I spoke with my 95-year-old aunt yesterday. Her mind is on her parents, Americans who met in Paris after losing their spouses to the 1918 flu epidemic. They had their first baby out of wedlock, more common than scandalous in a time when a quarter of the world’s population was infected by the flu. That baby was my mother. As a widow in her eighties, my grandmother penned poems of longing about her true love, whom she hospiced in a deserted hotel in Kissimmee, Florida: the young husband who died in her arms.
— Bethia Sheean-Wallace (Fullerton, California)
* * *
I held her
The morning they announced the pandemic, my grandmother died. She died in one day.
My grandmother’s body shook on that afternoon. I held her. It would be the last time I would hold her. In the afternoon, I was visiting her and doing my homework and there was no quarantine. Eight hours later I was sitting inside the car and my mom sent me a text. She couldn’t make the phone call.
All of that seems far away because my dad bought twenty rolls of toilet paper and now I’m making my way through twenty bottles of beer.
— Cameron Diiorio (Costa Mesa, California)
* * *
The Offline Professor
I wake at 3 AM, as if prompted by an alarm, but I have nowhere to go. My school is closed; I am suddenly supposed to teach online. Fuck online. I miss my students, my colleagues, work. Do the students have reliable wifi? Do they even have computers at home? Are they working because they need to pay rent? So many of them work in food service. What is this tickle in my throat? Was that a dry cough? I get up and find the thermometer. No fever. No fever, but no more sleep tonight either.
— Melissa Knoll (Corona, California)
* * *
Searching for courage
I’m thankful my mother isn’t dealing with all this. I’m thankful she doesn’t have to live in fear of another disease infecting her compromised body, though I do wish I could hear her voice.
She would respond to the current state of the world with words of courage and comfort. Neither dismissing my fears nor playing into them. She would repeat the words she always spoke to her students:
“Face the future with warm courage and high hopes.”
My days at home begin by looking out the window and searching for her courage.
— Lisa Kitchens (Brooklyn, New York)
This series is edited by Thomas Peterson. One of the editors of Artists & Climate Change, he is also a theatre director and researcher whose work focuses on the climate crisis.