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Thursday, April 2, 2020–Day 25 of Hunkering Down

April 22, 2020


     After twenty-five days of sheltering at home, I wake as usual, when light crawls in around the draped sliding-glass door.  Half-asleep, I remember the trip to Penny’s, probably thirty years ago, to buy those drapes with my now late husband. I close my eyes and recall the compromise he sold me: by buying a set that included the same pattern on everything, sheets, shams, towels, even a strip of wallpaper along the ceiling, we could conclude the trip quicker and get out of there.  We often conducted these reversed-gender-stereotype trips this way as he loved to shop and I hated it, but it was our new home and we had agreed to make decorating decisions together.
     I doze again briefly until my left hand under the pillow moves in a dream and conducts a scratchy rumble to my good ear I cannot ignore. On the foot of the bed, Tashi sighs.  Sometime during the night, she has joined me and now sleeps upside down, four legs in the air.  One ear pops up as I reach for my cell phone.  As I contemplate my morning ritual, I wonder how I can be so compulsive in some ways and so uncaring in others.  The morning ritual must be completed, but two loads of laundry sit in the baskets below the bed and implore me for days to hang or fold them.  When I can find no other excuse for my inconsistencies, I pull up the old Gemini ruse—compulsive but disorderly, introverted extrovert, the one who loves to garden, write, read, but who never seems to find the time to pull the weeds that grow among the flourishing pea vines, to read the books piled precipitously next to the bed, to observe the admonishment to WRITE DAMMIT on my daily calendar.
     I swipe the Sleep Cycle app up to reveal three faces: sad, neutral, happy, and to my surprise I poke the happy face.  I’ve probably done that five times in the last ten years.  Usually I press neutral with the occasional sad face when I am sick or sick at heart. Now the app demands I press my finger against the camera light as it checks my pulse, around fifty-five, pretty consistent.  I click on the long list of factors that might be relevant to sleep that the app correlates for me.  I’ve indicated most of them last night:  four ounces of wine, my usual herbs, no late events.  I turn to the morning ones: stomach acid, no; night sweats, heart racing and sense of foreboding, yes.  So why did I punch the happy face today—perhaps a happy dream just before I woke up or maybe my view of upside down Tashi as I awoke?
     Next I record the hours slept from my sleep app into the Heart Study app.  I’ve slept more lately, sometimes over nine hours, since I don’t have to go anywhere, but last night I read late after setting and the sleep app is all-knowing so it recorded only seven hours and fifty-six minutes. The Heart Study app wants to know if I did any exercise not recorded by my electronic devices and since I did Zumba on Zoom with my daughter-in-law from her living room with the grandkids delightfully photobombing yesterday, I add forty-five minutes of dance–moderate. (I don’t jump with these bones and hips.)
     Now I turn to the Pulse-Oximeter, also an app, again place my finger over the light on my phone.  It bombs the first time, and I try again. Good, ninety-nine.  It went down to ninety-four earlier in the week until I returned to putting eucalyptus oil in the diffuser.
     I feel guilty keeping Tashi inside so long.  I look over as one eye looks back, her feet come down, she rolls over, another look, turns around three times and sticks her backside toward me.  I notice dog hair collecting on the gold comforter. I guess I need to run it in the washer sanitary cycle, again.  Maybe tomorrow?
     I read poetry and essays from Vox Populi in my email and post them on Facebook.  This morning it appears I am already friends of the poet, so I send her a private message with my appreciation.  The essayist does not appear when I search for her name.  Then I post another poem, this time from Rattle, and delete the one that bores me from Paris Review.
     My bladder is beginning to taunt me, but I check out The Guardian, and post an article on Covid in Italy.  I was there in October, no Covid-19, just sharing sun and cypress and vineyards with my daughter.  I wonder about the woman who taught us to cook in her country garlic-scented kitchen and fed us by the garden with home-grown tomatoes. I worry about the winemakers and olive oil pressers, the folks at the farm with the truffle-sniffing dogs and the huge white dogs that tended the sheep.   My daughter loved those dogs and became almost as upset as if it were her children she must leave behind on those green hills.  I picture the lazy pig who slept under the barbeque and the cellar with cheeses and olives and almost drift off again.
     I return to the phone, delete political ads and emails from organizations I left behind when I retired but am loath to sever that final connection.  Now I check the clock and roll reluctantly out from under the dog-furred comforter.  I run to relieve my bladder as Tashi jumps onto the wood floor.  It’s a high bed and I hear her come down hard, but I haven’t been able to get her to jump out on the other side on the rarely used dog bed or Mom’s small pink Chinese rug.  In the family room, I open Tashi’s doggie door and she slowly walks out, pauses at the top of the stairs as a flash of scarlet and green hummingbird divebombs and chastises her in its loud high voice.  The finches ignore her, the hooded oriole takes off from the jelly feeder. She finally, reluctantly, saunters down the stairs.
     Why do I feel so guilty in the morning, lying in bed with the phone instead of letting her out? If it is raining, she won’t go out at all unless I become Paddington Bear in my London Fog raincoat and hat and walk with her downstairs. Then I stand at the bottom, block the stairs, dripping and cold until I’m sure she has done her business.  I have only to stand aside and she suddenly has the energy of a pup as she darts past me into the doggie door to the hall to dry off on the Tibetan rugs.
     The morning is moving forward and I reduce the Insight Timer app from thirty minutes to ten, sit on the straight backed dining room chair in front of my altar (I gave up sitting cross-legged on a cushion years ago), black pillow in the small of my back, Tibetan wool shawl with the red, not the purple side out, listen to the bell that ends the twenty-second countdown to start.  I breathe in and out and count one in my head, in and out, two… I make it to ten and start over.  I notice my shoulders are tight, relax them, smile, start counting at one because I’ve lost track, mull over some memory fragment, find myself at seventeen in my count and start over at one once more. Shoulders, smile, thoughts, recognize them, let them go, count.
     Deep sonorous electronic singing bowls ring three times to end the session.  I bow to Avalokiteshvara on my altar, the large Triton’s Trumpet seashell, the silver tipped conch, the prayer wheel, unlit incense, Terra, sword-bearing Manjushri, bald, childlike Jizo, rocks and trinkets from my trip to Tibet.
     On my app, meditation friends from all over the world appear.  I’ve met only two in person:  John, the physician from north county whose home used to provide a monthly meditation amid the lemon and orange trees, and a Buddhist monk from South Pasadena who once walked Fiesta Island with Tashi and me when he came to San Diego to visit the Zen Centers.
     Then there is Chuck whose avatar is a picture of him riding a plush pink unicorn in the freezer section of the supermarket.  He has a red beard and I have recently learned he is a contractor in San Diego. He always writes hopefully and poetically when he thanks me for meditating with him and I look forward to his upbeat, far-out comments.
      Then there is my friend in Phoenix who quotes Rumi, the guru from Florida, the veterinarian in Northern California with the blind dog.  They are why I keep going back to meditation even when the flesh and spirit are weak.
      After meditation, I make my morning sludge with various non-psychedelic mushrooms, herbs, cocoa powder, turmeric, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, honey, hot water.  The cocoa covers all of the taste and sometimes I add coconut milk.   A few days ago I finally scored eggs from my CSA delivery just before I ran out, so I crack two into the pan. They are so small I wonder if they are from Banty chickens.  The first day I opened the cartoon, two days after they were delivered, one egg was missing, perhaps related to the smashed shell and yolk on my porch.  I had looked up in the eaves several times trying to find the nest that had suffered such a casualty.  The missing egg caused me to look through the other three dozen where I located three cracked ones and ground them down the garbage disposal.  I’m not taking chances when food poisoning could take me to the Covid-packed ER.
     I walk outside to take a picture of the Monarch chrysalis in my aeonium.  It is still St. Patrick green, but it has been longer than ten days and I wonder if the rain and cold weather are holding it back.  The longer it stays there, close to the ground, the greater chance another two, four, six, or eight-legged beast might find it.
     As I take vitamins and sip my sludge, Tashi announces a delivery truck. I instruct the unmasked driver to place the packages on the step, wait until he leaves, spray them with my only can of Lysol, coat my hands with sanitizer to hold the scissors to cut the cardboard, spray the contents, place the boxes outside to the left of the steps, leave the contents inside the doorway with other assorted supplements, gluten-free flours, and some plastic thingamajiggers that are supposed to collect dog hair in the dryer.  Then I will wait a few days before I put them away.
     I fall into Facebook and the day disappears.  After dinner, I pour exactly four ounces of red wine and call a poet friend on Facebook Messenger who pours herself a not-so-measured glass of white.  She shows me the effects button at the bottom of my screen and we end up wearing bunny ears and cool hats or looking like aliens and giggling.  I haven’t done anything so deliciously idiotic for forty-five years and it feels soooooo fine.
     Then the carbon monoxide alert goes off, so I end the call and replace the battery and the alarm goes off again. After I open windows and doors to the cold, I call SDG&E.  The guy on the phone quizzes me excessively on whether I have been sick or exposed to the virus, so I quiz him just as excessively on what his service person will do to protect my health.  He tells me to unlock the door now in case I pass out since they do not want to have to break down my door. The service person arrives quickly in gloves and mask and tells me if I were sick he would have to be accompanied by a supervisor with both of them in hazmat suits.  I stifle any coughs from my allergies as he checks the fireplace, the stove, the heater, the water heater, the dryer.  Everything is fine and, of course, the carbon monoxide meter stays off.
     After he leaves around 9:30 pm, I am restless, so I spend more time on Facebook and don’t prepare for bed until almost 11:00.  I have just brushed my teeth when Tashi barks urgently and the Ring Doorbell and Alexa tell me “there is motion at the front door.”  I peer through the glass by the door and find myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a wild-eyed man, dark full beard, what looks like a headband, a large quilt over his shoulders. When he sees me, he backs off and I notice to my horror, that the door is still unlocked for the SDG&E man.  I lock it quickly and stare out the window again as he makes a big display of looking around. He appears to suddenly see the empty boxes waiting to de-virus in the morning sun, and points to one as if to ask for it.  I nod, he leaves, and I turn off the porch light I had left on earlier.  I check the video on my phone taken by the camera on my Ring Doorbell and relive the moment again. My late-night visitor looks high, but I decide not to call the cops.  Now that my door is locked, I worry about how the cops might handle him. I almost change my mind as he leaves.  When the quilt slips off his shoulders it reveals something long and black (a crowbar? a gun?).
     The next morning, I will send the video to my neighbors who chastise me for not calling the cops. They will find the box from my house discarded two doors down. They won’t understand why I didn’t call the police, so I’ll just say I was too nervous.  Then one of them will send the video to the Neighborhood Watch and tells me to call the cops now.  I do, but am chewed out for calling late since now they can’t do anything.  Later someone writes on the neighborhood watch app that the man’s name is Sean.  Evidently, his parents used to live in the neighborhood but died and he scouts for deliveries and takes items from construction sites.  He’s been arrested several times and is a source of much discussion in our residential, usually-no-homeless-people neighborhood.  I will decide from now on to double check the lock on the door.
     But tonight, it is even later, my restlessness more rampant.  I check Facebook again where someone posts a link to a movie of Poe’s Mask of the Red Death.

I click on it.


  1. Carrie permalink

    This is such an amazing piece!!! Thanks for sharing your Shelter World. It’s personal yet in our present state, universal.

  2. Janice Alper permalink

    Great to read it again and I like the new ending. Keep going, you are in a groove, my friend.

  3. Devoted Annette permalink

    Barbara, Thanks so much for sending this. I love it! and I even make a cameo appearance as “the poet friend” ! This is such a great essay. That was a wonderfully fun moment, we need more of those.  Deborah

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