“There Is No Hope, But I May Be Wrong”

Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer, 1514

We compose our opinion pieces, writing anywhere from 400 to 1000 words. Most of us use “we must” and “we should” and “we need” and conclude with a paragraph that offers hope.

Well, I’m pretty fucking far from hopeful.

It’s this virus, COVID-19, that’s changing nearly every aspect of our waking hours, dictating who, what, how, when, and where. We can now add how many to that list. How many people can gather without being in violation of The Restrictions? How many people do I know who have tested positive for the virus, who think they had it, think they have it, who have it and are asymptomatic? How many people has it killed?

How many rolls of toilet paper do I use in a week, do I have now, will I be able to purchase when I’m down to my last two or three?

COVID-19 also has changed our night hours, dictating our dreams, the number of times we wake, how many minutes or hours it takes to return to sleep.

Back to the waking hours. I’m checking in even more frequently with my children and my siblings. Each morning, I text my sons with “everybody okay?” And I wait anxiously for a yes. Phone conversation with my best friend is almost always interrupted now by a call from my brother M (more on M later) or my sister. My guy R texts at 8:00 before coming over to drink his coffee. Our conversations run a broad range, from the latest Trump chaos, to Biden’s dementia, to the utterly asinine, such as the number of toilet sheets each of us uses. (I’ve also had this conversation with my sister and my best friend.) A few days ago, this led to something way less dignified than asinine as we descended into potty talk (also known as vowel movements), you know, consistency—the many categories of bowel productions. I’ll end this paragraph with R’s mention of a dangler to which I replied, “Do you mean dingleberries?”

The above paragraph is too personal, I know.

And, suddenly, more becomes personal. That little independent bookstore. Will it survive? What about the employees? The Indian restaurant (that feeds the homeless [more on the homeless later] at lunchtime) whose owner once said she barely makes it from month-to-month. What’s she doing now? How can takeout sustain her business, her employees? How many of her employees are now unemployed?

How long does a check for $1200. maintain those whose job loss could result in permanent unemployment?

Back to my brother M who’s an entertainer—a magician with a huge business, booked solidly throughout the school year, presenting educational shows. Booked solidly throughout the year for adult parties as well as children’s birthday parties. Booked solidly during the summer at fairs. Bookings now canceled. Last week, M started working in a nursing home at the reception desk, taking temperatures, making sure each physician assistant who arrives to see a patient doesn’t have a fever and wears a mask. He sanitizes the pen the PA uses to sign in, then escorts him/her to the patient’s room. He also returns to the room to escort the PA from the building. When M calls and says he’s depressed, I tell him I understand but remind him to be grateful he has a job, albeit a risky one, when so many people have lost theirs. His wife is director of nursing at a clinic. Her hours have been reduced by half and she too is working at the same nursing home.

What about our homeless population? The man who walks past my building multiple times daily, wearing a black blanket, like a cape, secured at the neck and dragging along the sidewalk. I’ve diagnosed Cape Man and, as you know, I’m severely unqualified to do this, but he must be schizophrenic, because usually he’s talking, perhaps to voices in his head, shouting “bitch, fuck you, fuck you, you bitch.” One day when I was standing at the window, looking across at him, he wasn’t yelling. He looked up. I didn’t know if he could see me, so I waved. He smiled, a grand smile, and waved back.

Following news of the virus, its spread, confirmed cases, populations hit hardest, I wonder if there can be a return to normal. And then I ask: What is normal? My normal isn’t my brother’s normal. My brother’s normal isn’t the normal of someone who has no chance of finding employment. Our normal is not and has never been Cape Man’s normal.

I’m going to stand and watch for Cape Man. I’m pretty fucking far from hopeful, but I’m hoping to see that grand smile—his smile that brings me to tears.

As Pete Seeger said, “There’s no hope, but I may be wrong.”

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com