My poem, On Watching Him Work From Home, is now part of Lydia Horne‘s ongoing archive of micro-reflections on the pandemic, Pandemic Prose. Like a living anthology, this project allows people to share, in 100 words or less, the everyday oddness of right now.
by H. E. Casson
(CW: Pandemic, anxiety, mental illness, homelessness)
“I’ve made a deal with my anxiety,” I say to my partner.
He’s working from home, surrounded by screens. They are a living museum to all of the people he helps.
He doesn’t look up.
“I’m not going to worry about anything but keeping you and me alive and together.”
I’m a worrier, both by nature and circumstance. Before I knew him, I’d already been undone, been left unloved and unhoused. We met as teenagers and I brought him into the chaos with me. We lived nowhere, with fingers tangled together. We had no bed, but cushioned each other, blanketed each other, whispered good dreams in each others’ ears.
We sat on a balcony in a snow storm and we knew.
“This is good, isn’t it?” I asked.
“We’re going to get married, aren’t we?”
That was our proposal.
Still, I do not live with a sense of security. This house we’ve since bought belongs mostly to a bank. They might remember its more theirs than ours. Everything is temporary. Clothes wear out. Food goes bad. Cupboards can go from full to bare to someone else’s in no time flat. We could have nothing, again. We could be nowhere, again. I get that. I have to get that. I can’t count on anything.
Except him. Our balcony-promise has lasted more than twenty years. I build fences around him. Make him wear a mask. Clean everything. Put my hand on his neck and search for any trace of fever. I can prepare for losing anything — but not him.
I know that modern people aren’t supposed to love like this. It says something about my autonomy, my self-worth. But I do. I love like hunger. I love like I’m incomplete without him.
I know something else, too. All this insecurity, this planning for the worst, this anxiety, it won’t keep back a virus. The numbers say we’ll make it, but the numbers have never been friends of mine.
So this is my new proposal: if I keep my word, and keep him and me alive, I will learn to revel in good. (Yes, I know that bargaining is a stage of grief, but what’s to be lost by pointing toward what fills me up?)
If we see the end of this together, I’ll believe that we’ll always have a roof. I’ll believe that we’ll always be fed. I’ll believe that only good days are coming. I’ll stand up to my knees in Lake Ontario and shout out my happy to the clouds. I’ll overspend on birdseed and tomato plants and comfortable shoes. I’ll drink hot cocoa in the afternoon and toboggan down high hills.
If we see the end of this, I’ll have faith in our joy.
Or at least, I’ll try.
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