Over the last month I’ve had the immense privilege of reading short stories from all over the Boston area as a part of the Boston Book Festival’s community writing project: At Home Boston. At times reading these stories brought tears to my eyes, sometimes they brought a much-needed laugh, overall they made me feel just a little bit closer to the roughly five-million people living in the Boston metropolitan area.
To everyone who submitted: Thank you for your words, your vulnerability, your gifts. I treasure them all. For my own contribution, I collected 10 stories that stuck with me. It was a hard choice as so many of these stories have struck me over the weeks, but I chose ones that rung the loudest for me, ones that I felt compelled to uplift and shed light on. — Campbell Simmons is a graduate student a Tufts and a 2020 Boston Book Festival intern.
Ginger Webb works as a social worker at Brookhaven Hospice
These days, there are far too many names on our hospice death list. For us they are not statistics, they are people who opted for comfort only. My heart aches reading the long tally. I miss seeing them, but social workers are “non-essential,” and thus my work is mostly with families over a phone.
It’s the nurses and the health aides who are on the front lines. They put on brave fronts and play the hero, but inside they are scared of this virus: for their patients, for themselves, of bringing it home to their families. But their patients will never know.
Families think our nurses are angels for doing this work, but I know their humanity. I see them cry and swear. I know how they need a good laugh and a big glass of wine at the end of their shifts.
They are also good shepherds who know their flock: John is feisty, Sarah likes watermelon gum. They smile when a confused patient wishes them Merry Christmas. They comfort each soul as they guide them through the valley of the shadow of death. And sometimes on their way to work, they stop to buy watermelon gum.
Doris Johnson, 84, is a retired Baltimore Public School educator who lives with family in Jamaica Plain. (Note: I am her daughter, Michelle Johnson and submitting this on her behalf.)
Black Lives in Crisis
Can you hear me, see me, cry for me? This message is from a black mother watching us get knocked down again. Yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of hope that there are still people out there who care.
Let’s talk about it. When did you last invite a black family into your home? Do you discuss racial issues with your child? Have you made a difference in your school, your church, your neighborhood? Or are you silent with no understanding of black people’s issues?
Can you hear me? My voice was full of hope when I raised my daughter and son, despite being followed and overcharged in stores, or ignored by clerks because they assume you can’t afford expensive items. Or having the police stopping you for no reason, or putting illegal holds on black boys and girls.
Can you hear me? See me? Cry for me? This message is from an 84-year-old black mother who kept her family together, hoping, caring and loving during extraordinary times. I will not forget the year 2020. Black lives still matter, despite forces that have long held us back. If you care, talk to your family and to your God.
Elissa Jacobs is a writer and writing instructor who lives in Arlington
“I hate you!” my seven-year-old screams. “I’m never going close to you again!” She clomps into the next room, slamming the door in her wake.
My mistake: I tried to get her to FaceTime with a school friend instead of watching another show on PBS.
I find her stretched out on the futon, her head wedged under a pile of blankets. When I lightly touch her back and ask what’s wrong, I hear a muffled sob. She peeks out and asks, “Mommy, can I draw my feelings?”
The resulting piece is an aberration from her usual art. There are no rainbows, no hearts, no dinosaurs. She ignores the purples and glitter pens in exchange for muted blacks and blues. I sit next to her, quiet, and try not to cry at the bruise of emotion spilling out from her small body and onto the paper.
She calls her creation, Giant Teardrop. With every brush of the marker, she feels better, and I feel more heartbroken for everything she has lost and all that she is struggling to make sense of.
Lucy Levin is a journalism graduate of Boston University’s class of 2020, currently on the job hunt.
I kept waiting for Amtrak to cancel my train on March 14th. My dad refreshed traffic on Google Maps every few minutes until we had to leave for Stamford Station. My mom, who’d just heard about “social distancing,” hugged me goodbye while holding her breath. I pet my 14-year old black lab, Cleo, and hopped in the car to return to Boston from spring break.
Coming back felt right. This was my last semester at Boston University, my lease in Allston ran until June and I was still a student with classes to finish, even over Zoom. I wanted to end college where I started.
I made it to South Station by 6pm. Life kind of exploded after that — my roommate went back to Connecticut, commencement was postponed, most friends living on campus left.
In mid-April, I said goodbye to my dog one last time over FaceTime. She’d developed a massive skin infection. We had 13 years together, and only 10 minutes on a screen for the end. Same with college — 3.75 years and a pandemic and poof, it’s over. So many goodbyes, gone.
And now onto the rest of my life! As if that’s just… possible.
Sue Katz’s fiction and non-fiction have been published on the three continents where she has lived and worked, first as a martial arts master, then promoting transnational volunteering, and now as a book author.
My Pandemic Calm in Exactly 50 Words
My underlying condition keeps me inside, overlooking Spy Pond from my seventh story window. I am calm, used to living alone in a room, used to being alone as a writer. I’ve been content, prepared for the long haul, until I saw the mouse. Now every shadow is an enemy.
Elana Lev Friedland is a writer who lives in Somerville, and you can find them online at elanalevfriedland.com
Somerville is the most densely populated municipality in New England and it sounds like it.
At quarantine’s start, I’m grateful to be here. My room at the back of the house has views of the neighbors’ backyards. I get to see their dogs. The window I sit next to while working looks out on my landlord’s tiny vineyard, the tree at its center blossoming, growing green.
But the birds in its branches chirp. The birds on roofs chirp. Someone’s hosting karaoke parties. Setting off fireworks. My neighbor putts golf balls around his yard at 11PM. The dogs bark. My neighbors sit around recently acquired outdoor furniture. Talking. Laughing. And there are so, so many of them.
I’m hypervigilant at my best and worst–possessed of a PTSD so deep that I can hear everything, everything, everything. Another neighbor’s power tools. Cars starting, and their alarms. Fireworks. The birthday parade down my street: featuring real sirens, right here, because it turns out my neighbor’s kid is five and his dad is a firefighter. And all I can do is curl up, wait it out.
But, sometimes, I make noise too. I close my windows to dampen the sound. Sometimes, I sing.
Joanne Cassell is a mother, nurse, patient advocate and life long student.
Who are the Real Heroes?
They are calling me a superhero but I don’t feel like one. The superheroes are the people fighting for their lives. Like the psychotic person keep alone in isolation at a time when he needs counseling and group therapy or the person who is dying and the family has to talk to them by phone or the patient who just got extubated and her son is still intubated in the next room.
Before I go to work in the morning I have to make sure I eat and drink something otherwise there is just not enough time. Caring for Covid-19 patients is physically and emotionally challenging. Wearing an N95 mask, the suits and shields all day is a nightmare. I often get overheated, my throat gets dry and I become lightheaded from sweating and breathing in my own CO2.
Finally, when I get home I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. My face is marked and aged from wearing a mask for twelve hours and my body weak from the long day. I take a hot shower wishing for peace and quiet – no beeps, or phone calls. I mindlessly watch TV and cuddle the dogs. I struggle to get some sleep, but it often evades me because I am filled with guilt and fear that I could have done more.
Heather Watkins is a disability rights activist, mother, author, blogger, daydreamer, chocolate-lover, and serves on a handful of disability-related boards and projects
As a Black disabled person, I’ve been isolating since mid-February. I have a congenital form of muscular dystrophy that compromises my mobility and respiratory muscles. Since I’m higher risk I’m also hyper-aware of how pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities. I already use a ventilator to sleep with ease. I’ve experienced grocery delivery delays and PCA (personal care assistant) service interruptions because they’ve been affected by virus and are still in recovery.
At the same time, I’m watching stories across the media landscape about just how little Black lives matter as videos on repeat show the snuffing out and cries of “I can’t breathe” and many others take righteous anger to the street. Some days I feel defeated and vacillate from.trying to balance bouts of joy and being kept abreast of current events without burying my head in the sand.
I remind myself there are ways to stay engaged without short-circuiting myself and sense of peace but that’s easier said that done when so much feels like a battering ram. So I find ways to calm the mind and stay productive through music and communing with family of all kinds, biological and otherwise, finding kinship online and exhaling.
Meghan Flannigan is a Speech Language Pathologist who works in a Skilled Nursing Facility
We started wearing face masks at work on a Thursday. Already, there was talk of a couple residents in my nursing home having the dreaded symptoms. But testing was hard to come by, at least quickly. My coworkers and I constantly checked ourselves. Am I feeling something? Every day we just waited for it to come to us. It wasn’t ever really a question of whether, but when.
The following Monday, I felt chilled at one point, then flushed. My skin suddenly felt sore. I rechecked my temperature at the receptionist desk. Still normal.
In the evening, my temperature spiked. I stayed home. Every day, a new symptom emerged. The chest tightness, the cough, the congestion and phlegm, the night sweats, the loss of taste and smell, the constant worry. I tested negative, then positive for COVID-19 a few days later.
It was an enormous relief when I was finally well enough to return to work. But everything had changed in my absence. Now there were gowns, and N95 masks, and face shields. But too late to protect me. Or our residents. So many empty beds. So many familiar faces, just gone.
Asa Badalucco (he/him) is a trans and queer writer studying at Emerson College.
I take my testosterone shot on Thursdays. In quarantine, it’s the only way I keep up with the days of the week. If I took my shot today, tomorrow is Friday. If I take it tomorrow, today is Wednesday. It is a good routine; it is my only routine.
I take my shot in front of a big open window with lots of sun, and it’s often the only light I get. I strip to my boxers and get distracted as I watch hummingbirds give quick kisses to pink flowers. I prep my band-aids and syringes and listen to the neighbor’s dog bark. It’s a strange, thoughtful time, as I watch the needle break my skin and remind myself with a small wince just how human I am.
I realize that my transness, my queerness, has become quieter the longer I stay inside. It’s become an affair between me, myself and I, a conversation and embrace that we have just on these Thursday afternoons. I take my Thursdays to check in with my voice, my face, my thin mustache, my smile. No one is holding my hand through this anymore, they’re not allowed to. It belongs to me.
Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city. The following stories have been featured in the Boston Globe.
Nakia Hill, an author, educator, and journalist grasping on to joy.
My alarm sounds at 8:15 a.m. I open my eyes and take a deep breath. I wiggle my toes and move my legs. I do this religiously every morning. Today, marks day 74 of staying at home.
My mornings are filled with reading biblical scripture, meditation, breathing in the scents of a hanging eucalyptus branch in the shower, and making tea before I log into my computer to work. After an hour-and-a-half Zoom meeting, I decided to take a long walk to the post office and grab a fresh bouquet of burnt orange ranunculus flowers. I embrace the warm sun beaming on my face. I feel joy. I feel at peace.
I enter my apartment and excessively wash my hands and face. I pour a glass of iced kombucha. I sit at my table and look at the text message on my phone. My coworker writes that she is thinking of me during this difficult time. She must be referring to the Amy Cooper incident. I learn shortly that she is not.
I Google Minneapolis and see his name: George Floyd. And just like that a simple and beautiful day transitions into a day of sorrow.
Nancy Taylor serves as the senior minister and CEO of Old South Church in Boston (gathered 1669).
It was a wobbly, yet solemn little procession: three masked mourners and a canine. Beginning in Kenmore Square, at David and Sue Horner’s condo, it proceeded up Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
S. Sue Horner died on Good Friday, April 10, in the Year of the Virus. Sue did not die of the virus but her parting was hemmed by it: no gatherings to mark the passing of this splendid human being.
David devised a send-off nevertheless. On April 23rd, accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law, he set out for Old South Church. David led, bearing the urn. His daughter came next, holding her phone aloft, speaker on, through which her brother in Illinois played the bagpipes for the length of the procession, its soaring thrum infusing the Mall. Her husband came last with Melon, their golden retriever.
I unlocked the empty church and led the procession into the columbarium. David drew the urn from its velvet cover, revealing a golden vessel inset with incandescent tiles. We lifted the urn into the niche, prayed, recited Psalm 23, and shared some words.
It was far too small for the luminous “Dr. Sue”, but what we could manage in the Year of the Virus.
Lucia Thompson lives in Wayland.
On April 26, 2020, our household was a bustling home for four people. Our two sons, ages 18 and 22, have a lot of energy. We are among the lucky ones. I can work remotely. Our food and shelter are not at risk.
As I write this a week later, it is much quieter here.
On April 27, our older son, an EMT, transported a COVID-19 patient to the ER. He left home to protect my delicate health and became ill with the virus a week later.
On April 29, my husband’s 95-year-old father had a stroke. My husband left immediately to be with his 90-year-old mother near New York City and is now preparing for his father’s discharge from the hospital. Rehab people will come to the house; going to a facility would be too dangerous.
My husband just called me to describe today’s hospital visit. The doctors had warned that although his father had regained the ability to speak, he could only repeat what was said to him.
“It’s me,” said my husband.
“It’s me,” said my father-in-law.
“I love you,” said my husband.
“I love you,” said my father-in-law.
“Sooooooooo much,” said my father-in-law.
Faizah Shareef is a medical student at Boston University School of Medicine who is passionate about supporting and promoting health throughout communities.
Would racism exist if we were blind?
I felt his eyes bore into me as I walked through the grocery store. At first, I thought nothing of it. With the angst in the air attributable to COVID, I understood the anxiety provoking nature of feeling as though your 6-foot bubble had burst. So, I ignored him and maintained my distance. But he persisted, glaring at my face, squinting to see who I was underneath the mask. This time I looked back, when he yelled, in my mother tongue, for me to go back to my country. In shock, I just laughed. How could he tell what I was under my mask? Or see anything through the sunglasses he was wearing inside? It baffled me. I laughed at the irony that he would use my own language against me, that he knew enough to guess where I was from in some version of culturally competent racism. I laughed because dealing with the truth behind that comment generated a sadness in me that was too much to handle. If not now, then when will be together?
So, I ask again, could racism exist if we were blind?
Barbara Anderson is 87 years old and is living in an assisted living facility.
My Family is “Out” There
But I am “in” here. Life is different now “in” Assisted Living since the deadly COVID-19 arrived. Now the staff, employees, and all 100 residents have our temperatures taken daily. Everyone else, including my family, is “out” there. People like the hairdresser are really missed — with long straight hair and masks, we don’t even recognize ourselves.
Since mid-March we are in quarantine “in” our rooms with meals served. Activities are practically non-existent. We can sit on the back patio 6 feet apart, wearing masks, do exercises there, chat, and walk nearby. Nothing inside. Hopefully June will improve.
My family is “out” there — somewhere! Most are working from home (or Montana). Hopefully an August wedding will happen, but unfortunately, I may still be “in” here.
From my window I wave to my son “out” there. Recently, when my daughter visited, I opened the window “in” my second-floor room and could see and hear her perfectly “out” there. Next time she will bring a chair so we can have an “in” and “out” conversation all day, or until we run out of words.
Melissa Lee is a writer eating her way through quarantine with her long-distance boyfriend.
My boyfriend Marcial lives in Boston, and I live in New York City. We had been doing the long-distance thing pretty successfully until coronavirus hit. In mid-March, I was furloughed from my temp job, Marcial began working remotely, and New York started shutting down. I went to Boston to stay with Marcial.
We are opposites in many ways, but we share a love of food. The kitchen has been the center of quarantine life —and also quarantine problems.
Marcial and I have gone from eating out and cooking/grocery shopping for each other during our periodic visits to cooking/grocery shopping with each other all the time. We’ve argued over things like the proper way to make rice and what greens to buy for salad. Our habits are deeply rooted in our upbringing and individual cultures (Filipino immigrant and American-born Chinese, hence the strong rice opinions).
On top of the mundane issues, we’ve also dealt with a flooded kitchen (resulting in cockroaches) and a mandoline accident leading to an ER visit. Marcial and I have spent quarantine navigating how to handle the unexpected and how to integrate our lifestyles. We’ve been eating well along the way.
Kirstan Barnett is a startup investor and the Founder of SheGive.
It’s 3 a.m. and my dog Rikki just gave me a worried look. Up again?
“I can’t sleep,” I say. I flick the light, pick up “Non-Zero Probabilities.” But the words lay pinned to the page like swatted flies. I watch new “Killing Eve” episodes, play old Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats songs. Still night.
We are — what? — 12 agitated weeks into lockdown, and now this. The thing that got me was Chauvin’s sunglasses. Perched nonchalantly on his head, undisturbed, as if he were at a backyard BBQ. Or anywhere other than kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, on his life. And Floyd was a father, as we all now know, having seen his daughter Gianna on Stephen Jackson’s shoulders saying “Daddy changed the world.”
Precious child. I pray, safeguard her.
Rikki has her own bed. But she won’t leave me. A Goddess of Protection. She does that thing dogs do, hovers increasingly closely the more agitated I get. “I’m losing it,” I say. I know. And like those weighted gravity blankets meant to encourage sleep, she drapes her 70 pounds over me, covering my restless heart with safety.
As if daybreak, or a prayer, could bring peace today.
Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city.
Richard A. Jones, Ph.D., is a philosopher and “little scribbler” of many articles, poems, and books (many of them published and self-published). He lives with his wife of 50 years, Carol, in Lunenburg.
During these dark times of Coronavirus and social unrest, I’m doing what I’ve always done, reading 5 or 6 hours a day, trying to write every day, and trying not to alienate my wife, children, and grandchildren with my endless pedantic prattle about books, writers, and ideas. My bookish ways have always socially isolated me, so COVID-19 has provided a convenient camouflage for my solitary commitments to reading and writing.
As I turn pages of my days, I await decisions on two manuscripts submitted via “Submittable.” Have they forgotten me? Do the readers for little magazines, writing contests, and publishers really take six months? In this “time out of joint,” with the suffering caused by the virus and the current state of political unrest, writing has afforded me an important mode of coping.
My work as an African American poet and philosopher has always concerned the human condition. I continue my “scribbling” knowing that like Black Lives Matter, books also matter, because they can change lives. And like many writers, as I await for things to get back to “normal” (if they ever do), I also wait for “Submittable” to pass judgment of my latest scribblings.
Irene Tanzman is Isaac’s mother and the author of Abie and Arlene’s Autism War. She lives in Newton.
Life was going well for Isaac at his group home. He was communicating more, smiling more, and enjoying life. He loved his beautiful and encouraging caretakers. Every Saturday, I took him to Chabad. There were birthday cakes, fancy salads, and hot cholent. A rabbi with a long beard would always say, “Shabbat Shalom,” to everyone. Isaac and I took long walks. Several neighbors knew him and said, “hello” to him. Sometimes Isaac looked at them and said “hello” back.
One Friday afternoon, we didn’t come to pick him up. The Jewish sabbath was going to begin, but he wouldn’t be with his family. His father and I wouldn’t give him a special hug or a kiss good night. There would be no challah or beer-spiked cholent.
His caretakers stopped taking him bowling. They stopped going to restaurants. They didn’t go shopping. Instead everything was being delivered. They went on walks, but the caretakers told him to stay far away from everyone walking by. He was not allowed to say “hello.” The caretakers covered their faces with scary masks. It was hard to hear them. He couldn’t see them. Everything was different, but he didn’t understand why.
Heddi Siebel is a multi-media artist who lives and works in Cambridge, MA.
“Mom, can you handle 4 days a week of childcare for a month?” my eldest son asked as my 20-month grandson picked at his peas. They were Covid refugees from New York, alone in Massachusetts because my daughter-in-law had been called back to work at the hospital.
Could I manage? An active boy—eight hours a day? Days divided into increments of 10 minutes—20 if I were lucky? With no libraries or play structures? The relentless rain and cold battered us.
I dragged home a refrigerator box. His architect grandfather fashioned a hut with two operable doors and windows—a home for hide and seek, a camp for teatime with beloved animals. We donned rain boots and stamped in puddles. We pitched stones down street drains to hear “donk”. We stalked cement trucks. We tramped to the ever-deepening wetland at our local park where red-winged blackbirds cheeped and swayed on tall reeds. We threw ducks organic bread.
Then sun came and the earth broke open in warm surprise. We rolled down green hills; watched a garter snake with mutual wariness; visited the ant colony of evolving tunnels and arches. Suddenly, everything in my pandemic world was low, new, and hopeful.
Liza Rodman is a writer living in Chestnut Hill whose debut book is due out in March 2021.
On the first day of tenth grade, 1975, my pack of junior high girls ditched me. But Pam offered to share a locker. She’s my oldest friend.
On March 29th, 2020 she texted me, “Richard in ER. Intubated. Pray.” “Shit,” I text back.
Her sister prays to their late mother. “I told you I’d only come to you for the big stuff.” This is so big Pam can’t hear full sentences. Virus. Ventilator. High fever. Kidney failure. Pneumonia. Please pray. Transferred to Boston. Sorry. Absolutely no visitors.
For seven weeks she asks me, “Who will hold his hand?”
Secondary infections. More tests. Trach. Bad news. Still testing positive.
Good news. He’s so strong. She feels like she’s losing her mind.
You can do this, Richard. Prayers.
“I don’t want him to be afraid,” she texts.
“Me either,” I text back.
On May 15, I learn the phrase “100% on room air”.
Next week, Richard will leave the hospital for rehab. He’ll have to re-learn how to literally keep his chin up.
Still no visitors. Pam and I will meet on the lawn, six feet apart, wave to Richard through the open window, and share a Cosmo in a tiny plastic cup.
Sue McGovern is a writer in Arlington.
I flipped my first covid, my daughter texts. The ICU where she works just converted to serve patients with the virus. Turning them over helps them breathe.
I tell her dad, Bill. He sees his baby surrounded by germs that could kill her. Him, too. He’s halfway through chemo, a turtle without a shell.
I become the crazed bleach crusader of Arlington, upping the bleach-to-water ratio of my spray bottle. There is nothing I will not spray! My daughter’s re-entry routine will change. Strip at the washing machine. Everything in. No more eating together. No more together. Everywhere she goes, I will follow and spray.
Then Bill gets a cough, sore throat, and fever. He won’t call the doctor until after the weekend. We wear masks driving into MGH. In my head, TV news is saying drop him off for a test and you’ll never see him alive again.
I pull in. A Hazmat suit approaches the car. Bill! He reaches in. We get one last grip. He’s backed into an elevator. I toot the family honk in case he can hear. My eyes need windshield wipers. I hug the curves of the Charles driving home. Denial brings such relief
What better time than summer to pop on your headphones and download some stimulating conversation. We thought we’d dig through our archives to find the very best of what BBF has presented, and who better to do that than BBF’s founder Debbie Porter. Her full list in below.
“Carlin asked me to pick my top five or six all-time favorite BBF sessions. But that’s an impossible task, because, of course, ALL the BBF sessions are amazing. How could they not be? We invite several hundred brilliant and creative people to join us every year to talk about their most recent book.
“So I picked my favorites of the last three years, which was in itself very difficult. I primarily work on the nonfiction program at BBF, and I am also obsessively interested in politics, so most of my picks are nonfiction and/or political, with a few notable exceptions. I hope you enjoy listening to my faves!”
Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city. The following is the first selection of stories selected to be featured in the Boston Globe, our media partner in this project. Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2020.
Anna Harris recently graduated from Boston University and is a Development Associate Intern at the Boston Public Library Fund.
My husband and I were on the road to divorce when the pandemic hit. I spent my nights on the couch. He took the bed. Our cat, always in between, couldn’t make up his mind, either.
Lately, I’ve noticed just how much people need people. You’d be surprised how much, and even more surprised by the ability and the strength people have to adapt—through difficulty, stress, uncertainty.
My husband and I share a bed now every night. Part of me is terrified that I’m stuck, like some sort of capsule holed up inside the 500 square feet of our Allston apartment. At the same time, I feel freer than I have in quite a while.
Last night, my husband cooked lasagna. I took out the trash. There’s something simple about living at home together, being there for each other. Before, I think we both lived on our own.
Though our space is crammed, our budget low, and our experiences, at times, are trying, right now, I feel luckier than I have in a long time. I’m noticing the beauty in everything around me, and I think we are going to make it.
Faye Rapoport DesPres is a writer who lives in Cambridge.
I’ll never forget her calm voice as she explained that my husband had been in a bicycle accident. A stranger who had stopped to help, she must have known it could risk her life. She passed my husband’s phone to a police officer, who told me the ambulance was heading to Mass. General, “the closest hospital with a trauma unit accepting patients.” When she took the phone back, the stranger told me my husband was conscious, but not walking. I asked for her name.
No visitors were allowed at the ER. It took hours to learn the extent of his injuries: seven cracks in his ribs, torn ligaments in his shoulder, but no damage to his head, neck, or back. He’d tucked and rolled flying over the handlebars after a pickup truck took a right turn in front of him. He was wearing a good helmet.
Because of potential exposure, my husband recovered while quarantined in one room of our house. Four weeks later, I was laid off. We’ll be fine. My husband can walk.
I found her online; I wanted to thank her. She said knowing my husband was OK was the only thanks she needed.
Gretchen Ayoub is a single parent and educator living in West Roxbury.
My alarm rings at 5:30 a.m., in keeping with my efforts to maintain a regular schedule. I sip strong black coffee in the oversized Grand Canyon mug that my son gave me years ago.
He died last summer of a sudden heart attack at the age of 33, three months before his wedding. There were zero warnings. He was so healthy. I start each day trying to capture some of his endless kindness, encouragement, and optimism. I want to bottle his spirit and open the cap when isolation overcomes me.
How different it would have been if he had died this year. I tear up for all who lost loved ones and could not say goodbye, could not have visitors and hugs. The hugs I would have missed the most.
The grief tsunami still washes over me most days, but I also remember the love that enveloped me and my daughter; the many family and friends who cried with us. I remember the walks and coffee with friends who kept reaching out when I retreated. I mourn each day, but am grateful that he did not die alone. And that I did not grieve alone.
Amy Sales is a social psychologist and lover of puzzles and lives in Jamaica Plain.
Comfort and Love in a Single Word
As I’m running out to do last-minute errands before the lockdown, my daughter calls from Texas.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“Just checking in on you.”
“Why? You worried about me?”
“Well, you’re in the high risk category, you live alone, you are my mother, and I love you. And, yes, I need to know that you’re okay.” At that moment, I realized how the pandemic has pushed my generation through a premature reversal of parent-child roles. And while I didn’t want to add to my daughter’s coronavirus fears, my independent streak did not want a daily check-in call.
A conundrum to be sure, but here is our inventive solution. Each day I do the Spelling Bee, a highly addictive, seven-letter anagram challenge on the NY Times app. The big prize is finding the pangram, a word that uses all seven letters. Each day I text my daughter the pangram as a sign that I’m still okay.
My days roll by in these sheltered times, each one marked by its pangram: parkland, bewitch, artfully, genotype, adjunct, compound, outgrown, implicitly. A daily text with a single word may seem nonsensical, but for us it says everything we need to know.
Brent Whelan is a retired teacher living in Allston
I met Tyrell in December, in the big echo-y corridor of a Boston high school. His teacher introduced us, telling me he was a “sweet” kid who was struggling with his writing. I felt the sweetness right away.
Then came the struggle. His first assignment was to write a review about a rapper. I felt his powerful admiration, not for the music or poetry, but for the aura of success, the designer accessories, the fame. This all came out in warm monosyllables. I asked follow-up questions, and as he searched for words, I would say, ”That’s good. Write that down.” Once, our work abruptly stopped as he told me about his mother’s death when he was nine. He went silent for a long minute. When I asked, he said, “No, it’s all right.” We went on.
As our last session ended I said, “I’ll see you in March.” When March came, I had a persistent Covid-like dry cough, and by the time it resolved, schools were closed. I wrote to Tyrell’s teacher, asking if I could still work with him online, but her reply was tinged with sadness. He had slipped away from her, from school altogether, in the transition.
Linda K. Wertheimer, who teaches writing at Grub Street in Boston, is the author of Faith Ed, Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance.
I wanted a peace I thought we could still find. It was late March during the early weeks of the pandemic, and the parking lot was packed at Concord’s Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge.
“Maybe we shouldn’t stay,” my husband said.
But Great Meadows was a sanctuary where my family of three could just be. I envisioned past trips when we stood at the wetlands’ edge, waiting, hoping to spot a heron or beaver.
“Let’s stay,” I said.
Going on a nature walk that day quickly became terrifying, as if we were Pac-Man dodging ghosts. With no state mask order yet, keeping distance from others was our only protection. Our 12-year-old son Simon ducked his face into his coat as we walked. We dodged passersby by stepping into bramble and lingered only for moments in viewing areas, fearing the breath of strangers. We saw a beaver dam, but no beavers.
Back home, my son looked worn. “We’re going to take care of each other, ok?” I said, hugging him. He grinned, offering a tween coping strategy. “I make you pancakes,” he said, referring to the breakfast he made today. “You make me everything else.” Home for now can be our sanctuary.
By Megan O’Connor, a physician assistant in a Boston hospital and now a long-distance mom
It’s 7:30 p.m. and I’m leaving work. The phone rings. Bedtime is a little later these days so that we can have dinner together.
“Mumumumumum!” It’s my one year old, who is now living two hours from me at my mother’s house, along with my wife, so I don’t infect them. Over FaceTime, I watch as he learns to eat with a spoon. He feeds me through the video and then slobbers a goodnight kiss on the screen.
It’s been an exhausting day and I’m longing for my pillow. Each day holds a different struggle. Today, I had Zoom meetings with family members who can’t see their loved ones and want updates from a face rather than a voice. Over the phone, I attempt to coach a young man on making crucial medical decisions as well as how to cope as a child who is losing his mother.
Before I curl under the blanket, the phone buzzes with a text from my partner: our sonogram’s fuzzy outline provides solace. I press on with renewed energy to take on one more day.
Photo: FaceTime dinner dates between mother and son.