Finding hope during COVID.
Frustrated from watching the news and the constant daggers tossed between political parties, those who want the country opened and those who fear opening would cause more deaths. I had no plan, only depression as the front door slammed. I walked for a dozen blocks or more until I found a degree of comfort sitting on the bench overlooking a baseball field.
I see a woman with two large dogs tossing balls using a stick. The dogs run and return the balls. She ignored the signs posted, No Pets on the Playing Field. The larger of the two dogs squats and starts to leave a biological sample near second base. I cringe thinking of the player who steps into that land mine - but say nothing.
After all, she practices social distancing and has a mask hanging ineffectively below her chin. Her mask reminds me of the current situation and why dozens of little leaguers are not on the field, flanked by parents and grandparents behind each dugout. I can't help feeling the January snow is less depressing. I knew the snow would melt in January, and games would be played. Today I don't know when the games will start.
A blond girl, a teen, takes a seat on the bench a few feet to my right. I recognize her. I saw her at the bowling alley with her father and younger sister. I can't recall her name. I smile and give a small wave of the hand. She moves closer but keeps the six-foot distance mandated by social distancing.
She rubs her eyes and asks, "Are you okay?"
If I were honest, I would tell her how frustrated and depressed I am related to the current pandemic and my strong desire to return to the way things were a couple of months ago before we were asked - (told?) to remain at home. But she is too young to be burdened with the emotional deficit of a 65-year-old. "Yeah, I am doing as well as can be expected." A canned response that does not answer her question.
"Okay, you just looked so sad. I remember you from the bowling alley, and you seemed more, errr happier or, as my mom would say, more pleasant."
Youth! She is sharp and observant. I doubt that I would not have noticed or cared about some older guy sitting on a bench at her age. I also would not mention it if I had. "Well, I do miss bowling. Do you miss bowling, and how are you doing?" I didn't say I saw her rubbing her eyes earlier.
"Like you, I am doing as well as expected under the circumstances." Does she respond as she twirls the end of the chain that hangs just below the neckline of her blue tee shirt - perhaps a cross? She reminds me of my daughter, who would chew the ends of her blonde hair when she was sad. I wonder if I also somehow gave her a sign of my depression.
"What circumstances are those?" as the words float in the air, I want to pull them back before she absorbs them. Sometimes we all say things we wish we could delete; the only real advantage of text messages or emails.
I can't see her eyes as she slumped forward, but I can see her chin trembling. She turns toward me. A single tear on her cheek as she mumbles, "Oh, you don't know. My father, well...."
Somehow, I knew what she was about to say by the slight breeze that had been blowing stopped, and a small cloud passed temporally dimming the sun. For a moment, her faint low voice was the only sound.
"...well he passed away last week." She tries to lessen the intensity by adding, "So I guess I won't be bowling for a while, huh."
I want to tell her everything will be all right, but would I be lying? How can things ever be all right when a parent ssss? I want to hug her, but social distancing and our age differences prevent me from this form of comfort.
I feel guilty for my depression about the virus. Had I not ventured out here today with an overburden of negative feelings only to find someone more justified to feel depressed? "I'm sorry to hear that." Sensing she may want to talk, I try to get her started. "Tell me about him; how old was he? What do you like the most about him?"
She looks at me, perhaps taking the time to think of what she wants to reveal or wondering if I want to know about him. "He was 43. I think I loved the way I used to jump into his arms when he picked me up from daycare when I was little. I used to feel so safe and protected in his arms as he carried me to the car. He was always there for my sister and me when...." Another pause. "... we were younger before...."
She stops speaking, and I sense there is more. I feel a blend of guilt and anger. Anger at whatever God there is that would take this girl's father. Shame that I survived at a point in time when my kids were on their own, and I am no longer needed. Why not save him and take me? No one depends on me now. Had I not been feeling that I no longer have a purpose anyway? I swallow my feelings despite the thickness of my throat. What can I say to help her?
I start saying things that I don't believe that comfort her. Noticing it is a cross that she twirls on the chain around her neck. "I think he is still trying to protect and keep you safe. He is looking down from heaven, perhaps making sure you don't catch this virus?"
She slaps her leg hard enough to leave a red mark on the leg just above her knee. "No, he is not thinking about me or anyone else but himself. If he thought about us, his family, he would have never done what he did." She slaps again a bit harder.
"It's not his fault he got the virus." I try to defend him, but it only makes her pound her leg harder as the physical pain is preferred to her emotional distress.
"He did not catch the virus, although maybe it's the virus's fault. He lost his job three weeks ago and started to drink more. Last week he... well, he drove my mother's car into a wall."
"So, it was an accident? "
"No!" She starts to punch her leg hard, causing a bruise. I fear she will soon be hurting herself, and social distancing is dammed; I reach out to her and hold each of her hands in my own as softly as I can. I expect her to recoil and take her hands from mine, but instead, she squeezes my hands so tightly I can see my fingertips turn pale as circulation stops. She continues, "No, it was not an accident. First, he took Mom's car, which was very old, and left his keys to the new car on the kitchen table on top of two life insurance policies and a handwritten note saying take care of the girls."
Could this get any worse? She thinks he committed suicide. What do I tell her now? I feel even more guilt as I have been having similar thoughts that her father may have had. I wish I knew what to tell her. I feel a need to say something. "Do you think he was just trying to ensure that your mom, sister, and you were taken care of?"
"No... he was a fuckin coward, that's all." One hand escapes mine and very quickly punches her leg harder than before. "Why did he do that? We would be better with him around to help. He was not protecting us; he was escaping and leaving us to clean up his mess. A coward!" Her arm becomes a blur. "And it's my fault!"
I do not know what to say or what to do. I wish I had stayed home and realized I was free to leave, but I could not move. I fear she may hurt herself if she hasn't already. Is it better to let her tire out and settle down, or should I find a way to at least stop the self-inflicted pain? The bruise on her leg will heal long before she heals from the loss of her father. I decide to let her punch it out - hopefully, soon, she will stop.
Plans of mice and men? She seems to be slowing down, and I think she may stop when she reaches below the bench and pulls up the remains of a broken bottle. She slashes a cut on her thigh. Instinctively, I wrap my arms around her, pinning her arms to her side. I hear the glass fall after bouncing off the bench. She leans in and places her head against the shoulder. She cries and mumbles ever so softly, "Why.... Why?"
I don't pretend to know as I gently rock her slightly back and forth. Looking over her, I see the woman on the ballfield start to place each of her dogs on a leash. She stops and watches us, the gray-haired man and the teen locked in an embrace, not observing the rules of social distancing.
I loosen my bear-hug, and she reaches around me and pulls closer. A drop of water falls on my exposed arm, thinking it is just one of her tears. Then a drop falls on my face that could not be a tear; it has started to drizzle. "Honey..." I address her as I used to manage my daughter. "Does your mother know where you are?"
"I don't think so."
"It's starting to rain; can I walk you home? Your mother must be worried?"
In words, I heard from each of my kids many times that she pleads, "Five more minutes, Dad." My heart breaks even more as I wonder if she is confused and thinks I am her father or is begging for just a few more minutes with him.
Five minutes become ten, ten becomes twenty, and twenty becomes an hour or two. The dog walker and the sun are long gone, replaced by more rain, darkness, and a heavier breeze. She seems to shiver. I unzip my sweatshirt and wrap it around her. "Honey, where do you live?"
Without looking up, she mumbles, "On Pasadena Ave." We both rise and start the walk without another word. She shuffles her feet on the cement sidewalk as we turn the corner. I realize that maybe there is a higher power that has brought us together. I felt I was no longer needed as my family had moved on, just when she may have been grieving her loss. Did we both find something we needed?
As we reached her driveway, a woman with puffy eyes and makeup cascading down each cheek ran and embraced her daughter tightly. I backed away but saw her mother silently lip sync, "Thank You."
After turning and heading away, I smile slightly as she still has my sweatshirt, and that will give me a reason to check on her and maybe invite her to bowl once things open back up.
As mother and daughter escape the rain into their house, I turn to walk away and hear the mother, "Hope, I am so glad you're home; let's have a hot chocolate?"
Despite the darkness, the chill in the air, the rain, and the pandemic, I am lifted. I have found Hope!