Rachael Schiel

Downtime

 

     I beef up my sickest battle Raichu in Pokémon Go, and ka-chow, I’m the freaking Bruce Lee of anime cockfighting. Got to really maximize that quarantine time. I carve through the detritus of my walk-in closet, throwing out whole boxes of wedding invitations. I unleash my negligible talent creating recipes from the Great British Baking Show. I peruse contemporary high fantasy novels. I’m really living.
     Next. New York is on fire while I plumb my college Chinese textbooks for entertainment. I’m re-reading bite-sized pieces of Scar Literature, which deals with the years after Mao Zedong’s death. My other great journalistic endeavor is newsfeed scrolling.
     Next. Twelve febrile weeks of hypochondriasis yield two negative COVID-19 results. I palm through Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race as a fully powerless atonement for something that’s happening in Minnesota. I watch seething YouTube polemics.  
     I pair the analgesic of the Netflix binge with the minor high of virtual social rendezvous. I panic about social atrophy for about nine minutes. I go back to Pokémon.
     My downstairs neighbor pounds on my door at 4:30 in the morning, because apparently the thing that I’ve dubbed “rage-dancing” actually intersects the lives of those living parallel to me. I don’t take this as a warning sign.
     I’m not employed at this time, so my calendar becomes a portmanteau of daytime sleeping and unpremeditated walks. Two, three hours pass on city sidewalks. I run into a friend. We exchange witticisms from an appropriate distance. I wonder if we will still be around for each other after the pandemic.
     I feel an annoying, radical dissatisfaction, so my psychiatrist prescribes Abilify over Zoom. 
     I post totally heroic affirmations of social movements on social media.
     I babysit my friend’s kids. I’m not allowed near them, because of germs and stuff, so I watch them play at the park from a distance like a voyeur. I feel spectral, like I’m sapping unearned enjoyment from their escapades.
     It’s July before I bring myself to look directly at the terrible, searing loneliness. It seems like too obvious of a conclusion that all of this summer’s blood has affected me. I’m not marginalized, and I’m trying to figure out where I fit in here: It’s not that I don’t care, or that I’m just munching popcorn on the sidelines of cultural upheaval. Rather, my petty patronage of black businesses feels condescending rather than meaningful.
     Next. I spend an astonishing number of hours on mobile phone word games. I carve through The Fellowship of the Ring, nonplussed. Strung-out with boredom, I resort to cleaning my baseboards. I discover some edgy podcasts. I debate the merits of my Audible subscription.
     My roommate has been experimenting with artisanal baking, so while I read, I pick up this tidbit of wisdom: muted cultural mourning is something over which one can spill crumbs of chocolate zucchini bread. My Chinese textbooks indicate that it was thirty-five years after the Long March when Mao’s frenetic eradication of the upper class could finally be accounted for.
     My personal chronology is more digestible, I guess.
     Earlier. February sees me quit my job in a whirlwind of depression. I take what I mentally frame as a health sabbatical. I can’t afford to think of it as another failure. March is when my church formally closes. The food bank I try to volunteer at posts a plea for volunteers to just, please, stay home. April is a druggy static, where I sleep up to fourteen hours a day. May. June. July. Here, August.
     I am not allowed to visit the two church members I am assigned to minister to. My application with Habitat for Humanity is read but unprocessed. My parents call me and remind me that I am fragile, that I am looked out for, that things will straighten out. I wonder what life is like in Italy and Wuhan, if headlines are accurate, if history is happening without me. I feel that I am getting smaller. I feel our casual elision of each other, the tipping point between apathy and implosion, the sad alchemy of multiple forgettings. My low points are just ripples spreading out from what sorrow is happening outside, and I’m already drowning. I’m not sure what else to do. I’m not sure what to do at all.

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THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray