“Through the Window” a quarantine memoir by Jane P. Perry
Nearly three months ago I was stunned when it was so quiet I heard a bird flying. Now the birds are flying so low they are barely missing my head. I love that they are dominating. I have been focusing on morbidity. Parsing out the language in the obituaries. Uncle Tom tells me in today’s Boston Globe there were 25 pages of death announcements. Three days ago it was 17 pages. And those were only the deaths where family had upwards of $942.35 to pay for a death notice. Our San Francisco Chronicle and East Bay Times have four to six pages today. “Catastrophic stroke.” We now know how Covid-19 can kill by attacking the nervous system or the heart. “Heart rupture,” as described by doctors in first-hand accounts. “Passed away unexpectedly.” “After a short stay at a skilled nursing facility.” “He was 64 years old when he passed away.” “Acute cardiac arrest.” “Unexpectedly passed away at her home.” “Died from complications of Covid-19.”
Others make the point of distinguishing from the possible Covid-19 virus: “Passed away peacefully at home” (one does not generally die peacefully, nor at home, unless it is a stroke or heart-related and a surprise). “Cancer” “Peacefully from natural causes.”
Services are explicit: “Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, a private, family-only memorial has been held.” “Funeral services were held privately and a family memorial service will be planned for a later date in light of the Corona Virus restrictions.” “Due to the current COVID-19 environment, a Mass and Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.” “Due to Covid-19 the graveside service is strictly limited.” “A service in her honor will be held at St. Timothy’s Church when COVID-19 mandates are lifted.” “A memorial will be planned when it is safe.” “A private service will include only immediate family members.” “There are no services planned at this time.” Masked, I follow a good 12 feet behind another out for air on our little neighborhood side street. She veers to the side and curls up against a fence, nestling in the somewhat overgrown grass blades and proceeds to look at her phone.
Bob has a dream. All the Republicans are watching a static red screen. All the Democrats are watching a blue screen, only the blue screen has slight, subtle shifts of hue. The screens are actually like a membrane, or the edge of a cloud. Trump can’t help himself. He keeps periodically poking the blue screen, which leaves a red fingerprint. The Democrats are mesmerized.
When hiking in Oakland’s Redwood Park, I encounter an unmasked runner on an especially narrow part of the trail. I hold up my hand in the universal signal of stop. The runner respectfully halts, though it took three attempts as he approached too close. “We cannot pass each other safely,” I tell him. "I wear my mask at the grocery store, at the bank, the post office, but this is supposed to be the free time. What do you want me to do?” he says. I ask him to listen with his heart. He comes up with the idea of pulling his shirt up over his nose and mouth. He then proceeds on, in what he said was his "31 mile run." Did he really mean 31 miles?! A text message pops up on my cellphone screen: “This is an AC Alert from the City of Oakland. Oakland, if you work outside the home or if you're worried you have COVID, get a test. You can get tested for free at one of the City's walk-up or drive-through testing locations. Call 311 or go to oaklandca.gov/testing for more information. Reply with YES to confirm receipt.”
The days and dates are getting blurred. Yesterday I waited, stifling, in my “Moon Suit” as Bob refers to it – rain pants and jacket, worn any time one goes outside to make any type of purchase, then stripping in the garage and leaving it there with shoes only worn outside. The person at the post office in front of me was taking a while. I just waited, swaying back and forth to occupy myself as I sweated.
The patron’s package zip code was not registering with the postal system, so the package could not be mailed to that unidentified address. The Patron was on the phone with the Receiver, and the Receiver was sure that zip was correct. The Receiver was swearing mad, which I could hear because he was loud. The Patron is saying to the Receiver: “Well, you just won’t get your money.” Meanwhile, the Patron’s two and a half year old daughter is occupying herself by rearranging the display of For Purchase mailers by color. They are organized by size. She puts back every mailer at her mother’s command. She flaps the hard, laminated social-distancing instructions repeatedly for its sound effect. She is remarkably well-behaved but on the edge herself.
I finally get to the counter. I have, in my rising quarantine dyslexia, written the incorrect street number on my book package, so now MY address is not registering with the post office either. We are a hot mess.
Two days later I maniacally clean all areas where water comes into the house because I miss swimming so much.
Marie, in New York City, is preparing to work from home after recovering from a serious case of positively identified Covid-19. I am tear-struck hearing her live voice over the phone. At the end of our conversation she tells me she has never in her life seen an apparition, but the previous evening an old man appeared in her kitchen. He was lost. Stunned. He did not know what had happened to him. I say to Marie, of course he didn’t. That is how people are dying from Covid-19. With no time. No time to process. Maybe not even knowing. Their oxygen levels drop subtlety and then precipitously, and then they are gone. Marie said she reassured the man, telling him he was all right, and to go into the light. So many souls in transition in New York City, and around the world. 310,010 dead from the virus as of today, and those are just the ones that have been counted.
While our country is holding its breath, we near and then reach and then surpass 100,000 Covid-19 deaths, and George Floyd’s breath is forcibly taken. First I hear it was a bad check. Buying cigarettes. Then a twenty dollar bill. Of course it is the ethnic cleanser and slaver Andrew Jackson who brings the toxic pandemic boil of white supremacy to a head. Sean Monterrosa is shot dead by police in Vallejo. A day later Marques Miles “Red Bear” Martinez loses front teeth and breaks his jaw after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet from a police rifle in Santa Rosa. Two days after that California Highway Patrol shoot and kill Erik Salgado in Oakland. I cannot fit on the front and back of my sign all the names of people who have yet to receive justice. I join several hundred in a religious laying of hands on the police precinct on 7th Street in downtown Oakland.
A lady bug lights on a green leaf that sparkles off the sun, shaking herself off before flying. Tiny tight-fitted, terse fascicles bundled in symmetrical clusters look like a rubric cube puzzle. Two days later they are splayed needles. A soft grey sparrow with milky eyes lies face down into the grated seat of a patio chair. I move her to the lid of the compost bin, where she rests on the headline “Families in Spain Allowed Outside.” The grass between concrete slabs is not grass, but green onion.
We have been given gifts in this time of quiet: To remember what we are grateful for. What nature is telling us. How Mother Earth heals. What compassion, conscience, and civility look like and feel like. To remember our ancestors and that we are the answer to their prayers. These gifts come at a great cost. We will be humble in this quiet to know the work we have been called upon to do.
Jane P. Perry’s book White Snake Diary: Exploring Self-Inscribers published from Atmosphere Press April 10, highlighting now more than ever a diary’s documentarian and reflective functions in this time of tragedy and cocooning. She has been interviewed by Paula Whitacre, and since quarantining has had diary-related pieces published in Persimmon Tree, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and Women Writers, Women's Books. She is an expert on outdoor play. Her book Outdoor Play: Teaching Strategies with Young Children is published with Teachers College Press. Jane is a member of The Society of Fearless Grandmothers and 1000 Grandmothers For Future Generations. She lives as a guest of the Lisjan Ohlone on the unceded territory of Huichin (Oakland). You can find her at janepperry.com.