We had our first real fire alarm at our apartment today. The alarms go off somewhat regularly, but usually just for a minute, so we’re in the habit of ignoring them. Today, the alarm was accompanied by a robotic announcement: “There has been an emergency reported in the building. Exit immediately. Do not use the elevators.”
As my fingers fumble to loosen the laces of my shoes, my husband offers me a choice of three coats. “Which one do you want?” He’s so great in a crisis.
As we enter the hallway, I try to blink away the film on my contacts, before realizing it’s smoke in the air. We join our neighbors, silently hurrying down the stairs and out the door. Outside our building, we spread out, still observing social distancing, even now.
After twenty minutes, we decide to take a walk. We can’t do anything by waiting, and we might as well enjoy the fresh air. Our quarantine clock has already been reset, so there’s nothing to lose.
The streets are oddly empty. We cross streets without waiting for the signal because no one is around. Almost every business is closed (although the restaurants all have signs for how to order carryout).
When we’re allowed back into our apartment my feelings are mixed. I’m glad I’m safe, that the sprinklers didn’t go off and soak everything I own, that I’m back in my familiar space. But this space feels more stifling after escaping for awhile.
We’ve summitted Everest. Now we’re tightrope walking along the ridge, risking our very lives, just for the thrill of being on the edge of the world. You waver and reach instinctively for me. I hold on tight, but can’t keep my balance and we both tumble off the edge, collapsing in giggles onto the cushions of our brand new couch.
Breathlessly, we climb back up again, toes curling around the back of the couch, tiny fingertips reaching toward the ceiling.
The last time you fall, you land on the arm with a crack. My heart freezes, afraid that sound was you breaking. You jump up, elastic and bouncy and invincible in that little-kid way. But… almost as terrible as you being broken: the new couch is broken.
Your horrified eyes meet mine, your mouth moves soundlessly for a moment before you whisper, “Please, please, Rachel, don’t tell Mom…”
I’m not offended you think I would tell. I always tell. I never lie to Mom. I always tell the truth. But I agree immediately, without thinking. Something about the fear in your eyes, or the adventure we shared, shifts something inside of me. We’re partners now. I’ll never give you up.
My mom was very, very angry, but believed me when I said we didn’t know what happened. After all, I’d never lied to her before. We did eventually tell her the truth… twenty years later. 🙂
Sometimes in my head, you’re still 13
a preteen with braces in my wedding photos
the last version of you I really knew
was still a child
We talked today for hours
probably the longest one-on-one
conversation we’ve ever had
We shared our fears
we shared advice
plans for the future
we shared hope
we shared love
Maybe for the first time
we shared ourselves
Somehow the miles
The thread between us is frayed
but we’re holding on
My world has become angular. My life is a series of flat rectangles. A bed. A wall. A doorway. A desk. A laptop. A kindle. A window. I’m boxed in by right angles and hard edges. These angles are stifling, suffocating, but they’re also safe. Leaving the safety of my apartment is a project. I turn the lock, press the elevator button, open the door to my car. I’m hyper aware of every surface I touch. Sitting in my car I sanitize my hands, the door handle, my keys before starting my drive. Am I being practical or paranoid?
Fifteen minutes later, I’m jogging along the trail. I duck under a branch of tiny white, almost-unfurled flowers. I see a woman with two small children ahead. She reaches out an arm protectively, keeping them as far away as the trail allows until I’ve passed, but she smiles, it’s nothing personal, just the precautions we’re all taking right now. My sunscreen starts to mingle with sweat and drip down my face. I breathe in the air, full of the scent of dirt and dead leaves. Some heaviness I didn’t realize I was carrying lifts, as I look around and see no flat angles or walls. For the first time in days, I feel clean.
I spend more than 40 hours a week in this room. I know all its idiosyncrasies: the section of wall that’s too textured for chart paper to stick, that spot where the air conditioner blows extra forcefully so if you put papers there they will all fly away, the door that doesn’t close all the way when its humid.
I never loved this room. I didn’t even really like it. It has windows, but the layout is awkward. It’s small. One of the smallest classrooms in the building. There isn’t enough space for all my bookshelves. One wall still has a chalkboard on it. Half the built-in shelves are broken. If I’m being honest, I’ve spent a lot of time resenting this room.
But this room has been my partner. Together we’ve created a space for vulnerability, for structure, for routines, for taking risks, for collaboration, for safety. I don’t know how to do all that on my own.
Today, as I stand here alone, the halls devoid of squeaking shoes and slamming locker doors, I try to figure out how I can bring this room home with me. How can I help my students feel seen and safe and loved when they won’t walk in this room for over a month? Will these flipchart markers help? Highlighters in every color? I pack up a little bit of everything, just in case.
Weighed with several bags, I shuffle into the hall. I leave the door open on my way out.