Sense of smell

A hint of roasting chicken leaked into my apartment this afternoon and my immediate thought was Oh good, I still have my sense of smell, I must not have the coronavirus, loss of taste and smell being an early sign of infection. I’ve left my apartment only once since last Saturday, mouth and nose covered, gloves on. The classes I teach are now via Zoom. I speak with my sons daily, friends often. Though alone, I don’t feel disconnected. It’s a comfort being on my own, doing what I want. A few days ago one daughter-in-law wrote to say I must feel relieved not to have to share self-isolation with my former (unnamed) wife. Indeed that would be alone within aloneness. One plus one only ever equaled one plus one. Never two.

My rhythm is day to day. Though I have classes scheduled for both the summer and fall terms—fall projected to be back in-person—these seem data points not life movements. I’m grateful for them, and enjoy my students and colleagues. Yet I have visions of great leaps forward, new awareness, new ventures, new possibilities that didn’t exist before. I need to move into these.

I want to paint again, give expression to this new life, dive deeply into who I am, free to be and act and reveal through images the dreaming of my thoughts. Pick up the brushes; start; anything; everything.

Arranging my new place has been delicious. Sam says it looks like every other place where I’ve lived on my own. Two ordinary rooms turned into a sanctuary. I’m pleased with the result. The caution is complacency, falling into what W.E. calls tranquilized obviousness. Too warm. Too comfortable.

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Though happily lacking any underlying conditions I’m in the danger age zone for dying from Covid-19. Is avoiding contagion, long term, even possible despite taking the ordinary precautions? Is every surface contaminated? Every package, every shelf in a store, every person on the street? I’m not obsessing over it, but the idea is there, every present—it’s become the always already there worry of our time.

Every morning, with a cup of freshly brewed coffee (preferring Six Depot’s Blue Velvet) I’ve been reading essays, W. G. Sebald, Guy Davenport, Bruce Chatwin…

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I never did this in the north-west corner of Central Richmond. No censure would have been forthcoming, other than the ever-present atmosphere of not-measuring-up. I realize now that what I felt was the way she wound up being, being herself, outside of herself, not overtly or purposely but innately, as much a part of her as her delicate skin and fine-boned body, the body she could not give, but felt invaded not shared.

Walking along Constitution Beach at 4:00pm, the sky filling with dark clouds, the air mildly chilly, the only other person I saw was a woman exercising her dog, a Vizsla I think. He bounded near the water line, and once ran up to me and I wondered whether to pat him on his eager head or was he a carrier, a carrier of sickness and possible death. Wearing gloves, I gave his head a tap.

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The early evening now is bright and Bennington Street is empty of cars and walkers. An empty Blue Line T train passes behind the opposite side of the street houses. I know no one in my neighborhood. Other than the upstairs neighbors she knows others on the street only as neighborhood acquaintances. She always said I too casually referred to people as friends.

Back then, in the days of that marriage (more than a year has passed since she told me she wanted to end it), I told myself that I was happy when happiness was fleeting—momentary times when the burden of being who she was fell away and the lovely person she could be was unfurled, slowly like the fronds of a fern opening in the morning dew. And like the morning dew, it was gone by midday.

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She says these are figments of my imagination. If others hadn’t experienced the same behavior, the repeated leavings, the repeated don’t-get-too-close-to me protective armor, if others hadn’t also observed the way she never said a kind word to me, held my hand, I might have wondered myself. Validation is cold comfort.

Night in Orient Heights, quieter than usual. Boston now has a 9:00pm curfew, although I don’t know how that’s enforced and have no intention to test it. No cars on Bennington Street, a few lights in the windows across the street. Even the street is mostly dark. Alone in my apartment I’m OK. I don’t miss her, though I miss the idea of her, the idea of easy companionship. What’s happening now is no longer part of the narrative. Chapter closed; the past in the past.

There are enough lies circulating in the world, this new world of untruth, that to live one is a crime of against humanity. One moral failure need not beget another. Let hers rest in eternity.

I hear another Blue Line T heading westward toward central Boston, likely empty, waiting for safer days. We are all waiting for safer days.

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