Mood Swings – Published in Writers Rock Quarterly – July 2020
It’s 11:15 a.m. and I’m still in my pajamas. The sink is filled with dirty dishes and the pan with hours old, shriveled pancakes rests on the stovetop. The dog is licking the dried pancake syrup off a kitchen seat cushion. And Alex, my husband, is asking if we have more coffee.
Now Jake, our four-year-old son having mastered “Daddy training” is calling from the living room sofa. “Mommy, I need a drink.”
You need a drink? I’m the one who needs a drink.
As the mother of two—an insomniac infant and a locked out of school toddler—and a working from home husband, I’m adding unwanted skills to my resume. Not only am I the soul source of my baby’s all-day buffet, but I’m also a full-time children’s entertainer, laundress, housekeeper, short-order-cook and dishwasher in a 24/7 takeout restaurant. Orders are coming in faster than the solo staff can manage.
We’re on day eleven of the Covid-19 pandemic and the stay-in-place order set by our governor. My mind is turning to oatmeal.
With Alex now “coffeed,” Jake quenched and Evie snuggled deep into her kangaroo pouch on my chest, I slip into the bedroom to catch the Cuomo morning show like it’s my favorite, never-to-be-missed soap, hoping for any sign of encouragement this nightmare is coming to an end. But his words, his graphs and pictures remain viscerally painful truths.
I cry. I cry for those health care workers on the screen, I cry for those who have died, and selfishly, I cry for myself trapped between the pages of this dystopian novel. I’m sobbing when Alex interrupts the pity party. He wraps me in his understanding arms and suggests I go for a run.
Like an automatic faucet, the tears shut off and I’m smiling. “Really? All by myself?” I ask wiping sadness from my unwashed face.
“Yeah, I’ve got this. I can take care of the kids. Just leave me a boob.”
“Ha, I knew this was a trick.”
“No, really, go. There are plenty of bottles in the fridge. You need this. Just gear up and keep your distance from everyone.”
Before he completes uttering the words of assurance, I’m extracting the little marsupial from the comfort of her pouch and passing her into his arms. I dig through the overflowing dirty laundry basket for my sweats, do a quick sniff test and slip them on. I double knot my running shoes, pull my unruly hair into a scrunchy and top it off with my NYC baseball cap.
Husband and children are already glued to a Sesame Street recording, and I resist the urge to seek further assurance. Kisses all around. I grab my sunglasses and wave good-bye. No one even looks up.
Plastic gloves, check. Mask, check. Mini Clorox spray & wipes, check. I’m out the door.
I spray and wipe the elevator call button and retreat six feet from its door. Two pass before an empty one arrives. I’m already coughing into my elbow as I step inside, fighting the choking disinfectant scent seeping through my mask. I spray and wipe the lobby button while speaking to the company of imaginary riders. “If this virus doesn’t kill us, the sanitizers will.” No one laughs.
I step out into the sunshine. It’s a crisp, spring day. Aside from the streets devoid of usual traffic and shuttered stores, everything looks perfect. I start out slow, head toward the park. Central Park. The place where on ordinary days you’d hear the sounds of cheerful children resonating from playgrounds. You’d see readers, writers, lovers lounging on grassy fields. There’d be musicians, magicians and the bubble man. But not today.
I pass a few other joggers, and we keep our distance as best we can. I try to focus on the fresh air, the sunshine, the chirping birds and chattering squirrels crossing my path. Up the hill, I slow my pace. I feel the burn, the good burn. My heart rate’s increasing. I smile. I’m feeling good. Forgetting I’m living in the days of coronavirus. It’s a good day to be alive.
I reach the plateau and stop. There in the distance lies a series of interlocking white tents, set on the green grass, shimmering in the sun’s golden glow against the backdrop of a cloudless azure sky. Any other day this might be the scene of a holiday popup store filled with artisans. Or the Big Apple Circus with happy face-painted clowns and scents of popcorn and candy apples wafting through the air.
But not today. Today it’s a popup FEMA hospital filled with masked faces, antiseptic scent and the thrumming of ventilators battling the devil’s work. I pull out my phone, snap a photo and text it to Alex. Just bumped into hell in heaven.
He responds with a captioned selfie. Evie’s cuddled in his arms sucking on her bottle and a jelly-faced Jake is hooked on his back. We love you, Mommy.
I adjust my facemask, do an about face and run back home.
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