This what

I say, Let’s reconnect on the other side of this, knowing too well there is no other side—there is only this.

This what, my favorite teacher would scrawl in the margins whenever I merely implied a noun. That, of course, was before, from which this has been untethered.

In this, there is no oxygen for someone who could gaze upon a mess they created, unaware, who was cavalier with a heart they didn’t own. Excusing myself from where I sat for years in that dark auditorium, captive, I brush shoulders with shadows, their presence never confirmed, other women available to listen to songs shared and often re-shared—hard to keep track of who’s heard what, across so many private audiences. Our passive participation offered a reprieve from the 9-to-5 drag, a single earbud tucked behind a lock of hair, secrets kept in an open office, paused nightly as a train docked safely home. Doors closing.

I make my bed every morning now, a habit acquired in this isolation. Crashing onto pillows lined up like teeth with perfect orthodontia, my son says, Keeping my distance is awful, Mom. I don’t want to do it today. I don’t know how.

This is cruel enough without inflicting anything additional.

I empty the crisper of panic-bought vegetables for this recipe my sister sent, a roasted carrot tart. I’ve never had luck with pie crust, but today will be different. Alas, the dry shitshow of crumbles fashioned into a stiff ball dents my rolling pin. A disappointment even after baking for an hour, still raw in its heart, a waste of a stick of butter during this Limit Two Per Customer.

Someone updated the overpass graffiti: PLeASe Be BRAVe. I wonder about those e’s, whether they couldn’t muster the courage to stand tall.

This unfolds in slow motion, affording ample time to dwell—and yet, no more to listen to lyrics that hopscotch the truth, nor to bear witness to a performance that kept inventing new ways to hurt. I surround myself with those I can love abundantly, who’d long hesitated to pick up an instrument, who now join me onstage as we sing for ourselves in the concert hall of my porch, where our voices echo like mourning doves off the haint blue ceiling above our pixelated faces, who can see the chicken wire on my clapboard fence but are not afraid, because they are safe and warm inside, where there is plenty of room to breathe our way through this.