To achieve the “serial” block on my Bingo board, I’ve decided to turn my pandemic posts into a sort of serial concept.
Prologue: Early Winter (Featured on WordPress Discover if you missed that excitement!)
All stand alone, and I imagine this installment will too– but who knows? I haven’t written it yet.
a new chapter
I never expected to mourn a nail salon, but here I am. Watching a bright coat of paint go over the building, feeling it like shovels of dirt burying a loved thing.
When a governor says the plague came to your hometown by way of the women who clip your cuticles, it is not a surprise that we scurry from them like rats looking for high-ground. It was the rats that spread the Bubonic plague, because of that same survival instinct to escape the areas that would inevitably suffer first.
Such a small nail salon wouldn’t have survived this anyway.
There will be deli here soon. A younger, whiter owner. A pork belly sandwich that costs more than a manicure. A line of people around the block who may or may not chose to wear a mask, and may or may not chose to use a trash can. This isn’t their part of the city, after all. They won’t notice that they’re standing on a graveyard, and they won’t stick around long enough to see what their footprints will bury here still.
I’m sure I’ll love the food.
Life goes on, and that’s the second slap of grief.
In between the salon and my home is an electric door that I’ve turned into a tiny house. I say that a gnome lives there. On holidays, he puts up a wreath, and sometimes in the summer months, he sets out a tiny flamingo. The door is no taller than my waist. The yard is no bigger than a sheet of paper on either side, but it is lovingly tended.
At the nail salon, one day, back before the pandemic, the manager tells me she left fresh flowers in front of it.
“It’s good to have fresh flowers on your altar.” she says.
It’s not really an altar, I reply, just something silly I do. And she tsked like there was something there that I did not yet know.
When the deaths started, when the city closed, when the protests lined the streets, I noticed fresh flowers set out every day. A former shopkeeper, his shop an early casualty of the epidemic, sat outside the tiny door in silence. His love for these streets just another thing set in front of that shared space as an offering.
One day soon, areas like these won’t look like they used to. Already, we’ve lost language. Outside my window, everyone screams in English now. It’s been months since I’ve heard a drunken argument in French, a late night giggle fest in Korean, the low steady thrum of early morning conversations in Spanish about whether or not the restaurant needs more potatoes, or if the peppers are ripe enough.
My mint plant presses itself against the pane, drawing the sunlight into its leaves. It needs a watering every day to stay alive, and that seems so sensitive compared to my onion that can survive everything but the cold, but you don’t get to decide what kind of strength is needed from day to day.
This is how life keeps you on your toes. This is how the earth gentles your footsteps, urges you to look down and see what you’ve eroded to get where you’re going.
The problem with rats is not that they seek survival at all costs, but that they take no responsibility for the holes they’ve chewed through the infrastructure. They never even think about the architecture they’ve crumbled.
(The problem with rats is that they get re-elected.)
There are so many ways to survive. Life is constantly asking for different types of strength, and the truth is, you can buy most of the ones you need. What does that mean for the ones without money and sharp, sharp teeth that can chew their way up?
It’s really just a nail salon, and not even the best one in the city, but they cared for me there. They walked outside to hold my arm and help me up the ramp. They made a special pillow so my injured hip would not rest too flat. One day, after the strokes, they saw me lost in the road, and they walked me home to safety.
It is sad that they are gone, but it is upsetting to see that they are gone without a trace.
Long ago, I learned about a ship that went down generations before. The ship owner made it out, as did his personal guests. Island lore says that the rats made it out well before anyone else knew there was to be a sinking. Everyone else was swallowed by the sea. Now, the grandchildren of the workers paint pebbles and throw them into the water– an altar, a burial, an ode to everything disappeared without a trace.
When will you stop throwing pebbles? I asked.
When we have nothing left to bury, the old man said.
But there is always more to bury, and understanding that is the third slap of grief.
Today, I paint some pebbles with nail lacquer. I lay them in front of the tiny door. Whenever you build a physical space for joy, it becomes an altar. Wherever there is life, there is loss. And wherever there is loss, there is someone charged with the honoring of it.
Fresh flowers lean from the tiny yard into the streets.
I pray for everything.