eyes of the church. (Does the church have eyes?) There are many events to prepare you and all of your peers for this compulsory confirmation. One is a lock-in where you are to stay up all night. There are high school kids meant to be spiritual guides. They’re nice enough but you’re skeptical of their ability to guide. One of your classmates flashes a group of boys–this is the first you hear of such a thing. You get a special dispensation to chose a virtue as your confirmation name: Hope, rather than a saint’s name. You’re not even really sure why you care enough to write the extra essay. Amanda Marie Hope Doran. I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
High school opens doors for more religious history, which you find interesting, horrifying. At some point you watch Alive about the soccer team who crashed in the Alps and resorted to cannibalism. The questions of morality and resulting discussions are difficult and challenging. Senior year you have a doctor of theology for “Images of Christ in the Arts.” One day you’re working at Panera and a person who is blind comes in. You help her order, get her food, and lead her to a table. The doctor of theology is also at Panera that day and sees this exchange (which is simply a part of your job). At the baccalaureate ceremony, you win “The Growth in Christian Womanhood Award” which is a gold necklace. You’re sure this is a a combination of sympathy for being runner-up for the coveted Super Senior Award and helping the woman at Panera in front of the head of the religion department. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Throughout college, you attend the crunchy granola church you grew up in with your mom. It offers intellectual stimulation, community, a Sunday ritual, and beautiful music. This feels right but you’re not sure it has anything to do with Jesus. You start to think of him as a good role model but with your newfound mental independence, you have a hard time believing he’s risen from the dead, walked on water, didn’t eat for 40 days, etc., etc. The mystery of faith.
You visit the Vatican at 20 years old and the walls inside St. Peters are lined in gold. And a woman with one leg begs just beyond the massive wall lined with saints, for a few coins as all of the tourists walk by, you included, annoyed to even have to look down to avoid tripping over her. You get to go to mass said by the “papa.” He seems mean. It is truly right and just.
You flail aimlessly through services of different kinds, types, faiths, throughout your 20s and into your early 30s. Unsure. Uncommitted. Untethered. And this is a story you keep writing. Because you just don’t know. How can any of us know? Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Then, I imagine Grammom in her final month on earth praying the rosary in loop, although she could barely talk. She used the hand that still worked and tore through those decades. I know the steadfastness of her faith and the example she set for us. How she really lived the way we were taught to live in Catholic school. And I just have to hope or have to know that she’s with Universe/Mother Nature/gods/God/Yaweh/Allah/little-baby-Jesus/spirits because sometimes, even in the scrambliest moments, the mystery of faith just feels better than the absence of it.
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ode on a Grecian Urn – John Keats
In Boyne City, Michigan on the shore of Lake Charlevoix, there is a grassy park where visitors can watch 10 p.m. sunsets in August. Where people can hear the waters of Lake Michigan called by a different name lap against rocks. Where boats stroll by a football field’s distance away like they’re barely moving. Where an hour before midnight, the curfew siren echos over the water, more out of tradition than any need to cut a summer evening short. That park is lined with carefully curated native plants, meant to display purposefully what would have happened naturally a hundred years ago. A few yards back from the water’s edge there is a bench. As benches in tourism towns often are, it is dedicated to someone with a plaque. In carved letters, that bench reads something like: “To Linda, my fiancée. I’ll always think of you here in this spot, especially every year on August 6th.”
I bastardized that man’s tribute but the point is that Linda’s birth year and death year weren’t far apart enough. And that man didn’t get to say “wife,” he said “fiancée.” So my mind went walking. I leapt to their planned wedding day and how Linda must have chosen the details for this park to be the sight of their vows so they could start forever here. With the geese and the tide and the native plants. But Linda and her bench author didn’t get to have that perfect August 6th. For him, that day will remain suspended in air because even though it passed years ago, it also never happened.
Monday, August 12th was my due date. I remember hearing it and thinking it and imagining my big belly all summer. I dreamt about it and planned it and thought about the likely zodiac sign. We stared at those ultrasound pictures, as if they looked any different than anyone else’s set. I thought, “Who are you?” and “How will we help you become that person?” We’d wait to find out. We’d wait until August 12th.
When we found out that I wasn’t pregnant anymore, at seven weeks, after we’d heard the heartbeat and then didn’t and Chas started reading the baby book out loud and then stopped and I hid it in the back of the basement, I still thought about August 12th. I thought about what it would feel like to reach that date and to feel nothing, or worse, to feel everything. I imagine that moment of not finding the heartbeat and 12:00 a.m. on August 12th as being so connected. Because the first completely changed the second.
Monday, August 12th is almost here. And while I’m not who I thought I’d be on August 12th, I am a stronger me. I am a woman who knows how to mourn and grieve and come out on the other side ready to try something again, if even that means risking the same mourning and grief.
August 12th takes on a new identity. It’s the very day that Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School will open for day 1 of school in a new space. I didn’t give birth to the school or even the idea of it. But I have been there from the start. I’ve been integral in the incubation, the forming, the mistakes, the bounce backs. Maybe in my heart August 12th will take on a new identity. Or maybe it will remain suspended, printed on a tiny bench in my soul as a day that should-have-been.
My friend Anastasia sent this to me at the perfect moment a few weeks ago. I hope I don’t come off as a victim here but this is a reminder to all the IVF warriors out there…and the people who work with us, who may not understand why we are fine one moment and then angry, sad, confused, stoic, crying, weeping, the very next.