the future

The Return of My Garbage Self

Illustration: Luci Pina

In my weaker moments I have this fear that the pandemic will end and it won’t feel different.

I’m talking those crawling-out-of-the-skin feelings, I’m talking what if my kids are both at school and the house is clean and the herd is immune but I didn’t pee before I left to go to the grocery store to get the forgotten milk and my headphones are tangled up with my keys and while I’m trying to untangle them I drop my keys in the gutter and when I’m bending down to get them I pee a little in my pants and I am in the history of man the most bereft that anyone has been or will be. I’m talking when I have the kids in the van and we are going to go do some activity that is finally open and safe and we’ve wanted to do for more than a year and when we get there it’s a million people and it’s so sweaty and there’s kinetic sand on the floor and pee on the toilet seats and it takes a fucking hour to get a hot dog which is 14 dollars and when we leave the little one has to buckle herself into her carseat or she’ll die.

Has Dr. Fauci addressed whether this whole experience is going to confer immunity against the sulk and the pity-party and the little diaper baby breakdown where I am the baby in the diaper, where I am the plastic bag trembling in the wind?

What of the meltdown and the freakout in the post-pandemic age?

Like, what if I’m pushing my cart in the grocery store and someone is standing smack in the middle of the aisle and they are texting and immovable and wearing a shirt that says “Fuck you very much”? Will I be like, I’m alive with joy because thousands of people aren’t dying every day and my children are in their school and they are learning and I can work again, and during the crisis I pulled together with my neighbor and I am not sweating any small stuff or obstructive forces because I love my fellows and a lot of us really did our best? Or is it going to be more like, millions of people died and in my country, they died so gratuitously, and there was no school because everything was open and my 5-year-old said “I wish I wasn’t alive” so that people could breathe on minimum-wage employees of a Bath and Body Works and Donald Trump was the president and the election took decades and my grandmother’s funeral was on Zoom and we couldn’t do for each other when it counted most and side note I look like shit and now I’m here in the grocery store with this asshole and we’re just sipping on the poisoned chalice of American life?

But that’s too tidy. Let us leave aside the poisoned chalice of American life; what about when it’s that annual birthday-birthday-Halloween-Thanksgiving-birthday-Christmas-wham-wham-wham holiday bonanza–am I going to say to myself and my beautiful family, Now we celebrate now we count our blessings now we go all out with the parties and damn the expense and effort? Or am I going to writhe wondering how many pizzas I need to get and do we know enough kids to come to this party because if this party isn’t epic after the last year my kid will lose all remaining capacity for joy and who invented birthday parties anyway, they are misogyny? Or when I get a freelance gig will I sit down and do it during the actual hours I am supposed to work and during which I will finally be able to work or will I let it loom over me for days and waste my childcare time going to the grocery store or folding laundry or just staring out the window or at my phone and then still wind up working at night after the kids go to bed? I took probably 55 showers in the last year, but if I’m honest how many did I take the year before that? Like 90? Not enough.

I want to feel relief, I want to feel the sun on my face, everything feels so close that I fear I’ll miss the instant when this is over — that one day I’ll look around and find the moment of catharsis never happened because life isn’t a movie and it just chugs along with its assortment of thrills and sorrows and longueurs and I’ll have to wrest that big moment from looking at lines on a graph, lines I yearn for with all my soul but can’t actually feel in my body. What if the pandemic ends and I’m just my same little garbage self? What if I’m no better than I was?

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The Return of My Garbage Self