Coronatine, Day Seventy-one (Breaking of the Fast)

Just before the rain, we finished planting all the seeds. Pumpkin and yellow squash, red peppers and zucchini, cucumbers and cilantro.

I am so grateful for this downpour because it’s been a dry month, in more ways than one, for me. A year ago, when Muslim students spilled into my room at lunch to be far away from food during Ramadan, I decided to fast with them. I never told them that I rose before dawn to scarf down overnight oatmeal, avocados, and watermelon, that I drank two giant glasses of water to sustain myself for a busy day at school. I never told them, and they never asked, why I wasn’t eating either. But they would sit in my room and talk about the special meals their mothers would be preparing for that night’s Iftar. They would chat with each other, asking about when the next prayer time would be or what math homework they needed to do before that evening’s visit to the mosque.

There was a safety in that space, my classroom at lunch, the lights off, the sun streaming in through the cracks of the shades. There was no space for judgment or smells of others’ meals, and we were like friends, my students and me.

I cannot replicate it now, and I will never be a religious person, and quarantine is hard enough, but I decided to fast for the thirty days of Ramadan this year anyway. Why would I put myself through such torture when no one in my house would, when we’re already giving up so much right now, when I’m surrounded by a kitchen and pantry packed with food?

And what would anyone think, really, this stupid white girl appropriating another’s culture?

I didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family, really.  A couple of friends. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything at all, out of respect, but I saw this article in the Washington Post and I felt better, six days into my decision.

Being at home has its benefits. I burn so many more calories at school, walking from desk to desk, from my classroom to the printer to the copier, to the bathroom, to the office for meetings, to chat with colleagues in other rooms. At home, I can sit on my couch with my puppy and listen to an audiobook and cross-stitch for hours. A few times I even took a nap, though I’m terrible at taking naps.

I barely slept for the past thirty days. Too much goes on in my house that is difficult for me to control right now. Everyone is in one mode or another of depression and anxiety because of this virus that is a weight on all of our lives, because of not wanting to or feeling comfortable about being at home with each other (rather than friends), because I was so stressed about my husband losing his job, and even once he miraculously got a new job in the midst of a pandemic, there was a lingering sense of remorse for all the worry I had wasted for three months.

So rising at 4:30 with my alarm barely happened. Most of the time my eyes popped open around 4:00, just when the birds started their pre-dawn chatter. My puppy thought I was so crazy that he didn’t even beg for bits of food or lick my plate, but rather sullenly remained sleeping on the couch until I roused him for our singular long walk, the only time I would have enough energy to walk 2-3 miles.

Because one thing I have learned about not eating or drinking even a sip of water for 14-15 hours is that it is the most exhausting thing I can imagine experiencing. By 6:00pm, I’d be shaky and loopy, trying to fix dinner with one of the kids. By 7:00, I’d be shaky and loopy with anticipation, so excited for the sweet taste of juice that I rarely drink but have enjoyed for the past month, for whatever concoction we were throwing together for that night’s meal, whether it simply be hot dogs and broccoli or fried chicken and fries.

It’s incredible how amazingly cool and refreshing that first sip of ice-cold juice is, that first bite of food that you want to hold in your mouth and allow your whole body to feel its nourishment. And after a few drinks and a few sips, despite being so starving, I’d feel full, yet still so exhausted that it wouldn’t be long before I’d crawl into bed, ready to begin again tomorrow.

It’s funny how the body works. How the mind works. How hard it was, day after day, wishing it would be over, wishing the new moon would come in its crescent beauty, wondering why I would choose to do this.

I saw so many perfect sunrises.

I spoke to my children with tears in my eyes and a shaky voice many times. There was a weakness there, an inability to scream or argue, that didn’t exist before.

I thought about my Muslim students, so isolated, not in my classroom avoiding the cafeteria, but at home in crowded apartments and small houses, avoiding the world.

I slowed down. For me, this was the hardest part. Giving up food and water was nothing compared to not being able to pull every weed, plant every seed, ride my bike up and down every last hill, walk the dog until blisters appeared on my toes. But sometimes it’s better to just stop for a moment, to let the world continue its craziness around you, to rest your eyes and your heart, trying to see the spinning from a place that is still.

Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, I made it through thirty of seventy-one days of quarantine without food or drink. And last night’s enchiladas and Libyan honeycomb bread, this morning’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream, this afternoon’s bike ride with my boys…

They tasted sweeter than you could ever imagine. Like winning the lottery of luck that is my life (because it is). Like putting that first bite in your mouth after a month of fasting, only that bite is Pure. Gratitude.

Because nothing in this life is more precious than what we love, what we long for. A taste. A drink. A relationship with our students, our families, our friends.

And in thirty days, you can truly taste how much joy longing can bring.

 

Social Distancing. Day Three.

Building the garden and cleaning up the yard. Such simple goals for three weeks off, no travel, no Starbucks, no restaurants.

Staying home with four teenagers who want to do nothing other than mope and defy. “Why can’t we see our friends? Why can’t we get a Frappucino? Why can’t there be school? Why was my musical canceled? Why do I have to spend time with my family?”

And so the doors shut. The chores get left unattended. The no-phone-for-twenty-four-hours rule gets enforced for three out of four children, spiraling me further into the “I HATE you” zone.

Building the garden and cleaning up the yard, I tell myself.

It is a sunny day, as always, and I begin to rake out last year’s overtaking of sunflower plants, the dried grasses, the remnants of onions, to load them into the compost bin.

I rake the soil to see how soft it remains after seven months of resting under snowfall and sun, freezing temps, whispers of fog, violent gusts of wind. It is supple, loose enough to filter through the tongs of the metal rake, to easily sift through with seeds.

I listen to my audiobook as I rake, listen until it’s done. Each child comes to the door to see what I’m doing, but none of them will agree to help (gardening is not on their chore list).

I begin to lay out the soaker hose, a necessity in this dry state, and realize it’s broken in too many places to fully function.

And here is where coronavirus has followed me, on a day when I, too, decided to put down the phone, the endless scrolling, research, reading every article ever written about this disease, the daily cases, the daily death tolls, reading the ever-present news that details how our country is nowhere near able to handle this pandemic.

I cannot continue my garden, my laying out of black snake-like coils, without going to the store. How dare I go to the store for such a non-essential thing as a soaker hose, exposing myself and everyone there (because who knows which of us has it)?

But I have three weeks, at the very minimum, in this house, in this empty, bitter house, and if I don’t plant this spinach today, it will be too late.

And so I risk it. I pack dishwashing gloves and put them on in the parking lot. I am careful about what I touch. About staying six feet away from everyone. I overhear dark conversations. “Why are you here today?” “Well I sure as hell ain’t workin’. The government shut down everything, all the restaurants.” “Did you see my application?” “Yes, but we just can’t be hiring people right now. This coronavirus is taking everything down. Normally I’d be hiring ten people.” “Do you have any bleach?” “We haven’t had bleach for days.”

I take the gloves off before touching my car door and soak them in bleach when I get home. And I take my new hoses and configure them four times before they’re perfect, before I feel confident that they are coiled in a way to keep my garden going all summer.

I look at my two spinach and one radish seed packets. They are so light in my hands, so inadequate, and remorse floods my mouth like vomit. “Plant your spinach every ten days throughout early spring in order to have a continuous crop,” the packet instructions inform me.

Any other year, this wouldn’t matter. But now all the shelves of every frozen vegetable in every grocery store are completely empty, and I am. SCARED. Soon it will be fresh vegetables gone. Soon it will be milk. Soon it will be us.

And I only have two packets, and spinach can’t sustain us.

I decide to use just one, setting an alarm on my phone for ten days later so that at least we’ll have two weeks of “a continuous crop.”

Building the garden and cleaning up the yard. Every year I do this, bit by bit, in between working and skiing, throughout the spring. Now I have three weeks, three glorious weeks, to distribute this massive undertaking each day. I even made a list this morning of which tasks to do each day: mowing the lawn, cutting back old plants, spreading mulch, trimming trees, picking up dog shit.

Now I have three weeks, three sleepless weeks, to discover what will prevent me from continuing. To argue with my teens and husband about stranger danger (friend danger just doesn’t sound as good). To sift through social media and see all the creative suggestions people have for what they can do with their kids, everything from learning about new topics through books and documentaries to vast art and Lego projects, and I can’t even build my garden, get through day three, without having a panic attack about visiting a store, without feeling like every moment of every day for however long this lasts, I will fail them.

My fifteen-year-old refused to play Monopoly last night, refuses to go to the dog park today. The dog park! The chillest, friendliest hike known to legs. “I don’t want to spend any time with any of you!”

“Even if it means losing your phone for another day?”

“I am NOT going. I don’t want to be near anyone.”

“Spend time enjoying your families,” my principal writes in an email. “Get to know each other on a deeper level.”

And I wanted this post to be about the beauty of my garden. About how it represents renewal, rebirth, about how, in six weeks, I’ll fill my bowl with spinach, and maybe this will all be over?

But it won’t be over because my husband had already been laid off before this even happened, and what now? What are we supposed to do now?

We are supposed to make a list of what yardwork we can accomplish while trapped at home.

To be proud that said-fifteen-year-old finally finished the leaf pile of this forsaken puzzle three months and three quarantined days after we started.

To snap pictures of this my-kids-are-all-teens-now-so-i’m-getting-a-puppy face as he happily bolts through the dog park.

To start again, to try again, tomorrow.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll build a garden. Maybe I’ll clean up the yard. Maybe I’ll get my kids to come out of their rooms.

And maybe I’ll get through another day.