During this coronavirus shutdown, as so many of us have become unmoored, finding it difficult to process all the changes we're facing, I wondered:
What's the safe way during the pandemic to tell the neighbors you're moving after 25 years in your home?
You can't hug them. Email is so infuriatingly sterile. Handwritten notes on fine stationery would be nice, but doesn't coronavirus linger on surfaces? And bleach wipes would ruin the penmanship.
You could put out black flags. But I didn't have any just then. And besides, black flags may have led some into thinking we had the medieval plague. No need to stoke more panic when politicians and media types are doing such a fine job of it. So, I did something else:
I dragged two old black Weber Smokey Mountain Cookers that we weren't taking with us out to the curb. And my old black kettle grill.
These were the wretched black flags of our intent, made of barbecue equipment.
"You're moving?" said Melissa. "Oh, we already knew that, when you sodded over your garden and wrote about packing away all your books."
Then she told us she was going to Spain, since she had tickets and her daughter was there.
You're going during coronavirus? Are you crazy?
"You get it here or you get it there," she said rather perkily.
The news is full of what to do and what not to do during the coronavirus pandemic. But trust me, here are a few things on the what-not-to-do list:
In a span of just three days, do not close on your house and then scramble to find a new place because the place you thought you had lined up informs you at the 11th hour that it won't accept Zeus the Wonder Dog.
Betty found us a new place. We moved my mom into her nursing home. The next day, we signed the closing papers on the sale of the house. The new owners were nice, and they have little children and the big backyard is perfect for them.
When the movers arrived, they underestimated things, so instead of one day, it took two. We stayed up all night sweeping out our old home and finished just as the new owners arrived for the final walk-through.
Moving amid frenzied stress is not a good thing. The original downsizing plan was to move in with our sons for a few months until we figured out what we'd do long-term. The boys pretended to be overjoyed. The problem was their lease.
It mandated we could not have a "mammal" over 50 pounds. Zeus the Wonder Dog is most definitely a mammal, a lean 60 pounds. But I didn't think building management would have the gall to weigh him.
It turned out, though, that the landlord interpreted the lease this way: "Mammal" didn't apply to dogs. Apparently, in the universe of landlords, "mammal" means only "cat."
They accept 50-pound cats? If you have a 50-pound cat, I hope for your sake that you never let it go hungry. Or you may be deposited against your will, in altered form, under the shrubbery.
And so, we've become unmoored, without time to process everything that's happening. In the context of all the misery out there, our move is insignificant. All of you have been unmoored, too, by the loss of jobs, the closing of workplaces, the fear in the eyes of bickering political leaders uncertain how they'll handle the chaos that might come.
You're stuck at home, hunkering down, wondering about your job, worrying about friends and family. Some have become ill. Others have died.
Weddings have been canceled, christenings, school years have been canceled, commencements, summer internships young people depend on, and more.
You're worried about the nurses, or the paramedics and cops rushing to help without masks. Our nephew is an ER doc. My brother manages a grocery store. He deals with anxious customers every day, demanding toilet paper and disinfectant wipes and whatever else the hoarders haven't grabbed.
Our story isn't about life or death or fear. It's small. But all the changes in such a short time have unmoored us. What's infuriating is that with all that's going on, the news, the aggression born of fear that runs just under the surface of culture, it's been difficult, I think, for all of us to process it all.
We hoped to have a day or two at our (old) home to talk things out, to recall, out loud, the life we loved there, the life we lived for 25 years in that beautiful suburban village.
The warm morning when I drove Betty and our boys home from the hospital after their birth, the big magnolia tree out front in full bloom. Teaching the boys to pitch in the backyard, watching as they taught themselves soccer moves on the grass. The vegetable garden, Betty's roses, the Easter Sundays and lamb roasts, that polar vortex without heat when we huddled around the fireplace and thought of Jack London.
But with all that went on, finding a new place, rushing through everything, we didn't have the time.
The movers filled the truck. We followed them out down the street.
And just like that, we were gone.