The past year was truly a crazy one! But, as writers are prone to do, I looked at 2020 as an opportunity to capture my feelings through words.
When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit last March, I found myself writing down my reflections; as the pandemic increased and we were all encouraged to quarantine, I wrote even more.
Notes from a Quarantine: Essays, Stories, and Poems is the result of my reflections on the pandemic--as it happened.
The book includes essays in chronological order, as well as poems and short stories I wrote throughout the year.
It's currently available on ebook through Amazon Kindle; you can read it on your Kindle device, phone, or computer, and it's just $5.99 (or free if you have Kindle Unlimited!).
To give a glimpse of what's in the book, here is one of my essays, an excerpt from a short story, and a poem.
"Love, Death, and Willow Trees"
Call me weird, but I’ve always liked cemeteries.
I still remember the field trip my AP American History class took in high school to Vicksburg, Mississippi; while other students sighed in boredom, I trekked through the battleground cemetery looking at names and dates on the headstones.
I liked to imagine what the lives of those people long gone were like.
Did they love? Did they get jealous? Did they like to play outside along the riverbank? Did they like to sing? Did any of their dreams come true?
Cemeteries, of course, lose some of their appeal when you’re visiting one for a funeral.
On what had to be one of the hottest days of this Alabama Summer I ventured to a local cemetery for the funeral of my ex-husband’s father. Don, a tough Army man who had succumbed to dementia in the last few years, was laid to rest in the sweltering heat of mid-day; we fanned ourselves with papers pulled from purses, our heat amplified by the masks we all wore on our faces.
Listening to the eulogy I found myself struck by the irony of the year.
Just two months before the pandemic slowed life to a standstill, our family welcomed the newest little ones to our family--twin boys Riker and Cohen. We eagerly anticipated the year of growth the entire extended family would get to experience with them in 2020.
Instead, our time with the boys was limited. Grandparents, great grandparents, and cousins marveled at how quickly they’d grown each time they saw them on social media or FaceTimed with them.
Time moved quickly when separated by a virus.
On the day of the funeral, though, the boys attended with my daughter. Their laughter filled the mournful air; their young voices and squirmy movements brought a smile to the socially distanced relatives.
The boys’ presence seemed to put things in their proper perspective.
After the graveside service ended, we walked the grassy lawn of the cemetery, looking at headstones. My ex-husband and daughter read the names, trying to locate family members. When they did, they’d share memories and tell stories from long ago. They walked arm in arm, their heads bent together in conspiratorial fashion.
It may sound morbid, but the walk through the cemetery felt quite the opposite. The day was warm; the breeze moved the branches above us in a humid hug, and the air seemed to speak to us with a knowledge of greater things.
I held one of the boys in my arms as we walked, and my daughter held the other. At one point I noticed her lean in close to his ear; I imagined that she was recounting to him a long-ago memory of her grandfather, maybe of the way he used to laughingly call her “Mildred” and her cousin “George” (not his name) just to make them angry. Of how he’d watch Atlanta Braves baseball games with them, or take them fishing at the pond on his farm.
Riker and Cohen brought new life to our family.
Other lives departed.
This pattern--new life, loss, new life, loss--repeated itself ad nauseam across the planet. In this year, it repeated even more times than others. It was inescapable.
I looked at the grandson I held, and then up to my daughter who walked ahead of me through the maze of concrete markers.
I kissed his chubby cheek and nuzzled my face in his neck, grateful to hold new life in my arms.
Mrs. Ellie Adams lived on the ground floor in Apartment 107, and she didn’t take much to visitors.
She’d already gotten used to having her groceries and favorite cozy mysteries delivered to her door before the coronavirus ever hit. Now that the quarantine was in full effect, she felt oddly at ease.
“I was made for this,” she laughed to herself, watching television reports of restaurants closing and doctors going online for appointments.
She picked at her small plate of chicken salad while listening to the interviews with her fellow Memphis citizens who were distraught about the changes to their daily lives. Following that story came a young, pretty reporter’s conversation with a local therapist who said she feared the quarantine would cause more depression than ever before.
The reporter shook her head sadly in agreement with the doctor.
“Not likely here,” Ellie muttered under her breath. She’d learned to handle depression in her own way since her husband had died five years ago.
Mostly it meant talking out loud despite no one else being in the small apartment. Often it meant talking out loud to the photo of Patrick that sat atop the mantle of the gas fireplace.
She wondered what her husband would think about the things going on in the world right now. His own cancer had been quick and unexpected, so he would have assuredly shown grace to those afflicted with the virus.
He showed grace to everyone.
Ellie remembered the night they’d met just over forty years ago, at a New Year’s party celebrating the dawn of the 1980s. She was a 25-year-old waitress putting herself through college and instead of enjoying the party with friends she worked as a server that night for the Memphis Magnolias catering company.
She’d been refilling wine glasses when she tripped and spilled Merlot down the front of Patrick’s shirt.
She apologized profusely, embarrassed; her face evidenced the stressful night she’d already been experiencing, and the mishap made it worse. She just wanted to get home quickly.
But Patrick, cheerful and charming, told her in a slow drawl that meeting her was the highlight of his night.
“Even if it means displaying my wine for the rest of the evening,” he said, dabbing his white shirt with a handkerchief.
He had Ellie’s phone number before the night ended, and they’d quickly become inseparable.
The grace he’d extended that night foreshadowed the many years to come.
He’d been the smile to Ellie’s worry; the optimism to her cynicism; the carefree to her cautious.
She could imagine him now, here on the couch, squeezing her hand.
“How awful for them,” he’d say. “I wonder what we can do.”
And then he’d spring into action, finding a way to lighten someone else’s load.
Ellie finished her dinner, carried her plate to clean it by hand in the sink, then settled down at the small dining room table.
"Hope, No. 2"
in the midst of
I am winged,
I know that behind the curtain
is a sanctuary where fears, uncertainty.
And peace, comfort,
are spoken into ears
Cheryl Wray is a freelance writer, book author, and coordinator of the Southern Christian Writers Conference. (Check out the SCWC group on Facebook.)