We all have different ways of getting through life in the time of Corona. There should be grace for whatever methods you’re choosing, because times is hard (note: mounting a coup does not get grace). I have a myriad of things I indulge in when the world seems particularly difficult, and today I landed on some good ones – treats, plants, wine, writes.
There is a store here in Hong Kong that is an underground market of Costco products I walk to when the mood strikes. The mood strucketh today. Costco goodies always conjure up childhood memories – family trips after church, running around trying all the samples, Dad pushing the trolley, getting pizza for a buck fifty. I wandered the contraband for an hour, letting nostalgia wash over me.
If you’ve never left your state or country, imagine seven years without the edible comforts of home, and then stumbling upon a grocery paradise – an aisle of cereals, another of condiments, an aisle of cleaning products, another of all the snacks you’ve ever wanted. I’m always flooded with memories – reminded of sneaking goodies into the Dome movie theater to watch “Titanic” for the third time for Jenny Hill’s birthday, or of post-game volleyball and soccer snack bags, of sleepovers, of Grandma’s pantry, of packing ‘special lunches’ for field trips. Today I walked away with Cheezits, Cheetos, cookie mix, Raisinets (sometimes it hits!) and Ranch dressing.
Dinner was sorted. Then it was time for plants. I have a lovely terrace for fairylight-lit late night convos, outdoor movies, and deep thinking. And for plants. I wandered home to survey what I had so I could get something new. I started counting my plants then stopped at 32 because that’s also when I stopped caring or remembering how old I was. I had a genuine moment the other night, trying to fall asleep, around 1am, when all the thoughts happen, when I cannot possibly sleep without medical assistance and a noise machine and for some reason, singing “Edelweiss” over and over, when I was not entirely sure if I was 36 or 37. I genuinely didn’t know. But then . . . How does that even make sense to be either? I still feel like a kid but know I’m an adult because when I want to eat Cheetos and only Cheetos for dinner, I do, because I can, but then I feel sick for a day.
I decided I didn’t need any more plants. Time to walk for wine. I dropped off mail and wandered up to my old street, strolled through the park, checked on my homeless gal. She’s still kicking. Then my fav wine shop, where Jo greeted me like an old friend. When I walked out, my old laundromat couple waved at me and if we spoke the same language, I’m sure we would have a lot to say. I haven’t seen them in months, and it’s amazing how much you can miss people you’ve never actually had a conversation with, but were a part of your day to day life and know what your underwear looks like. He once told me I was ‘beautiful,’ which is the only word I ever heard him say in English, and it made me cry later that day. And after.
I met a friend for a walk, just about the only activity you can do with another person after 6pm, when our restaurants and bars close. I walk this promenade nearly every night, and I’m so grateful for all the people watching and people-dodging (Hong Kongers notoriously weave all over any walk space) and the kids out with new Christmas present bikes and baby deer knees on shiny rollerblades with shiny helmets to match, too big but with room to grow in.
We walked, talking through our masks about the 5k running plan aps we’d downloaded but already given up because we’d been so depressed lately that walking was just about all we could manage. Friend has recently turned thirty, and we talked about the ways your mind and body and soul change when you are a single woman in your 30s.
We decided that much like your parents sit you down for a “your body is going to start changing” talk before puberty, someone should sit you down before 30 to tell you how you’re about to physically fall apart, time will speed up, and you will start turning into your mother. Topics could include: You will wish you’d taken more pictures in your twenties; you were hotter than you ever knew. ‘How to get better sleep’ will become an obsession. There are wrinkles, food sensitivities, hair where you don’t want it, friendships evolve and sometimes fade away completely.
Something else that happens is you actually have to turn your phone off to stop seeing the engagements/weddings/pregnancy announcements/families in matching pajamas around a Christmas tree. We’re happy for you! Keep posting! but! for our own health – We are both thousands of miles away from family, stuck here in Hong Kong over the holidays, and it compounds the already overwhelming feelings of “what am I doing with my life am I going to die alone” that often hit you around this time.
Friend and I had meant to grab a coffee, a walk, a catch-up, but had not for three weeks. We confessed we’d both just felt so down we didn’t want to bring it upon others. It was too much to pick up the phone. It was too hard to commit to meet with someone.
To be honest, some days I only opened the curtains so that my fish could get some sunlight. I didn’t need it – I was ‘happy’ to just watch 8 seasons of the Xfiles without blinking and keep ordering delivery.
I debated blogging about this, but feel like I should. I hope we never have another year like this one, so I want to record it so that when we look back and it seems far away and unreal and even funny, it can be because we’ve processed how difficult and painful it was. I don’t want to ignore how hard it’s been and just chin up about it. The memories will fade with time unless I write them down, like probably by next week, if I’m honest, so I’m writing this for me, but you read it and please tell me how you is, too.
This was a hard Christmas break, no doubt, but I have incredible friends here in Hong Kong. When you’re all immigrants, you bond together quickly and intensely already, but as we were all stuck here away from family for the holidays, we doubled down. I had a hotel staycation, brunches, a houseboat night, walks, coffees, and happy hours. It was fun. But there were also days in between when I stayed in all day. I worried I was getting bedsores. I didn’t answer calls or messages. I was sad. Sad sad sad.
For the first time in my life, it was quiet when I woke up on Christmas morning. And I was alone. No pitter patter of a younger sibling, no one slipping up beside my bed to whisper “Santa came!” No eager parent shuffling me into the living room, not even the rustling of a bunk bed in a dirty hostel to stir me awake. No smell of cinnamon rolls, no matching jammies with anyone. The puppies didn’t scratch at my door, Mom didn’t deposit a coffee or mimosa or both on the nightstand and pull back the blankets and coerce me to battle jetlag and come out to the living room to address the stockings. The sads hit.
Despite how sad I had felt the days leading up to it, the world hadn’t ended just because I was alone on Christmas. Which was kind. My dad’s side managed a Zoom across four time zones and several screens. I made them play a quiz and we made fun of each other and it was lovely. Then I hiked over to Sai Kung to spend the day with friends who are chosen family that I’ve known since Rio and are basically the reason I am here. They have kids. That makes Christmas WAY better. But still the sads hit.
The hours seemed longer. I wanted to be home in California more than usual, so I stayed all day, and we watched the Grinch for the first time (the five year old AND I had never seen it), we barbecued turkey (they’re Aussies) and I snuggled the kids so tight – gave them a box full of silly things just to watch it be ripped apart. The best part was the box, of course. We made it a sled, a car, a train, a slide, a transformation factory. It could be anything we wanted, but it wouldn’t take me home, and oh how i wanted to be there. sads.
The five year old explained to me, in all seriousness, what karaoke was, so we had to do it. The adults played Cards Against Humanity. We had an 80s dance party. At some point the cops came. I got a cactus teapot, boogied to a dancing Christmas tree, wore silly headbands and socks and played games and it took two hours to get home at 2am.
And that was the Navidad. Done and dusted and remembered and recorded. The morning after, I texted a few friends and it was incredible how much better we all felt for having made it through that day, and then things got better. I survived the sads.
For New Years Eve, I took taxi-boat-bus-bus-walk-ferry to a beach for a bonfire with friends, where we solved the world’s problems and I got to hold a dog inside my jacket and drink wine. We had a socially distanced brunch that ended up as karaoke on my terrace, which I’m sure my neighbors loved, as we belted out everything from Bonnie Raitt to Moana.
Life is okay here, mostly normal except it feels like a 6pm curfew, as that’s when bars and restos close. We’re back in school, mostly online. For reasons that (don’t) make sense, starting this week, we’re allowed to have the kids in for one half-day a week. I can’t wait to see how tall my kids have grown over the five weeks since I’ve seen them. Can’t wait to confront a few of them about how little they do in online class.
I am itching to hug so many of them, like the one who, every time he joins the online Zoom class, says “FBI OPEN UP” and always shouts “We miss you already, Miss Weight!” every time we sign off for lunch. “I will see you in an hour! Please turn in your spelling some time todaaaaay!” I say back. But laughing. Or the one who makes me little powerpoint certificates for being “the world’s best teacher!” if she had more fun than usual that day. I love my chicken nuggets so much.
I read a post the other day that was written by someone who had grown up as a child refugee during the wars in Bosnia in the 90s. They had lived in refugee camps, missed five years of school, but went on to earn a PhD and is now a college professor. The post said “your child is not falling behind – they are surviving a pandemic.”
Our highest calling in all of this is to make it through alive, still loving each other as best we can and not go bananas.
Social status and economic success and material possessions and all that nonsense has to be left so far behind that they are actually thrown out of the equation we are creating to navigate this. Just completely out of the equation that says we’ve had a good life.
It’s going to be a new world on the other side of this. We’re going to make it.
I’m glad you’re with me.