This story is by Ross Perkal and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Pondering the cause or motive that acts to determine one’s significant life events has never titillated me, until now. But my destiny, outcome, and life’s conclusion are all synonyms for the covid fatigue, which I now resentfully endure.
Could a totally isolating global pandemic, which has obstructed me for the past 14 months, be a valid excuse for the pity-party my existence now consists of? Trying not to wallow in my own, psychic/physical swamp, I could never have anticipated the current state of my daily bodily decay, along with the correspondent mental anguish. One year from retirement, visions of utopia dancing in my head, now helplessly lost.
I never imagined that the end of my journey might be ruined so suddenly, traumatically paralyzing every fiber of my being. It feels like the universe is lashing out at my first-planned, now-plagued existence. Masked, socially distanced, alone, but for two dogs and my cat, I face my final and most consequential challenges.
John Donne said, “death be not proud!” Would he have really suggested that during a global pandemic, or after it crested, but had become part of the “new normal? Should our covid-cursed saying metamorphose into “life be not proud?” Is it better to learn more about this current pestilence, or best to ignore it, and try to suppress my soulful agita?
My esteemed salvation during this paranormal episode has been to regularly connect, in person, with my two beloved, adult daughters. We sit exactly six feet apart on my backyard patio once a month for a “cosmic, soulful check-in,” brunch, without which, I might not still be here today. Our discourse is 80% “catching up” and 20% “other,” but in my present world of social and business incoherence, it is the remedy, that has kept me going. These gatherings are my periodic reinforcement that a divine being continues to exist, and that I probably need to, also.
My lifelong credo has been: “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of our exploring/Will be to arrive at the place we started/And know it for the first time.” [t.s.eliot—”Little Giddings”]
With all of the other potentially fatal diseases surrounding me, the two I fear most are the perils of intimacy with strangers, and the ever-increasing odds against my longevity. Any notion of dating during covid is, for me, results in health concerns and trepidation that epitomizes the overwhelming apprehension that defines my tepid existence.
Previously able to ward off normal depression with weekly, athletic competitions that brought with them fitness, positive self-esteem, and healthy socialization with others of the same ilk, I now survive, lonely, forsaken, and desolate. Not a great combination, nor the appropriate conclusion to a life well-lived.
Will our lives ever return to any degree of decency and hopefulness they had always been predicated upon? My (monthly) therapist for 35 years gave me a palliative offering, a recent tome of “essential reading,” about how to “get emotionally unstuck, embrace change, thrive in work and in life,” written of course pre-Pandemic. It did not resonate with me now, should it have?
My “new” life’s mantra has become: Who am I, why am I here, what am I doing here, and what will happen if I am not present tomorrow?
I recall the old Talmudic saying from Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, and if I am only for myself what am I?” I have had no clue as to who I am, nor is any epiphany regarding my future, on my horizon.
There was, however, the briefest moment of effervescence that shined through upon my countenance, a few months ago. A new employee and I met perchance in our deserted office hall- way, each having come from home to collect our office mail. She smiled warmly, without hesitation, I smiled back instantly. My ravenous hunger for sensual touch coursed rapidly through my then-quivering body.
At first, I felt my glee was inappropriate, but I could not retreat from my enthusiastic, heartfelt reaction. I briefly felt alive again, trembling, at the instant feelings she evoked by her smile, in my body, in all of me. All of our office’s employees are working at home, so I have not seen her again. The cheerful, but unnecessary, emails we have since been exchanging have confirmed that this was not a dream, but the germination of seed that might someday blossom. Another vote for perseverance.
Such a glimpse felt divinely interposed, but at this stage of my involuntary celibacy, any smidgeon of a potentially salacious connection is both blessing and a curse.
If you think less of me, because I latched onto a momentary glimpse of potential happiness, and at least for one second, attempted to leverage it into some salvation from the secluded, solitary, island that I have been marooned upon, in the middle of the desert Southwest, please, judge me not.
I have lived with boredom, grief, and astonishment at how the last chapter of my life seems to have relegated me to a whiny, grumpy, narcissistic, whimpering, child, whose favorite toys have been removed, without causation.
Is this really a punishment for some unbeknownst and yet, unfathomable, offense, committed heaven-knows-when, and for which the latent retribution is now being meted out, by the all-powerful forces of evil, which normally succumb to those of virtue, at least in my ethos.
I’ve tried with all my reason, might, and perspicacity to discern what prior sins of omission or commission I might be responsible for, that may have contributed to this humanity-defying spread of never before encountered, spirit defeating, disease.
First, we face deterioration and then, the omnipresent threat of death and diminution in the quality of life that we senior citizens have worked our whole lives to concoct, preserve and protect. That boggles my mind and ravages my body.
If our 2020-21 new lives were in a fictional novel, or science fiction novelette, they would be painful enough to ponder. For those of us who have survived, our essential, life-giving forces have been diminished daily.
Will those forces ever be returned to their prior normalcy, or in some humane manner refurbished? Our now delirious miasma is the saddest one I ever contemplated.
Our joyful endeavors have been ripped to shreds, sublimated to death and destruction, all over the globe, including the pillaging and plundering of our end-of-life dreams and fantasies of heaven on earth. A reward, we had hoped, for a life lived with good intentions, right?
If all of my self-centered caviling and frivolous self-pity seems inappropriate to you, only know that it is merely the product of my currently perceived “desperate” needs. Some-how I need to begin to bring this apparent ruination of my hopes and dreams, under control.
I must try to make its eccentricity and its attempted deviation from my retirement journey toward sweetness and light, still potentially possible. If my regaling that I must somehow stem this fateful avalanche of negativity is boring you, then mea culpa.
The nails in my coffin now appear to be that even surviving from the (literally) empty, wretched life that I now, gratefully, but grudgingly am clinging to, will I ever again be able to survive any subjugation of this pandemic, or will my bitterness and resentment, dominate the rest of my days, here, or somewhere else?
In my role as the calm, analytical business lawyer, my duty is to help clients in need envision the best and worst versions of their purported perplexity. Then I must let them decide whether Door A or Door B is the most logical and sensible route out of their perceived predicament. As the nervous, scared, scarred, irrational, unintentional homebody, I am now facing the same duality election.
I have pondered how my transition from lifelong workaholic to late-sleeping, fun-seeking, desperately pleasure-needing retiree might look, and the mirror is foggy, at best. Even more distressing is the ultimatum that I may need to soon decide, and take my leave, or not.
I really don’t have a clear vision of “stay and play” here now, vs. “leave and grieve” there, later. Maybe the choice will not be mine to decide. Until now, I had given no thought to where “there,” might be, or what IT might be like.
If I seem lost and confused, I have tried to share with you my perceived predicament and the apparent panorama of my options. I hope we might meet in another realm, one day with me wiser, calmer, healthier, and less frazzled than I now feel I am.
I have, however, made my final resolution now to set my decision deadline and stick to it. That is sheer cowardice, not bravery. My deadline is Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at 11:59 p.m.
I will then either elect to stay and fight on, or forever enter the netherworld, and finally, cease my whimpering. I promise to let you know then if we are both still around.