My musings from the first three days in Louisiana: when things were shutting down in Florida due to the virus and my guy wanted us to get out of the big city and take refuge in the country. We ended up staying for 6.5 weeks.
Day One 03/22/2020
It’s weird being a guest in someone’s home for an undisclosed amount of time. You open your car door – every space is messily packed with canned goods and spice jars and little girl socks – and step out in unfamiliar territory.
They ask ‘need help with anything’ as if they are true bellmen. Waiting for you to unleash your bags on them, along with a flurry of ones or fives for their good service.
You shake your head no and shyly look away because how do you tell someone who is so graciously opening their home to you that you don’t want to stay. You don’t want to unspool your hastily packed belongings because it is the last signifier that you will not be going home – to your safe space – anytime soon. You don’t want to appear ungrateful so you ask ‘meaningful’ questions like “do you mind if I use this space” – despite it being obvious that they cleared it out just for you.
You don’t want to appear bothersome so you stumble over phrases like “no rush” and “hey, if you don’t mind, can I…” and “I’m going to be doing __insert random activity here __” because you don’t want them to think you’re hiding in your room.
Which you are. You don’t mean to but the pungent smell of wet walls mixed with summer heat and spring rain doesn’t bode with the weed they’ve taken up in the living room. And you have the baby to think about, of course.
They did ask “hey, do you mind if we smoke in here? If the baby is in there?” they point to your jail, I mean room, and with your eyes you follow their finger to the closed door that protects your tiny human.
You prefer they not. You hate the smell. Despite having done it yourself, you can’t imagine making it a daily, weekly, or even monthly affair if you were back home when life was normal. The smell sticks to you like glue. Permeates your dreadlocks, that are already judged for being what they are – and no matter how many detoxes, oils, or deep conditions you do you can’t get that smell out before an interview.
You say yes, they can smoke, and you move to the protection of the door just to turn the knob, reassuring yourself that it’s all going to be alright.
Everything will be fine, as always. But everything will not be fine. Or always.
Day Two 3/23/2020
“Be careful, it’s spicy,” she says as you spoon some veggie soup from your plate onto Baby’s tray. You tell her it’s fine but make sure to cut everything into small pieces to make sure Baby doesn’t get too much heat at once.
You should’ve known. She’s white. She doesn’t really understand what ‘heat’ is. It’s definitely stereotypical of her but also stereotypical of you to think so.
When you eat it you blow, there’s some steam coming from each bit of potato, bean, meat, and carrot. The soup is a rusty red and it is clean of food bits or spice or debris. This is the first indicator of the whiteness.
Anytime you cook anything there’s going to be something to it, you think. Something that shows you’ve put your foot in it. It sounds judgy, you might apologize if you had said the words out loud. It’s not her fault, and not completely true with all white people. But there’s a tug of war going on between you and her. You don’t mean anything by it. No malice. There’s nothing behind this struggle – at least for you.
She is used to being the woman of the house. So are you. She’s used to her way of cleaning, straightening, and vacuuming. She’s surely to be offended if you do something against her ways, because when you’re the woman of the house you rule with an iron fist. And it’s not always with a spatula. But there’s two of ya’ll now. And you are just the guest. So, when you see her kitchen and the way she likes to leave it you try your damndest to keep it that way.
After you cook your food, chicken thoroughly marinated, cut, skin cripsed, meat juicy, corn on the cob slick with butter and garlic, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and rice seasoned with the same, you make sure to tell her ‘I’m going to clean this…I just wanted to let the oil cool first”.
She smiles and says “ok” as if she had no idea why you were telling her. Basking in the pretense of innocence. But you both know had you left those dirty pots, staining the oven with their orange and black oil sports, she would’ve been angry.
You might not have seen the consequences. Maybe she would hold that irritation, that small showing of power, close to her chest until one day she explodes with a fire so hot you’d lose your eyebrows. You don’t know because she is a stranger to you, and you to her.
So, there it is. The power struggle that happens anytime you wake up in a home that is not yours, on a bed you didn’t buy, to the chirping sounds of nature you, and your Midwestern background, are no longer accustomed to due to your 5 year stint in florida.
But you’ll try. Everyday. You’ll be grateful and gracious. Honest and excited. Content and overwhelmingly sensitive to the needs of others. Because that’s all you can do, to keep from crying.
Day Three 03/24/2020
Today has been weird for you. Parts of you wanted to stomp your foot like a child and yell “you aren’t my __. I want to go home!” but you don’t.
Another part of you wants to be grateful, is grateful, for the time away from the city. You are taking advantage of not having cell-service, the bars that only reach one dot, the smell of fresh air, neon green trees, cloudy (and matter of fact, quite gray) skies and cool nights.
You appreciate the way Louisiana makes you feel. Big fish, little pond. You think of future days where you might have enough money to contemplate buying that little house next door – white with a coat of green vines and brown sludge. The owners have neglected it. You wouldn’t. You’d take that extra acreage and put together a beautiful herb garden, have a small pond, and windows filled with vining houseplants. And you would take in that stray you found yesterday while getting the stroller out of the car.
You had decided it was time to get out of the house and see nature up close. After packing her into her carseat, you sat the baby on the sidewalk to rest. As you struggle with the mechanics of the compact Hyundai, still packed with all that are important to you, you see a bright tuff of white and brown streak through your vision.
You didn’t know what it was but it scared you. You sprinted around the car and reached the baby at the same time as a gaunt, swift footed Beagle. It stuck its nose into the baby’s personal space and you screamed out ‘Hey!’ with a voice so hoarse it felt like you never used your throat before.
The Beagle, Doggy as you will call him, slinks away possibly afraid of you and what you might do to him. You don’t lash out, he seems nice, but you stand like a sentry in front of the tiny human tucked into her carseat.
Two, three, four times he tries to nose in to see the tiny human. She giggles at his attempts and you can’t help but stare down at her with love in your eyes (because while the world is ending it feels great to see she is none the wiser and happy). Then, when he realizes it’s a pipe dream, he slinks away to the back of the car. You follow him and grab this and that before returning to unleash the stroller from the front seat.
Doggy follows you on your walk. It’s trying, yelling at him to keep out of the road, but you love it. You love every bend in the road, the smell of air unpolluted, the chirp of birds, the loud barks quickly followed by the cackling irritation of chickens. You love the tiny yellow flowers, growing along the road, that you zoom into with your camera and shoot at different exposures to get the color quite right.
So you’ll take in that dog for the time you’re stuck in Louisiana, due to the virus. And you’ll let him roam with the freedom he always has, but he’ll stick close. Chomping your scraps thrown out the back door, and barking at intruders, or birds, or squirrels, or anything really.
But you don’t mind. You love this space outside the city. It’s only taken a few days to change your mind about this place. You still don’t want to be here but you aren’t afraid to be here. And you wonder about the significance of this.
That’s what you think when pondering the house next door to your temporary stay. How you want to go home but one day, you’d think you’d actually want to stay.
When your guy arrives on that third day -shortly after you because he had been stubborn and stayed in the city despite the frantic shopping and the terrified winding lines of traffic – you read him the entries from Day One and Day Two. He doesn’t get it.
He brought you out here, knowing you didn’t want to come – despite the dangers of a city during an outbreak. He made you drive 20+ hours across three states, after having only 2 hours of sleep the night before. Struggling to drive and keep an eye on the sleeping baby, and you’re crying on the floor of Walmart because everything is closed and you can’t find any place to pump breastmilk and dammit, your breasts hurt and there’s no relief and you’re the only one on the road, and you don’t want to be driving here anyway.
He told you – after your hosts were nowhere to be found – to just find any place to sleep. With the baby. He said “I’m sorry baby, I feel so bad,” so many times you wanted to wring his neck. He also told you to go into the major city, when all other places were closed down. The place is so empty it feels like an intrusion just to drive on the streets. It’s sickening, you feel, to see a place so normally filled with verve and pulse to be so still.
That’s what it feels like. Like that scene in the movies and shows when everyone has either been killed by Zombies or forced out into the country. That moment when the hero, or anti-hero, wakes up from his coma, or breaks out of jail cell, or finds a way out of the pine box and stumbles onto a desolate place. He looks in all the corners for answers. Searching for friends, family, and hell, even food. He jumps at a sound, or two, from a nearby alley and discovers it’s just his shadow moving, fighting, pulling him back, silently screaming “get out of here” or “danger ahead”.
Then the Zombies unleash. And he’s running. Sprinting. His legs moving faster and pushing harder and covering more ground than ever before.
And then there is no ground. And he’s jumping, climbing, clamoring really. Praying anyone will save him or fight for him or offer their services in exchange for a boon, predetermined or foreshadowed by someone else earlier in the show or movie.
And then he’s free, but not free. He’s out of danger but now there’s another danger. And this isn’t from the Zombies or other mutated beings. This is from those that look like him. Those who would kill you over toilet paper in the grocery store. He must be strong and alert and sharp at every turn. Lest he die.
You think of all this while getting the baby out of the car at an overpriced hotel and creeping to the door. Watching every shadow as you move. You think ‘I’m alert. I’m awake’ even though it’s been days since you’ve seen a full night’s sleep. You look left and right, although you can clearly see there are no Zombies in suits, holding briefcases here.
But you do wonder ‘where the hell is my hatchet?” because you’re you and of course you bought one to bring to this place you’ve never been before.
Anyway, so you read these entries to him, from the previous two days, and all he – who made you feel all that – can only say in response “I don’t get it. Why is it in 2nd person? It really just sounds like you’re complaining about not wanting to be here” – quoted directly from his perfectly pouting mouth that you sometimes want to slap him in. Because of times like this.
You feel upset, on the cusp of anger, because he knows you don’t want to be here. Why is that a surprise? No offense to your hosts – they are actually very nice. He also knew that you actually meant ‘what did you think’ in a literary sense. Does it flow? Am I crazy? Are my thoughts cohesive? Am I a good writer? Can you tell me something that is real? Are we going to be okay? Will the baby have a future? Will I get to publish anything or will I die before I get the chance? What do you really think? What do you honestly think?
As a writer, there are so many layers to ‘what did you think’ and these layers go even deeper depending on the tone and cadence of the voice when asking. So, you are upset. You try to explain in a deep monotone voice. You tell him what it ‘means’ even though you didn’t want to have to explain. You just wanted him to get it. Fucking get it.
So, then you wonder if there are only two possibilities. Either: “I am a shitty writer” or “he’s just not my audience”. Which is it? Which one is it?
Although in this place, stuck in a world that is not ours, during an unexpected time, fearing for our lives and that of our daughter, wondering if this will be The Stand or Pandemic or Station Eleven or The Strain and unsure if we’ll ever be able to go home, I know one thing. Those are not the questions I really want to ask. There’s only one. I really want to know if, in the midst of all this, we will survive.