The 28 Year Wait

Last New Year’s Eve my husband and I were at a party at our friends’ house and Fabiana announced at the dinner table that this year for her birthday she was going to get a tattoo. And I immediately piped up with, “Can I come with you?”

I already have a tattoo. I got it in late 1992 when I was 18 years old. I got it on my rib cage just below my left breast. It is your typical cliche: a heart and dagger with a cross behind it. I picked the design out of a book and a woman with long red hair and tattoos of snakes twining down her arms inked it for me. She scared the hell out of me but was very kind and gentle. She even offered a teddy bear for me to cling to if I wanted.

I still like my tattoo and never once regretted getting it. Of course, almost no one ever saw it, me not being the bikini-wearing type of person. It was my own little secret that only a few were privy to.

I went on a study abroad tour when I was 20. We studied for five weeks in Oxford then had a three-week tour of Western Europe by bus. That’s when I first noticed the fleur de lis. A stylized picture of a lily, it was everywhere: all over the churches in France, on the city crest of Florence, everywhere. I liked it. To me it spoke of the history and art and travel that I so desperately loved.

I went back to Italy in 1996, a year later, and was once again suffused with the history and art and love of travel. The fleur de lis was everywhere, constantly reminding me of the things I loved. It was that summer in Florence that I adopted the fleur de lis as my own personal symbol.

I have many representations of the fleur de lis. Earrings, a necklace, a brooch I used to wear on my good winter coat back when I needed one. I had it on glassware, I made a mosaic of one:

It has been a constant in my life. And over the years it has only strengthened. Now, I have even impressed more meaning into this symbol. 

There are three petals. Each petal signifies one of the following: art, history, and travel. And the thing that binds them altogether? Writing. It could not be a more perfect representation of me. I am the fleur de lis and the fleur de lis is me. 

Not that I’m going to start asking people to call me that. Or go by a symbol instead of a name like Prince did for years. It is my totem.

Back to New Year’s Eve. I had not known when Fabiana announced she wanted to get a tattoo for her birthday that she had been announcing this for years and always fell short of going through with it. (She hates needles and pain.) But when I jumped in and offered to go with her she was sort of stuck. Now someone else wanted to share her experience and I guess she didn’t want to disappoint me?

Her birthday is in March and so we made appointments with a really great tattoo artist in Tampa named Adam Dunning with Visionary Tattoo in Tampa. We chose him because Fabiana’s daughter, who has a lot of tattoos really likes him because he’s a fabulous artist and a really nice guy.  

But then COVID-19 hit and everything went to hell.  We had to cancel our appointments because of the stay at home order. But we waited and they opened back up at the beginning of June. Our new appointments were made and they happened last Saturday, June 13th.

Fabiana had to go first or she might not go at all, and I wanted her to do this because she’d been wanting this for a very long time. She was a trooper. She got the clam shell symbol of the pilgrims that walk the road to Santiago de Compostela, because she did just that. She walked however many hundred miles all by herself. It is a reminder to her that she can do anything. Even get a tattoo. She lay on the cot, didn’t move her arm a muscle and did not cry.

My turn next. After Adam had fastidiously cleaned everything he put the stencil on my wrist, I lay down on the cot, and he got started. It stung, but it didn’t really hurt too much. Apparently I have a high tolerance for pain because I didn’t flinch once. I just lay there with my eyes closed and breathed. 

And then it was done. 

I absolutely love it. It means so much to me that I can look down whenever I want and remind myself what matters most in my life. (Besides my husband and my Dad who top the list, of course.)

I chose the inside of my right wrist because I wanted to be able to see it whenever I wanted. I also want the world to see it, and let those interested ask me about it so I can tell them a little bit about who I am. Because in the 28 years between tattoos I no longer feel the need to keep my story a secret. The world can share it with me and I’m fine with that.

I don’t think I’ll get another one. I can’t think of a more perfect representation of who I am. Of course, as we grow and evolve, things do change. I hope to never stop growing, so maybe there will be another symbol in the future that means more to me than this one. But it has stood by me for twenty-four years, so I’m pretty sure it’s okay to set this one in the flesh.

 

 

 

 

Plague Diaries #6

There is a new normal.

I say this as I am writing from the couch. We have just had “virtual cocktails” with friends of ours and my husband is now making dinner. (The husband making dinner isn’t the new normal, and for that I’m very lucky. He cleans up too.)

As of right now, Florida has 11,545 cases of Covid-19, with 221 cases in my county. The next county over, Miami-Dade, has 3,890. I know we are not the hardest hit in the nation. New York is suffering something what we can’t imagine right now. But I’m afraid Death, while not knocking on our door just yet, is definitely sharpening his scythe.

It’s coming.

My week was pretty quiet. I worked 8-5 every day, but I was blessed that I was able to stay in my office for the majority. I am damn grateful to be employed with health insurance right now.

Today Kosta and I visited our favorite French restaurant for takeout quiche and we went to the grocery store. Then we came home and took a four-mile walk. It was great to get out of doors and get some exercise. Then I did Dad’s grocery shopping and came home and de-loused. (Which means I took a long, steamy shower with lots of soap and shampoo.)

Virtual drinks with Fabiana and Fernando was fun. It was almost like being at our favorite hangout, Riptide Brewing Company. Not quite, because there was no beer for me, but it was fun to talk to them for an hour. And two vodka gimlets have left me feeling pleasantly buzzed.

In fact, I’ve been talking to lots of people online lately. Maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought I was. I feel the need to connect with my friends that I can’t see right now. And it calms me down and energizes me when I do, so that’s a good thing. And I can do it all from the comfort of my couch in my jammies, so maybe I am as much of an introvert as I thought.

Life has shrunk, most definitely. Even with the Skype and the Zoom and the FaceTime I still feel like my world has diminished. There are fewer faces, fewer conversations, more solitude. I wonder how my extroverted friends are coping. Surely this can’t be easy for them.

But every day I am grateful that I wake up, and every night I am thankful for another day of health. I don’t know what the future holds and I am conscious that I am living each day more completely because of the uncertainty of what is to come.

And through it all, I have the two men who matter to me the most: my husband and my father. I’m lucky to have such fine examples of human beings with whom I spend the majority of my time. I love you both.

And that isn’t just the vodka talking, either.

Plague Diaries #5

I think like many of you, my brain has been obsessively focused on the pandemic. It’s taking up a lot of mental real estate with me these days. Mostly I’m worried about what’s going to happen and the alarming news about the projections of how many people in this country are going to die in the next month or so.

But this morning during breakfast I was musing on another aspect of this extraordinary event in our lives and how the world has lived through this before and will no doubt live through it again. The Bubonic Plague lay waste to the world’s population and was instrumental in plunging us into the Dark Ages. But a more recent plague, namely the Spanish Flu pandemic of just over one hundred years ago, is something that is a little more accessible to our modern brains.

grandmaThis is my grandmother: Eileen Mary Bachmeyer Nelson. She was born February 11, 1915 in Minneapolis, MN. She lived through the Spanish Flu. She once told me one of her first memories was the end of World War I. She remembered her mother crying and seeing people shouting and celebrating in the streets. She was the only member of her immediate family with a job for a time during the Great Depression. She had an independent streak a mile long and lived to be nearly 95 years old.

Why am I telling you this? Not just because I was honored to be her granddaughter and that I still miss her like crazy, even though she’s been gone for ten years now. But I was considering today how the span of her life overlapping with the span of mine (and who knows how long that will be?) isn’t even a blip in the span of history, but what things have happened in our Venn Diagram of shared and un-shared time on earth.

She saw the Spanish Flu, though I doubt she remembered it. She lived through two world wars. We both lived through the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iraq War, and 9/11. And now, what will I add to our story before my light goes out in this world? I thought 9/11 was going to be the most significant world event that I would ever experience. I was very mistaken on that. As much as our world changed in 2001, I have a feeling the effects of the Covid-19 are going to be so much more far reaching than any of us can imagine now.

Life is never going to be the same again. We will be unequivocally, irrevocably changed. We are going to have to adjust to a new normal, whatever that may be. But this plague won’t finish us as a species. We are infinitely adaptable.

I’m glad my grandmother was spared living through this. Not that she wasn’t resilient enough, but one pandemic is enough for a lifetime.

Besides, she would have HATED the president.

See you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #4

A week has passed since my first installment of the Plague Diaries. Much has changed, but in another way we seem suspended here in Florida. True, the numbers are jumping every day. As of right now there are 4,246 cases of Covid-19 reported in the state of Florida, with 95 of them in my county.

But I know that number is grossly underrepresented. Testing in Florida has been abysmally lacking. The drive-through testing center we had in Naples had to shut down because there were no more testing kits available. I find that extremely disturbing.  We have no idea what’s really going on out there and that, I think, frightens me above all else.

I am returning to work tomorrow. I have been told I can self-isolate in my office and that’s exactly what I intend to do. I have plenty of projects I can work on and am honestly looking forward to the distraction. This past week, while I didn’t do much, was filled with anxiety combined with an inability to concentrate.

I did have a great video conference with a very dear friend just an hour or so ago. She’s a writing partner of mine and we are going to work on our current projects, share, and chat weekly about them. I feel like this is something I can do that will help me bridge the gap back to calm.

There seem to be two groups of people in this country. The first group is taking the pandemic seriously. They stay home as much as possible, they keep six feet away from everyone they meet, and they practice strict hygiene. I fall into this category. When I go back to work I will immediately bathe and put my clothes in the washing machine upon returning home. That may seem extreme and ridiculous to some, but if it keeps me from getting sick, I’m all for it. You don’t bounce back from dead.

The other group are the people who don’t or won’t take this seriously. They stand right next to you at the grocery store, they sneak onto the beach even when they are closed. (This last week Naples City Police turned away over 400 people trying to go to the closed beach for sunset. In about 2 hours. They are now threatening $500 fines for lawbreakers.)

Losers at the poolHere is a picture of the pool at my condo. It’s right out my back door. And you can partially see in the picture the crowd that gathered out there yesterday to hang out, drink, and talk.

There were about eight of them altogether. Not sitting 6 feet apart. Not paying any heed to the PANDEMIC that is gripping the world. I want to find a copy of The Masque of the Red Death and nail it to the pool gate. Although I wonder if anyone would get the reference.

I’m tired of this. Not just the people who won’t behave but of the anxiety and the worry and the fear that all come along with it. But what can I do? I just have to actively look for ways to retain calm in my life. Right now, those include:

  1. Watching Looney Tunes on YouTube (Holy cow, a lot of those do not hold up! So racist!)
  2. Reading beloved novels from my childhood. (I’m looking at you, Maud Hart Lovelace.)
  3. Face Timing with friends and family. It’s amazing what getting to see someone’s face will do for you.
  4. Taking naps.

The last one isn’t probably very healthy–it’s an old coping mechanism that I’ve employed since I was a teenager to escape reality. But I’m being nice to myself right now. A nap isn’t going to kill me.

I hope all of you out there are doing all right. Drop me a line if you need to talk. Do what the CDC is asking of you. Don’t take risks right now. After this passes there will be plenty of time for living again. Like I said, you don’t bounce back from dead.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #2

This is our fifth day of self-isolation. Although I went to the grocery store yesterday, so it didn’t feel like a quarantine. The store was pretty well stocked and we got what we needed for the week. Today we plan to stay at home and go for a walk, but that’s all.

I am scared. There are lots of things to be scared about: getting sick is the top one on the list, but there are many other things pressing on my mind right now.

How many people are going to die?

The numbers are reported for the state of Florida every day at 11 a.m., and 6 p.m. For the past two days we have been adding 200+ cases every 24 hours. My county has 39 cases. That may not seem like much but testing has been scant. They started getting more aggressive last week when the private labs and hospital started testing too. But if test results take 5-7 days to come in, then we haven’t seen the real spike in the number of cases yet. Maybe in a few more days we’ll see more numbers reflective of how we really are.

What is going to happen to the economy?

It’s in a free fall right now and I don’t see anything stopping it. The stimulus package that the senate is fighting over might help, but I don’t have a lot of confidence they will reach an agreement. Bipartisan fighting is tearing us apart when we need our elected officials to band together now more than ever. I don’t see the senate standing on the steps of the Capitol singing “God Bless America” like they did after 9/11.

I’m not going to comment on who is right and who is wrong in this scenario because that is exactly my point. If Democrats and Republicans can’t come to an agreement now, when the world is collapsing, then we might be doomed.

What is going to happen to everyone who is suddenly out of work? 

I almost can’t sleep at night because I’m worried about friends who have lost their jobs. I realize the importance of shutting things down and agree this is the only way forward to lessen the number of deaths. There is a human life attached to every one of those numbers you see posted every day.

But what about the people who worked in restaurants? That is a livelihood that is already tenuous–a tiny wage with the majority of money made in tips. And when the job is gone, so is the health insurance. (At least that’s so in the USA.) What happens if they get sick and need to be hospitalized? How are they going to pay for that?

Why are some people still not taking this seriously?

My husband and I have been going for daily walks. We practice social distancing, where if someone is headed towards us on the sidewalk, we step out into the street to keep a safe distance from others.

We wash our hands. If we are forced to go out (like to the grocery store) we shower when we come home. And some people, I am sure, will say we’re being extreme. Are we? Or are we making sure we stay well?

On our walk we pass by the Lakewood Public Golf Course. The parking lot is still packed every day. Most of the license plates are out of state. So apparently the snowbirds that are with us every winter still feel that playing their 18 holes is more important than stopping the spread of disease.

Of course, it is a sport with very little contact. You’re out of doors, staying away from each other, and generally getting exercise. But who is sanitizing the golf carts? Who is practicing social distancing in the club house? I see clumps of people standing around and talking as we walk by. And it makes me angry.

But!

I also am reminding myself daily of the things I am grateful for. There is a lot. My husband, my father, and I are all healthy as of this writing. I have a job which I am damn grateful for. I have health insurance. We own our condominium outright and have no mortgage payment. We have plenty of food and enough toilet paper for a month. No one I know has the disease as of yet, although one family member was tested yesterday.

Above all, I am grateful for every day I have that I remain healthy. I can go for long walks. I can watch movies with my husband. I can keep in touch with friends and family that I love dearly.

Watch out for each other. Check in. Spread some laughter in this dark time. And stay away from each other as much as you possibly can.

See you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #1

This is the weirdest, scariest thing that has ever happened in my lifetime.  Life has become surreal and I am pretty sure we’re going to keep on down this Dali-esque path for some time.

First off, I am fine. My husband is fine, my Dad is fine.  We are taking precautions, washing our hands, practicing social distancing and trying not to go crazy being cooped up. But as one person on Facebook said, “Your grandparents were called to war. You are called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

I am not working right now. The library where I work has closed its doors to the public, although staff are still expected to report in every day. I asked if I could work from home and was told no. Since I am lucky enough to have four weeks of vacation to spend, I am doing just that. I’d rather have a healthy family more than I’d like my vacation time.

It was and wasn’t a hard decision to make. It was easy in that I care what happens to my very small family.  My father is 73 and my husband is 63. Since everything went sideways I am keeping them out of public as much as I can. And me going to work every day and potentially being exposed was too much of a risk. I’m not going to put their lives in jeopardy for my job.

But it was hard because I feel like I need to be doing something to help. I feel bad that my coworkers are still putting together online story times and other forms of digital entertainment for our patrons. I would like to help but at the moment it isn’t possible. Perhaps I can work from home soon. I have plenty of projects to keep me busy.

Yesterday the governor of Florida closed all restaurant dining rooms, letting places offer takeout only. And I read an article this morning about how so many places have been forced to lay off the majority of their staff. I am terrified for the waitstaff at my local places. How are they going to survive? What happens if they get sick and they have no health insurance?

Our favorite restaurant, Cafe Gourmand, is still serving up takeout from 9-12 every day.  We went down there this morning and got our usual quiche to go. I will do everything I can to support our local businesses through this frightening time until I no longer can go out of the house. As I write this, New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Nevada are all on lock down. I think within a week the rest of the nation will be as well.

Florida, as a state, has been dragging its heels. It wasn’t until Thursday that our city and county closed our beaches. South Beach in Miami closed last weekend and our county sheriff said that all the spring breakers were driving the 100 miles to Naples to party here. It’s true. On St. Patrick’s Day Kosta and I went for a drive (just to get out of the house). On 5th Ave, where all the fancy restaurants are, we found people everywhere. Every table was filled, every parking spot taken, every sidewalk packed with people.

These are not people who live here year round, I suspect. These are people who are continuing their vacations in direct defiance of the warnings issued by the CDC.

Yesterday was my first day of “vacation” and I did very little. I went for a nice long walk with my husband and braved the markets to do my Dad’s grocery shopping. I had to go to 4 stores, but I got everything on his list. In the afternoon I took a nap and we got takeout from the Yard House for dinner, which we ate with my Dad. We then watched TV for a while. Pretty basic.

I did almost have an incident in Publix, however. It was packed and I was trying to maneuver my shopping cart around someone who had stopped in the produce section when this man in a face mask comes barreling through and nearly knocked me over. I locked eyes with him for a moment and gave him a challenging look. I think I must have intimated what I was thinking, which was, “No, no, you go first, asshole.” I could see the rage flare in his eyes and I am pretty sure he almost turned around to start yelling at me, but fortunately he chose to keep going.

I have to remind myself daily to take a deep breath. I am doing everything I can to protect my family.  I am checking in on extended family and friends. I am still exercising and eating healthy. I am still getting paid and have health insurance and damn grateful for it.

Things are going to get weirder. I hope you all are keeping your heads up.

See you on the other side,

Anna