It’s COVID-19 in Peru Day 18.
At the end of Day 17, I get an email from the X, my son’s father.
We don’t, typically, talk. In fact, I think it’s been more than a year, maybe 2. We were together for 16 very intense years. We are a good argument for people who are good at the same artistic discipline to never, ever get married. (Our son, on the other hand, is an excellent argument that they should have sex.)
We had amazing times, amazingly good, amazingly bad. We loved and hated each other. I won’t say in equal measures, because, well, I wasn’t measuring.
It took me 15 years to get to a point where I could be friends with my daughter’s dad. I hoped eventually enough time would pass that I could be friends with my son’s. But so far, no dice. But it’s also only been 10 years.
In The Lost Art of Compassion, a book by Lorne Ladner that’s helped me a lot, there is an exercise to help you feel compassion and empathy toward people in your life who, for whatever reasons, you struggle with. It’s simple: Imagine you knew that the person would die that day. What would you say to them?
I really only have a few of those. One, at the time I did the exercise several months ago, was X. And I realized that, if that happened, if we were going to communicate one last time, I would just want to say, “Thank you.” I mean, that’s really all that’s important. At the end of the day, all the other stuff that isn’t thank you is kinda bullshit.
As X and I have a completely—to me anyway—out of the blue talk in regard to our son not feeling too sparky the last week, there is only goodwill between us. We laugh, we’re honest. I fully admit to jumping to the possibility that something could happen to one of my kids, or that I could get sick myself while I am here and have, for the moment, literally no way to get to them unless the governments of two countries can agree on another plane. X points out that the kid’s got a hypochondriac streak, which I needed to hear.
I let my guard down, not an easy thing for me. I decide to trust more than I mistrust. Suddenly, we’re a family, a better one than we have been in a really long time. Over the course of 20 minutes or so, I feel as if I’m watching scar tissue fade into stronger, more interesting skin, right before my eyes.
I read that Ellis Marsalis died of COVID. I never saw the patriarch of the extraordinary musical family perform, though his Christmas album is one of my favorites.
When I turned 50, my first birthday after my marriage to X ended, I headed to New Orleans with our son to celebrate. We stopped at a club in the Marigny, The Spotted Cat. Though I hadn’t really planned on it, it turned out that the youngest Marsalis, Jason, was on the bill (in the video below, in the scene with Fred Rogers, he’s the one on the drums, while Branford talks).
Jason played a joyful, loose set on vibes and marimba. I remember his easy smile, his joy; he has a youngest sibling vibe that any sibling with a big family—his has 6 kids, mine 5—can recognize. His body moved so lithely over his instruments, like a big cat that can be goofy one second then stunning and graceful the next. I looked at my son, in his first year in high school at the time. He was mesmerized by what he saw on that tiny stage from our cramped balcony seat.
When I heard Ellis play for the first time—in a recording, not live, and after I’d seen and heard 3 of his sons—I was struck by that same open-ended approach to music that Jason had. He was a poet with his own punctuation system. I’d swear I heard an opening parentheses, but no closing one on the other side.
Ellis Marsalis was 85. It’s a good run. But again and again, the point is made that COVID forces you to die alone. I hate that. For him, with that huge, gorgeous talented family. For anyone.
Don’t Panic. But.
I get this from the Embassy:
Event: IMPORTANT: The last repatriation flight from Cusco is tomorrow, April 3. We expect the last regularly scheduled charter flight to depart Peru on April 5. We will continue to facilitate daily travel and coordinate flights to repatriate Americans from all corners of Peru through April 5. U.S. Citizens who remain in Peru beyond that date should continue to shelter in place.
Steve emphasizes “regularly scheduled.”
I emphasize “last.”
And there is simply not an option to book our own flight. When I go on Travelocity, trying to book anything from Lima through the end of April after the quarantine ends on the 12th (so far, but who knows?), I get a little window that says, “We have searched through over 400 airlines”—airlines! not flights, airlines—”and not found a damn thing.”
Fortunately, we now have two reps of reps—one from our district Rep Tim Walberg and the other from Senator Debbie Stabenow—directly in touch. I send the email to them and add “Please help.” I quickly hear back that the Embassy is still committed to getting people out of Peru, but they do hear me that April 5 is nearly here.
Then we get an email from a friend: 130 people in a Cusco youth hostel are being quarantined for 3 months. There’s no link. I couldn’t bear to read it if there were. Even stuck here, and for however long, I feel insanely lucky.
Steve has his walking clothes on. “Come out,” he says.
“Nah,” I say. I have already taken a nap, and feel like I’m going to fall asleep, but figure I’ll use the time he’s gone to do a workout. Then I say, “Sure, I’ll come.”
The first 10 minutes outside, I fight back an urge to run out of this huge, nearly silent and vaguely threatening open space back to the safety of the apartment. Geez. This, I realize, is how agoraphoria begins. I walk on, and soon we’re at a park. A sign, obviously put up long before things got the way they are, says, Let’s take care of this place together. My heart softens a teeny bit.
We head to the Malecon, the long promenade along the sea. We have been to the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, where the waves crash into its crumbling walls and splash you, where people fish over the edge, dropping silver fish into old buckets, and where teenagers melt their bodies together, oblivious to heat, humidity, onlookers.
But the Malecon in Lima is high, high up. And the road below is nearly empty. It’s bizarre, apocalyptic, beautiful.
I grew up near the Pacific, in between Santa Cruz and San Jose, back when San Jose was only known because of that song where Dionne Warwick really wants to escape the horrors of Los Angeles and return to her safe little cow town in northern California. In Radio Days, when the main character’s parents argue about whether the Atlantic or Pacific is a better ocean, I always know hands down the winner. I love the Pacific coast. Lima’s the only national capital on the Pacific coast, something Limeños proudly tell you. Its Malecon is beautiful, kissed by sea breezes. And now, with almost no cars, the air is clean, salty, and wafting the odd scent of late summer flowers.
Those flowers are spectacular. As is botanical life in general.
Occasionally, we see a lonely masked policia, male or female in equal numbers. Always, their eyes smile at us over their masks as we wave and bid each other mutual, muffled buenos tardes.
Since my mom died, when I’ve been having particularly rough times, I’ve gotten some sign from nature that makes me feel she’s near. Once, I happened to look up from a bleak depression just as a perfect rainbow arced across the sky. Another day, out walking, I walked into a deer. Meditating on our small dock last summer, a turtle swam by right in my eye line, reminding that grieving and healing are a long slow process, but one that can be quite beautiful.
Most often, though, I’ll see a butterfly. She loved them, in particular. One will fly near to me, sometimes as if it’s following me or leading me as I walk. Sometimes, like today, it takes a rest. The breeze from the ocean makes the dusty leaves move, as if the butterfly is breathing deeply.
Everything will be all right.
We are down in our former neighborhood from that long-ago first week in Peru. Steve tells me that, just around the bend is a funny house straight out of the Black Forest. Sure enough, there it is. Some homesick German, in view of the Pacific and in a city that could not be less like anything in the Fatherland, decided hell with it. Das ist gut.
We’re walking at a leisurely pace, and I’m feeling a little drunk from all the color. I decide to check my email just for “fun.”
The reps have gotten back, asking us for a signed letter that they will get to the Embassy, releasing our information to them and acknowledging, under the 1974 Privacy Act, that we are ok with said release. I quickly write back that we’ll get them what we need within the hour. Steve and I turn around and head home, getting there in about half the time we took for the initial leg of the journey.
It’s a relief to have support beyond thoughts and prayers, y’all; remember that, the next time there’s some disaster where the government can actually step in and do something other than tell you that yes, this is sad, isn’t it? Because often, government can do a lot more. I mean, that’s what it’s there for, right?
Men Are From M/W/F, Women Are….
I send in my signed letter. And then we get this notice:
Event: Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra announced additional quarantine measures, including a gender-based limitation on visits to grocery stores and banks, and other routine business. Men will be allowed to leave their homes only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Women will be allowed to leave their homes only on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. No one will be allowed to conduct routine business on Sundays. These measures will take effect on Friday, April 3.
I had heard that Panama was doing this. I don’t quite get it, but….whatever. It’ll definitely cut back on the number of people in stores. Good thing Steve and I got that walk in.
Tomorrow is Man Day. He says it will be weird to go to the grocery store with nothing but guys in it. Brave New World.
Whatever. Tomorrow is also Wine Day, meaning I don’t have to schlep it home.