I seem to have discovered my shadow side – a wardrobe with mystery contents, blue and purple and full of leprous spots. Which isn’t to say I feel sad or lonely. Rather, I’m noticing different details. The world right now, mostly it’s news of the virus. We first heard the rumors from travelers. Men: quiet, faces drawn; women: often sobbing. We didn’t believe them. The weather was just too beautiful. We lazed around, eating cherries, one basket after another, and ignored the shrill, jangly bird cries and the elderly stumbling down the road from time to time, buckling under their loads.
I had never done drugs before. It’s many things. And it’s the sum of the many things, and it’s also not the many things combined. I tried telling my friend, but she ignored me. I was shocked at her rudeness and stepped outside. The street was covered with those old plague masks that look like bird beaks. I kept repeating to myself, “Why didn’t I go home early?” When I came back in, my friend had moved the body somewhere. She berated me for being a coward. There was no point in my replying ironically to a person who doesn’t understand irony.
A usually bustling city is eerily vacant. Essential supplies now include liquor, guns, and toilet paper. Who isn’t secretly embarrassed? Around midnight I take a puzzle apart just for the hell of it. The next morning my department holds a Zoom session on how to prevent cheating in online classes. Other professors mention they also have been having strange dreams. In mine, I’m eating Crown Fried Chicken on a bench while eyeballs the size of boulders roll across the grass and dirt and a woman I recognize from TV weeps into her hands.
If it wasn’t for lack of encouragement growing up, I might have become an avant-garde artist, someone famous for his stick figures drawn on toilet paper. Instead, I’m an empty egg. I keep my face blank, even when a self-driving Mercedes sacrifices pedestrians to save the driver. In quite a few of these stories I’m telling you, I didn’t get their point until years later. The passage of time has normalized unnatural acts, unspeakable practices. A bug-eyed gas mask hangs on a hook on the back of the door. Sometimes I actually forget it’s there.