“Now, what do you even have to be upset about?” I leaned over the tank, considering El Profesor. He stuck his head out from his Fish School, brooding, as much as a beta fish with zero expression can mood, eschewing my offering of high-quality food pellets as if he paid rent and cleaned up after himself and deserved an opinion. He did not answer me. He never does.
We’ve been working from home, again, since January, so I spend a lot of my day looking at my fish and contemplating his two attitudes – grumpy and indifferent. I ask him “What do you want? What would make you happy?” I watch him, perched on top of his school house, or tucked into the doorway, or making bubbles up by the plants. He’s the umpteenth fish I’ve had, and the most complicated, challenging me and making me care more, because I always think he’ll be dead in the morning. I get preemptively upset about his death, but he’s always there, of course, pretending to be dead, to add some drama, but there.
Tonight I cleaned his tank, lovingly wiping away algae, scooping out poop. The new water has to sit for 24 hours to acclimate the pH or some science, so he was supposed to chill in his tinier tank, with his plant, so he could have a friend. Betas are known to be anxious.
I set all this up and then I made my dinner, turned back to look at my darling after ten minutes, and saw an empty tank, because the manipulative monster had decided to jump out and flop around on the counter and try to die.
“ARE YOU KIDDING?!” I said (choose an expletive to add). I did that hoppy-dance you do when you’re freaking out, looking around for the adult before you remember that you are in fact the adult. It took a few minutes to scoop him back unceremoniously into his not-yet-ph-balanced tank, and then I gave him a huge lecture through a surprising (and yet not surprising) amount of tears.
I’ve wondered what God’s trying to teach me with Professor. After much deliberation, I think the lesson is that the human heart is capable of so much inexplicable love. We have a deep, deep desire to be loved and also to love, to care for others. And we will pour it into whatever is available. My ability to love is dialed UP. And right now, El Profesor is the unwitting target of my focused, limitless love. So, too bad for you, my fishy dude. I’m invested. I care. Too much. Lean into it.
Similar to getting a fish to lower my anxiety, I took up running about two years ago. I finished a 10k for my birthday last year. This year I decided to try a half-marathon. Things were going well, but then a few weeks ago, during a five-mile run, I tripped over NOTHING AT ALL trying to pass someone. I probably would have broken my wrist had I not decided to stop my fall with my knee and brand-new iPhone 13 pro. It shattered completely.
Elbows, palms, knees (pride) were pretty scraped up, I had no cash and couldn’t use my phone for payment or calling, so I had to limp a dramatic hour back to my house, sobbing and snotting into my mask. I kept listening to my podcast about cults in my earbuds, as that was somehow still playing.
I sustained a huge infected scab on my knee that took weeks to heal, so I didn’t notice for a long time just how badly that knee was injured. A month later, still unable to bend or place weight on my knee, I saw a doctor, who recommended a specialist, then an MRI. In true HK fashion, I was told I would most likely need surgery (I find doctors here very “worst case scenario”) so I very calmly figured out I was going to die on the operating table.
Turns out that I have a decent-sized cyst and smashed knee cartilage, and can expect physio and 3-6 months healing before walking comfortably, throwing 2.5 years of running training out the window. Please send snacks and wine and Netflix recommendations for me to pirate.
There’s a song I’ve heard, which if we were still living in the glorious days of AOL instant messenger, would have been my away message. The lyrics go like this:
“This city’s gonna break my heart, This city’s gonna love me then leave me alone
This city’s got me chasing stars, It’s been a couple months since I felt like I’m home. . . “
I always start singing along, and then I get angry, wondering why the songwriter read my diary and then made money off this single and offered me NOTHING in exchange for the very real pain of living in a city that is breaking hearts. Not just mine, but so many, so many.
Because after two-plus years of restrictions and chasing the always impossible goal of zero Covid, Omicron has sneaked through whatever thin veneer of the “Together We Fight the Virus”-shield our government thought it was holding up. Covid’s ripping through Hong Kong. Because of fear and misinformation, our vaccination rate was very low and Covid is spreading through the elderly and disabled and chronically ill population to the point where (adjusted for population) our positive case rate and death rate is higher than the USA ever was on its worst day. This is even with Asia as a mask-positive place.
Police, doctors, workers from Mainland China have come in to ‘help’ by creating ‘quarantine facilities’ more like prison camps; people have been attempting suicide, stuck without medication for their chronic illnesses, left without adequate food or communication with their families.
There are daily press conferences to keep us all living in fear of our lives changing overnight. Schools have had to change their yearly calendars because the entire population of Hong Kong will undergo daily community testing (at some point, somehow, with some unknown plan). You get fined if you meet in public in a group of more than two ($25k). Beauty, hair, nail, massage salons, cinema, public spaces (parks, pools, gyms, etc), are all closed. Children who test positive when they go to the hospital for anything at all are separated from their parents and can only communicate via Facetime three times a day (if you’re lucky). People panic buy as we hunker down amidst the threats of a full lock down.
It’s illegal to be next to more than one person at a time, but we’re also being told to wait in line for hours for a Covid test because we are close contacts. Then there is a backlog of tests so you don’t get your results for days, meanwhile you’ve been exposed again and exposed everyone else around you, so they now need to go get tested. It just makes a LOT a LOT of sense.
So I’m just at home and alone a lot. Which is fine. Everything’s fine. My mental game is super great fine.
Okay maybe not. When you spend a lot of time alone, you have all kinds of thoughts about your meaning and purpose, if you’re fulfilling it or not. I’ve always thought I wanted to be married and be a mom. A lot of my friends are. Most in Hong Kong are not, which is a huge reason why I stay, because it’d be hard to find bottomless wings and beers mates back in Pleasant Hill when everyone is carting their kids off to a sports practice.
Even though I know it’s a reasonable and thoughtful option, I’m really just starting to dip my toe into the idea-pool of “hey, Rachel, you might just be one of those women who doesn’t get married, doesn’t have kids, and isn’t necessarily a witch in a cottage.” (Yet I love a good cottage, so . . . ?)
I know I’m not alone.
Go to any large gathering (specifically, a pub quiz) and you will find – late 30s, single, no children, probably with a pet or two, several social justice or environmental issues to care about, far from any and all of the maddening crowds of couples reminding the designated driver to stay sober, asking where child A is, asking where the toilet is for child B, asking where the bag is, wanting to go home. The Me’s are in the corner, trying to remember how to make friends now that we’re out of school, watching our parenting friends struggle and wanting to help but also knowing we never go out so must take advantage of this opportunity. We must meet people.
But I think about this position and I wonder – what if there are meant to be more than nuclear families – imagine plenty of adults around to help you raise your kids? Auntie Rachie and whatever my uncle and my gender-neutral equivalents are, to be the third wheel on your rare parents nights out, the fifth wheel on your family vacations that will be awake about 10am to responsibly care for the children for an hour or two, only coming back towards your lounge chair when your toddler needs a diaper change? Imagine adults with all the love to give and emotional and financial security to be a part of your family? Coach and tutor your kids, be at the barbecue and sports games and birthdays, energy to support not only your kids, but you as parents, because you’re our friends and we love you?
Maybe I host brunches and buy plants and talk to my fish and tell this to myself to feel better for not yet being deemed suitable for marriage; watching my child-bearing hips go to waste, standing years behind in society’s constructed milestones – a cursed spinster. Not even a global pandemic wants to touch me.
But with a bad attitude, do we win, do any of us win?
No, no; because it was never a competition – but we have certainly been made to feel like it was.
In light/in heavy of all that’s happening lately, and lately has been years long now, it might be better if we decided we each and every one of us could be angels to lots of people, granters of gifts and encouragers of ideas and healthy choices. Maybe start a movement to bless the broken-hearted and leave flowers and hugs and coffee shop gift cards along our way.
I don’t know what else to do in the face of all this. So Imma go for it. Just be an Auntie Awesome. It’s the best I can think of. So if you will, with me.
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