I’d forgotten how quickly death comes when playing normal lifespan. It seems our game has just started when Geeta succumbs.
During my first legacy, the train of death tried my resilience. I was at the tail-end of a decade-long spell of grief for my dad, and Goofy Love, in many ways, became a canon of eulogies. But it helped me, too, to tell the story of the ultimate departure and the sadness of those left behind.
How did I get to feel that I was immortal? It’s a trick of consciousness, that buzz of energy that fills the space within and without. Wittgenstein saved me, I read his insight: “If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.” And that was a gift my dad gave me, especially during my last visit with him, in his last few weeks. At one moment, I felt that he really saw me, as he never had before, and we shared timelessness.
I remember standing in the garden, watering the red salvia, and realizing that writing the repetition of legacy deaths had brought me to that moment.
I refused to use the word “death” then. I used “passing” or “a visit from Grim.”
But the pandemic, and the daily totals I’ve been checking every morning for the last eight months, have brought the word “death” into my daily vocabulary.
Today, in my county, 5 new deaths were reported, bringing the total to 722. In the county to the north, 39 were reported, bringing the total to 4,119. In our state, the total is 6,885.
One of those 722 in our county, one of the first deaths, back in April, was an acquaintance of mine, a potential friend, a coworker, the librarian of one of our schools. Writing this now, I can’t believe that we have continued on. I don’t know why the world didn’t stop then. It did stop for her daughter, for her grandchildren. I keep thinking of her grandson.
One bright winter day last year, in my office, the fluorescent lights off as the sun poured in through the south window, we sat at my computer, shoulder to shoulder, and she told me, “We always leave the lights off at home during the day when my grandson comes to visit. If we don’t, he turns them off and tells me, ‘Use Jesus light, grandma!'”
So, I think of her grandson, and what does he think now, when he stands in Jesus light pouring in through the window? Does it bring to him his grandmother?
Her last name was Sims, curiously enough. I told her, that same bright day, that I played a game called Sims. She laughed, and she listened while I told her about it–I mean, she really listened, like Moira and Ira listen to Case. I had that same sentiment towards her–she got me.
We had a cultural connection, too, having both lived in the Bay Area. In fact, when she lived there, she worked for the same company my brother did. It’s a huge statewide company, but it’s likely they knew each other and had even been in meetings together.
She moved out here to go to the university, where she got a PhD in Cultural Anthropology.
Each time I helped her with her school library website, she would send me a card–an actual paper card, not an email–to thank me.
She was gracious and regal and full of light. And I can’t believe she’s gone.
I learned of her death when I was preparing the audio file of the Governing Board meeting for posting on the Board website. The superintendent, in his report, after cheerily talking about plans for remote learning, way back in the spring when all of this was new, somehow segued into mentioning that a pandemic death had taken one of ours. I couldn’t believe it when he said her name.
It still hasn’t sunk in.
I know others who’ve been affected by the pandemic, too. We all do by now. The spouse of a blogger I follow has long Covid, which is affecting neurology and cognition.
What are we doing writing legacies during a pandemic?
Similar to the eulogy my first legacy became, this legacy, perhaps, will become my sadness hotline. Playing The Sims and writing in conjunction offer a way to process. They offer escape, too–until they don’t.
And there is so much to process. Today, the person I hired to clean out my office delivered six cardboard boxes and a boombox, carrying 23 years of my career. Just like that.
When shutdown first started, I was worried about my office plants. I couldn’t get anyone to plant-sit them for me. If they die, I realized, I will not go back to the office. They died. Other people have gone back to the office. I’m not going. Maybe a year from now, or two, when there are no cases in our state or neighboring states, I’ll venture back to say goodbye to everyone.
But thinking about it right now, I don’t want to say goodbye. There’s a walk I used to take, along the quiet, straight, residential street our office building stands on, with mesquite-lined sidewalks and wildflowers that bloom in the sidewalk cracks. I don’t want to admit that that walk isn’t part of my day anymore.
Before I got on the plane to visit my dad the last time, I told my boyfriend, “I don’t want to tell him goodbye.”
“Then maybe you don’t have to,” he said.
So I didn’t. I told him I loved him. I told him I’d see him around.
And I do–whenever I catch the flicker of light off the wing of a bird, when I look at a pine tree, when my eyes water from the bright yellow and orange of a lantana blossom.
Somehow our lives have been disrupted, and our insane belief that we are somehow immune to death has been shattered.
In many ways, I don’t mind the seismic change that the pandemic brought to my life. It’s a reminder of the significance of this. It’s a daily acknowledgement of those we’ve lost, of my friend whose grandson sees her in the Jesus light that pours in through the window.
I’ve stayed home. I’ve been that privileged. I’ve retired. I’ve been that lucky to be able to. I’m sad, I’m afraid, I’m experiencing separation anxiety at the idea of leaving one of the main ways I’ve integrated into society. But I’m alive. And it’s not fair, that I’m alive and my librarian friend is not, that I’m able to retire and others have to choose between staying safe or having money for rent. It’s not fair, because none of this is, and the cognitive dissonance of living through this time has stretched me beyond limit, to where sometimes, the only place I can reside is timelessness.