The light woke me, because snow was amplifying it. I pulled my head under my covers. I achieved a pretzel shape that felt perfect, fetal.
The really-you-must-get-up alarm chimed, one of many Apple noises that all sound like noooooo to me.
I pulled myself out of bed, loaded the coffee maker, opened and dumped cat food onto their blue plates, stepped into the bathroom for contacts and combing my hair. Added layers, sweaters– it was snowing!– and then clicked and clicked to start my class online. “Good morning,” I said. “I’m sorry it’s snowing.”
Most of them leave their cameras off most of the time, but by this point in the semester they know that I have called on everyone at least once, every class, so it’s rare that someone falters when I ask.
It snows and snows, and it’s a horror, as snow feels like trapped, like the end of the porch sitting that bloomed moments of peace in our year of fear. It’s going to be quick, though, it’s going to be quick.
Out the window, the trees wear more snow than usual, snow held on their leaves, their new leaves. It will melt. It will be gone.
I explain, my students write, I explain, they ask questions, I show them, there are no questions.
The cycle goes again. I have, as they say, two “sections.”
They write. I watch their phantom typing on a shared “space,” a visual we all can see and using the language we all use, and the characters. They write things like, “What do you know about how aerospace engineers design weapons for space?”
They write, “How do advertisements try to manipulate consumers?”
When I can stand because the boxes with their names have all disappeared, leaving me the solo zoom space that is basically a mirror… the snow sits.
The verdict in the trial of George Floyd’s murderer will happen soon. The jury is out. “Out,” I think, a funny description for people cloistered in a conference room talking through one of the most contentious and painful public issues of the recent past. There is a great deal of competition for that title.
I snuggle up on the couch under my warmest softest biggest blanket.
When I look outside again, the trees, grass, 11th Street, all is in color again, as if I moved from my the black and white set on my mother’s rattan dresser to the family room furniture-sized set and the brown braided rug where we sat for Saturday morning cartoons. Color. Who would know there had been winter, briefly?
My mother’s cat is missing. The jury may render a verdict. I drive to pick up my niece.
The radio announces the verdict is in. The jury had been out, now the verdict is in. We will hear in the next half hour, the radio says. Another moment I know what faraway and famous people are doing. I know Barack Obama and Vice President Harris and Jesse Jackson and President Biden and all the great leaders of the Black community are waiting, holding their anxiety in their chests.
I ask my niece if she will help me look for my mother’s cat. She says yes.
I go pick up her sister. I remember being in this elementary school pick up line the day of the election, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, bleary with fear, with cars ahead of me and behind me, the brick school next to me, the playground ahead of me, before I turn around the corner, to the back of the school, where the kids wait in neat lines.
I remember thinking, what can the future be? How can it exist? Will there be battles, or war?
In the same spot, in the same car, sitting on the same ripped up old upholstery that I’m fond of, old, sturdy car with a back hatch ready to haul.
We tortoise along as kids are retrieved.
Would you help me look for the cat, I ask my other niece. Yes, she says.
I ask my usual questions: what happened at recess, what are you doing in music class, but also I leave the radio up, so I can barely hear it over our conversation. It is of paramount importance to me that I give the kids my attention. This is a special circumstance, I tell myself.
We hit the highway on our cat-finding mission.
Still no verdict.
It’s almost four. We were supposed to hear by four.
I find myself pointing out dumb things: look at that redbud! So much purple! There’s the Tesla dealership!
I don’t have the credit card that would enable us to test drive one, I tell them. But if we could, of course we would drive straight to Mexico. That’s my joke. Straight to Mexico!
Getting off the highway, they see a couple of guys with signs, asking for help.
“Let’s give them the socks!” they say. We have taken some care packages for people who are homeless, and I have two in my car. They are socks with water bottles, hand sanitizer, a granola bar, and a note from the child who put the thing together.
“On the way back,” I promise them, though I am slightly concerned about how we can safely deliver the sock packages at the interstate entrance and exit ramps.
We are approaching 103rd Street and State Line when the judge begins speaking on the radio. Guilty.
What everyone said was true: we all exhaled, and if we could have all exhaled in the same direction, we could have blown a sailboat across the Atlantic, one puff.
Then guilty, guilty.
Stopped at 103rd and State Line. We are in Missouri, since we are northbound. Kansas is southbound. I pick up my phone to see my text strand with friends.
“He’s been found!” is another message. My mom’s cat is home. He was in the neighbor’s bushes. Three cats have escaped her house. One we found in a garage, crying, one was hit by a car and killed, and this third one now, also safe and sound. Safe and “sound,” meaning in a place we can trust its integrity.
I turn left and into a driveway. Return a couple of texts. Turn the car around. “Okay, I guess we’ll give those guys the packages.”
The first one is easy because the road has a shoulder. I pull over on the shoulder, and one kid jumps out and runs up to the man asking for help. She runs back.
I turn around again to approach the opposite corner, another intersection of the street and an exit ramp. There isn’t a shoulder here, but I’m watching the light and figuring with a few seconds of hazard lights, and then the length of a red light, this is a pretty safe plan.
The other kid (“We’ll take turns!”) climbs over, hops out, runs up and hands off the sock package. She’s back in; we zoom away with the green light.
There’s one more time we have to turn around, and then we’re on our way home.
Note: the sock packages are gathered and offered at Scraps KC, and here’s a link to that project.
Image: detail of “Moses striking the rock with a stick to bring forth water, while the Israelites look on in amazement” by Jean-Baptiste Haussard, ca. 1729, Metropolitan Museum of Art.