Nothing Nice to Say but I’m Saying It Anyway

I woke up, fed my beautiful cat, made coffee, and hightailed it to the river. Where I sat at her banks and wept and wept.

And wept.

I suppose this is why I’ve not been posting more personal essays. So much of what I’m feeling is abject grief, and who needs more of that? Except: Are we really allowing ourselves to experience said grief? Or are we ranting then checking out then ranting some more? It’s hard to grieve, really grieve, for a quality of life—a standard of decency—that we took for granted only nine months ago. Because to do so makes this present more real, and who wants that?

It reminds me of the prayer I started uttering as a child when I realized I had no allies.

Dear God please don’t let me stop feeling.

To feel these ugly feelings–to feel any feelings–I’ve continued to take long walks through my ever-wilder neighborhood. City nature runs wonderfully amok while other resources dwindle. I march straight down the hill to the river, where I make petitions, confide secrets, express gratitude. Cry. Then I meander home, stopping by all the local parks and community gardens en route. Yes, there is a tree—a strong, sly honey locust—I hug every day.

Next to Grace, this tree has served as my most consistent source of affection during Pandemica. She presides over a corner of McCarren Park, and every morning before I hug and kiss her (her bark is dry and cool, like a mythical mother’s cheek) I clear her roots and branches of whatever trash has accumulated over the prior 24 hours.

This morning, though, when I threw my arms around my tree—by now I scarcely notice the head-swivels–I burst into tears again. Because any hug reminds me of all the other hugs I cannot bestow.

There’s so much loss and so little payoff.

Can we say it aloud? That the future we feared is here? That the semblance of democracy to which we clung has disappeared? That we can’t walk anywhere without masks? That our land is literally burning? That we are dying en masse of government-sanctioned poverty and violence and disease while they feast upon, ugh, Big Macs? America has found its Hitler, who after all would’ve been another failed artist ranting in a bar had Germany not been flailing after World War I, hungry for something someone anyone to reignite its sense of national pride—aka unearned racial superiority–by scapegoating the Jews. For sure Trump would’ve been another reality TV casualty rambling in some tacky midtown club had he not reignited the still-burning embers of the Civil War for a bunch of ignorant, hateful honkies smarting over the election of a black man to the highest office in the land.

This new normal will never be normal. And I can’t even imagine how things will burn come November.

I can’t I can’t I can’t.

I spent my 70s childhood obsessing over Nazis—which ones might’ve snuck into my Boston suburb, might enter my house in the middle of the night to gas my father with his big bony Jewish nose, slaughter my half-breed sister and me for good measure.

Normally to assuage my fears, my mathematician father would cite statistics: “The odds of being stuck by lightening are only 1 in 700,000.” But when I’d wake him in the middle of the night with this one, he’d only sigh. Our clan, two generations ago, had been enormous. My grandmother had seven brothers and sisters. Post-Holocaust, my father only had a few cousins.

“No Nazis tonight, sweetie,” he’d say. Then sigh again.

I don’t know how I’d comfort a child had I birthed one.

Every day on my walk, I pass more neighborhood staples that have closed. The deli at the corner of N. 8th and Bedford where the owner always made the same joke—that’ll be 5 million dollars!—and I always laughed because I loved him, not because he was funny? It’s shuttered for good. Jerry’s deli, where I got meatball subs every month for years, is gonzo gonzo gone. K’s apartment is no longer K’s apartment; he’s fled to Berlin.

The list goes on and on. With each closure I say, “Something new will rise, just like in the 70s.” Each departure I say: “Oh, people are always leaving NYC.” But the losses are mounting or, rather, they’re sliding away, just like so many relationships in my life that seemed permanent pre-Covid. Like so many people. It reminds me of that scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when Jim Carrey tried to cling to memories sliding into an abyss he once upon a time thought he preferred.

So yes, today I’m holding this space for your tears and mine. Because, oy, it is so very sad. Even more so because once upon a time it was unavoidable. Lord, what good Germans these Americans be.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy