For the past week, I’ve been flat on my back. Symptoms: occasional mild chills, medium fever, major fatigue. We’ve been regularly testing for Covid, entirely negative. Looking up symptoms of regular flu, it’s some matches, some not. I can say only one thing: it’s the first time I’ve ever felt OLD.
What does that mean? I creep about the house, careful of my balance. I have no urge to write, or rather, I have the urge but it all seems hopeless. Political posts on Facebook seem an exercise in Mad Hatterdom, an aimless spate of flinging about the muffins and teacups meaningfully.
Nothing wants doing, yet the number of things to be done is mountainous. Simply thinking about writing instructions for the vast array of crap and art I’ll pass on to my kids is something that quickly sends me back to the living-room couch for a cat to lie on.
Of course I have my mate to nurse & nurture me, hugging the gloom out periodically and pick up the chores I normally do, so it’s not entirely negative.
It may just be post-partum depression after finishing a novel. It may be dither, writing a vast number of flash fictions but not knowing what to do with them‑given that my saleability is somewhat less than Samuel Beckett or almost anyone else. It may be that I’ve just finished reading Kafka’s COMPLETE STORIES AND PARABLES, and starting another huge novel by William Gaddis. It may be that I see the weeds on our half-acre growing much faster than I can weed. Or it may be that I’m old—I’m 80 for chrissake.
Some years ago, I wrote a short story, based on a childhood experience. And it came to mind again. Its end:
“So the first time I ever told this story, it was at a party, we were talking about guilt, and this woman said, ‘Well, you didn’t kill anybody, after all.’ No, I’ve always been shy about stuff like that. And at times I’ve said that I saw my stepfather die, but that’s not strictly true: I saw him start to die. Then I ran to get help and didn’t, then stood out on the step until I got too cold. And then I must have gone indoors and found my mom. And grew up, to some degree.
“Maybe that’s what dying is like. You’re out on the porch looking in. You’re there but it isn’t you. The one on the daybed’s not even related to you. You’re somebody else, you’re a little kid who’s confused. You run to get help, but you’re scared to knock. You can’t really say what you need. Then you go back home and it’s buzzing with strangers, so you stand on the steps, very cold, you shiver, like in the privy, feeling dumb and gutless and lost. And you wait for your mother to find you.”