Normal and not normal
I feel like I’m slipping around on a slick surface that’s covering over reality. On this surface are many familiar things. I wash the dishes, I do laundry, I read, I cook, I pet the dog. These activities are comfortingly mundane. Emptying the dishwasher and setting the table provide an illusion of normalcy. Everything’s okay right now, right in this moment.
But then, at any given time, I become conscious merely of my hands: When did I wash them last? What if my hands are infecting the plastic bag holding the apples? Do I wash my hands before I open the bag and touch the apple, or do I wash them after I open the bag and touch the apple, but before I actually eat the apple?
Immersed in a movie on TV, I suddenly think, why are those people standing so close together? Why do they keep touching their faces?
It’s normal for my husband to be here, but not all the time. In normal life, he’s hardly home at all. We walk around nearby streets every day. Because he’s formerly been working pretty much every waking hour, my husband enjoys this exploring. “I didn’t know Quilliams intersected with Noble!” he’ll say. He marvels at the driveway turnaround at Oxford school; I don’t know why. We circumnavigate deserted Millikin School, and he shades his eyes to look in the windows. These places are new to him.
We bring the dog and talk about her as we walk. We share our opinions about the houses on Roanoke, Maple, Wood, Crest and Rushleigh as we pass by; the paint colors we like, which ones we don’t like. Sometimes we continue a conversation, or an argument, we were already having. It’s an ordinary walk, but it’s taking place in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday.
Now, I have to think hard about what I want to read next. Which unread book on my shelf should I pick up, or, more likely, which fondly remembered one will I reread? It’s not normal not to go to the Noble Road library.
It’s not normal not to go anyplace at all. Not to eat out. Not to meet up with my friends. To communicate with my Latin students only online. It occurs to me that I will probably never see some of them again. Next fall, if we return to school, they’ll have to seek me out.
It’s not normal to meet with my book groups via Zoom, laughing because half of us newbies are alternately pointing our phones at the ceiling or at the palm of our hands.
All of that which is not normal, though, I perceive as deeper and farther beneath my feet. It’s an unfathomably deep lake that I’m skating around on with my dishwashing and baking and Zooming. I maintain my precarious balance by putting my phone away and turning the radio off. I scroll quickly through Facebook, only glancing at the anti-Trump diatribes. I stay sane summoning gratitude for my home, my family, my health, my lucky circumstances.
Most of the time I feel fine, skimming on this surface. I check in with others and try to cheer them up. But now and then the ominous reality underneath me surges up: a statistic on the news, a worry about my child in New York, a shot of a refugee camp, a phrase of music that unexpectedly grabs at my chest and makes me tear up.
[This post is adapted from one that Ewing posted on "Raw Data: Living in the Fallout from the Coronavirus" (https://rawdatafalloutfromthecoronavirus.blogspot.com/). Founded by writers Susan and Mary Grimm, the collective blog "is meant to capture . . . our reaction to the coronavirus right now."]
Kathy Ewing has lived in Cleveland Heights for 37 years. Her memoir, Missing: Coming to Terms with a Borderline Mother, appeared in 2016, and her second book, Lead Me, Guide Me: The Life and Example of Father Dan Begin, was set to be published in April 2020. She teaches Latin at Cleveland State University and blogs at www.kathyewing.com.