I wasn’t ready to be awake today, so I sat in my dream about prison. It was a different type of incarceration than any I’d known, but a cage is a cage is a cage, and I know well how to live in one, even in sleep.
At 6am, I peeked an eye open but the sun was already cackling with soul-piercing joy. I went back. At 8am, my phone chimed. The wind whistled merrily, cold swaths of song slipping through my windows. I snuggled back into warmth.
Finally, at 11am, I made myself get up. Made myself wash my face, brush my teeth, brew some decaf coffee.
This would be a good morning for a shower orange.
Have you heard of shower oranges? It’s as simple as it sounds. You take an orange into the shower and eat it in there. The steam, the spray, the freedom of mess all cumulate into many call an experience of luxury.
I tried it when I first heard of it. It’s like bathing in the sparkle of every slice of orange. It’s like letting a fruit bite you back. It pickled me in citrus and I thought, as I sat naked and curled up in the corner of my tub, that I’m not sure I would call it a luxury, and I’m not sure I want to be pickled into this vulnerable form, but it is something.
Eating fruit like a feral creature has long been one of my favorite things. Pressing your teeth into a peach just to have it slick your arms with juice. Kissing grapes straight off their thin rubbery branches with your lips. Snapping an apricot in half, grabbing the pit with your teeth and spitting it elsewhere.
Why not wildly peeling an orange in the man-summoned rain?
I tried this for the same reason I snoozed life so many times this morning.
I have the time.
I didn’t lose my job to Covid-19 like so many. I lost it well before, after the strokes. Every so often, I get gigs– short speaking engagements, tiny consultation projects– but my time is mostly my own.
And because of my healing, I am limited in what I can do. For example, I am teaching a class tomorrow, so today has to be what I call a light day. I have to consciously do very little so to have the energy for a day that will take a lot out of me. The day after the class will also have to be a light day, so I can recover.
I try to think of the light days as a vacation more than another cage, but my body knows the difference, deep down.
The United States is on varying stages and levels of quarantine, and for many this is their first time with a cage of any type. They are shaking the bars, dragging their mugs against whatever clangs, and screaming over the jangle.
I am bathing my oranges. Dreaming of cages even smaller. Snoozing the sun.
This, I learned in prison and through the isolations of disability: treat yourself softly when times are hard. Give yourself freedom when there is not room for your full wingspan. Allow yourself tiny breaks from the world that has closed its eyes to you. Find luxury and joy in every day, and keep the feeling of it with you always.
Quarantine is not like prison.
No matter how hard it is. No matter if the principles that guide you through one can guide you through the other.
The distinction is important because comparing the two creates a mythology of a prison system where the biggest obstacle is dealing with your own isolation. The biggest obstacle in prison is more often abject cruelty, true scarcity, and unchecked greed.
Scarcity isn’t being temporarily unable to buy toilet paper. It’s not knowing, every single week, if you’ll get more. It’s having to walk out of your house, and ask a man for it every time you need another roll. It’s having him ask why. It’s having him joke about how many rolls you’ve used.
Scarcity is knowing that feminine products don’t always make it to you. That when you explain that you need more, you’ll be handed a complaint form, and told not to be too hysterical in your notes. It’s knowing that when you inevitably bleed through your clothes or linens, you will have to wait until laundry day to get “new dirty clothes”, and until then, you will be barred from food or sunlight because you do not meet the requirements of dress code.
Quarantine is not like prison.
Here, you can vote in any size election. You aren’t only allowed to vote for your race. I was the elected official for the “other” category, and served on the Women’s Action Committee, connected to my constituents by one thing. We were not Black, white, or latina. WAC is supposed to protect the girls inside but, without any real power, served more as a speakerphone– bringing the messages of the overlords down to the peasants.
You can have an opinion about this here, in freedom. It matters, even if just a little. You could find five others and it would matter more. You could write an essay and it could matter a lot.
You can’t be locked away in a room without windows for the insurrection of having opposing thoughts to the government around you.
You can call your friends and family, and have a fifteen minute chat. It won’t cost $10. You won’t have to wait all day for your time slot, and hope that they are free even though they had no idea what time you would actually call. You can get online and access an infinity of information and learning. You can access any book through libraries and stores.
You can find the color purple. Teal. Pale saffron and crimson red.
When I was still inside, Miss Carter, a lovely woman serving life, got her new headphones and music machine that could hold several dozen songs. Her family paid the state hundreds of dollars for it. She came to my room and put one earpiece up to my ear, and we walked the halls listening to a song.
It was so clear. Like Bruno Mars was singing directly into my ear.
I had forgotten that music could sound like that.
Isolation is rough, and some mornings, I don’t want to wake up to it. I’ve been using the downtime to heal, but it hurts to see my thriving city so slowed. It hurts to worry about money and the ability to stay housed. It hurts to see so many people fall sick, and so many systems fail us.
Some days, outside, the trucks don’t even blast past my window anymore. There are stacks of silences on my city street. Piles of quiet.
It aches, but it’s not prison.
Here, now, the cage of quarantine is so wide open, there’s enough room for humanity to slip inside with us.
We don’t have to scratch it together from memory.
And when it is over, though things will be different, they’ll still be very much human and you will be prepared for that.
A baby will giggle, and you won’t be startled, because this whole time inside– no one has taken babies from you. A loved one will call and you won’t look over your shoulder, because no one is timing your time with community here. No one is reading your mail, returning your Valentine’s day cards to sender, ripping your Christmas cards in half before they get to you. Here, you can have a holiday. Truly.
You’ll wake up early or snooze your alarm three times, and no stranger will come into your house, crouch by your bed and ask you why. You won’t have forfeited breakfast.
You could eat breakfast right now.
I’m going to go eat breakfast right now.
It’s afternoon, and I can, because even though some part of my sleepy mind worries it is–
Quarantine is not prison.
I can’t go to jail-jail for this tiny rebellion of a day.
For those unfamiliar with Cheer Peppers: we’re a group of bloggers that do sporadic blog challenges throughout the year. The biggest is our yearly NanoPoblano, where we blog every day in November. It’s not a fussy or closed group, you’re welcome to join. Want to be a Pepper? *poof* You’re a Pepper. Just like that. Every 22nd, is Pepper Day, where we encourage you to post something. Can’t this month? That’s okay. *poof* You’re still a Pepper. We’re just rooting for you. Let us know how we can help. http://cheerpeppers.com/
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