All the Paths from Stuck to Motion



I put on clothes before I go downstairs every morning. It’s a new rule, in my head, a ward against a world in which so many have switched to sweatpants and pajamas all day and in which I know I would roll slowly down into deep sadness if I didn’t put on real clothes. Pants, top, bra. Deodorant. Brush hair and teeth. Deep, deep drags on the morning inhaler as my city fills with the bored smoke of too many fireworks celebrating nothing. The path from the bed to the closet to the bathroom is the first trip I take every day, moving from another-day-like-yesterday to maybe-this-shirt-will-make-me-feel-better.


If the clothes I’ve put on are running clothes because the air quality has passed muster outside, the path down the stairs to the back foyer is next. Sneakers. Little stretchy pouch for my inhaler and my key and, now, for a mask I sometimes pull out and clutch in my hand as I trod past Lake Michigan, making ten-foot arcs around septuagenarians walking in pairs. Go too far north and the path is clogged with people, forcing my mask over my face, so I go west, past the shoe store and the shuttered bakery and the tiny nail spas that can’t be doing well. Past the rose garden, past the funny goose statue they dress in giant bows and rainbow capes. I come back to my yard, panting, and sit at the picnic table to upload photos of flowers and waves to Instagram. All my photos are of flowers and waves and food, all the miracles I pin there to remind myself that they exist, still, even among all of this.


If the clothes are not running clothes because the air is bad or I’m too tired or I just can’t will myself out, the path to the kitchen leads to the tea pot, the ceramic pour-over apparatus, the bag of coffee and the carton of creamer. Since my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease I’ve been following a new rule from a book on brain health, about longer stretches of time without food, trying to trick my mind into staying alert, hunting, waiting, so I have to count backwards…did I finish dinner at 7:30? 8:30? How many hours until I return to the stove to make oatmeal, to the sink to wash berries, to the oven to bake muffins? I pour boiling water over coffee grounds. I watch the steam in the dim light.


No more coffeeshop or co-working space for me in this pandemic; I walk back up to my office behind the bedroom to work, a narrow space wide enough for my desk and long enough for three of me to lay, head to toe. It’s filling and emptying, gifts for my daughter’s graduating friends in a box on the floor, an extra chair propped against the wall for meetings with my college-bound girl to buy her supplies. We have sat here and ordered a pulse oximeter, a shower tote, a thermometer, a desk lamp, a pharmacy of drugs in case she’s quarantined. And she leaves, and I try to drag pixels across a screen and not panic, not check the news, not roll her eighteen years in my fingers and call them enough. The pixels on my screen give me purpose, send me traveling for a few moments at a time.


The only peaceful time is on my porch, a short walk from the kitchen, a longer walk clutching laptop and coffee and phone and cushions to make it into an office on the days the air is clear. Strange animals and birds that have always been there capture me for a few moments as I watch them land on the sidewalk, plucking and picking, and then race elsewhere to hide and protect and gather more. Have there always been this many cardinals, this many chipmunks? I set my mug on the porch railing, marvel at its outline against the trees. A family walks by with toddlers, sweet sounds penetrating the music in my computer, and sometimes one of them looks up through the wooden slats and waves, angled head just-so, little fingers all moving in their own directions. I wave back. There, there’s a little adventure, I think.


By late afternoon, there’s no where to travel but the kitchen, the miracles of onions and carrots and beets from our favorite farm and the eensy tomatoes from my own backyard reminding me of small histories and larger powers. Humans coaxed order from the chaos of vegetation when we invented farming and gardening, but these things would happen without us. I divide them, apply water and fire, and mix them with each other,  but I didn’t create them. Every sliver of rainbow chard is a blessing. Every scallion takes me back to the first scallion, the first mutation of onion that burst out of the ground and was nibbled by a goat, a deer, a rabbit, watched by a human who thought they’d try it too. Lost in my imagination of the ways scallions passed from prehistoric person to prehistoric person, I am journeying to the original wild farms of nature. No matter that I am at my kitchen counter. No matter that teenagers laugh over YouTube videos behind me, my husband is on another call one floor above, my world is crumbling into disease and corruption while fireworks thicken the air in my lungs. No matter. Carrot, beet, onion: you’ve been here. You’ll be here.


We have to draw together in the evenings, and we escape into Modern Family DVDs, Netflix cooking shows, The Real Housewives of wherever. We sit 6 feet from our friends in our yard and shake our heads, roast marshmallows, drink. Sometimes, my husband and I leave our kids to wash dishes and walk, fast, toward the lake in the dark. It’s the only place to go, and we’re not alone, masked and dodging other people, but it’s somewhere to go, to travel.

We’re going. We’re going wherever we can.


This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post hosted by Kristi of The prompt this week was: “When it comes to travel…”

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2 thoughts on “All the Paths from Stuck to Motion

  1. This is beautiful and heartbreaking, and so very relatable. I go between trying to find thankfulness in taking bike rides or walks the way I did as a kid, but when it’s the only place to go, as you mention, it makes it less exciting. I, too, am retreating to my porch more, and just got a propane fire pit and some couch sofa thing. I know I’ll appreciate it, but it also feels desperate somehow. I don’t like that part.
    I’m sorry the smoke is so bad there. I didn’t realize that.
    Also – Alzheimers – fasting works?? Going to have to research that!

  2. That’s so great that you’re able to visit with neighbors, such an important sanity outlet during this. I need to try this waiting longer between meals. I am the worst about that.

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