A Journal of the Plague Week 13

Sunday, June 14th, 2020

I’ve spent the past week and a half with an intermittent stomach ache of indeterminate origin. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say it was some roiling combination of stress, anxiety, anger and fear that has caused the ailment. I had to abandon the comfort of bed and take to the couch late Sunday night, where I sat clutching a hot water bottle, sipping chamomile tea and scrolling aimlessly on my phone until the battery started to go and I realized it was only making me feel worse anyway. Since then, the ache has come and gone—mostly gone now, to be fair—but the underlying emotional factors and external stressors are still very much there.

I feel like the world is a cyclone raging around our flat, and we’re in the inert eye of the storm. Or sometimes it’s not a cyclone, it just like life has resumed outside and it’s passing us by. Shops are reopening, people are visiting one another, last night there was something that sounded like a party(!) taking place somewhere up the street. And I want life to be normal again, but NEWS FLASH: IT’S NOT, so I’m perplexed and dismayed by the excited re-opening announcements I keep seeing from retailers (here in the UK) and the stories I’m reading of people flocking to bars and restaurants (in the US), and the accounts I’ve seen from people who have to work in these places, where they face a steady stream of customers who aren’t wearing masks and aren’t keeping their distance and aren’t aware of or just aren’t concerned by impact of their choices…and I feel my stomach clenching just thinking about it, so no wonder I’ve felt sick for a week. And that’s without even fretting about every other damn thing going on, every other injustice large and small, every other miserable aspect of this wretched timeline.

So I gardened yesterday. It was sunny, and we have some salad and herb seedlings on the way, and our raised beds needed to be prepped for their arrival, so I donned my gloves and grabbed a few garden tools and went to work. I broke up the dry soil in the beds and sifted in rich, damp compost from our compost bin, a task that sounds fairly bucolic but was actually rather thigh-burning and back-breaking; I was hunched over and hacking away at dry dirt and heavy compost for ages. But it was also satisfying in a circle-of-life sort of way, using the product of years worth of vegetable scraps to grow new vegetables (I hope—if I can keep the snails away). I also swept our deck, which was a mess after our neighbor’s copper beech dropped a TON of seed pods on it last fall (a mast year, I think). I clipped some branches, pulled some weeds, cleaned up some cat poop, threw a big bag of old leaves and other debris into our garden waste bin, tidied away some other junk as best I could (we have a few broken deck chairs and other detritus that needs to be collected at some point), and generally straightened things up.

We ate lunch in the spruced-up garden, and we grilled lamb and zucchini for dinner out there as well. Clouds moved in later on and it drizzled a bit, and I was happy to think of the rain nourishing the plants: my precious coral bark maple, my rhododendron that was bursting with flamboyant hot red flowers until last week, the bushy bronze fennel that has grown taller than me, the rosemary that started out as a single sprig I randomly stuck in the ground and has now grown into a deeply-rooted miniature tree—when I caught sight of its beautiful twisted trunk as I was crouched down by the raised beds yesterday, I envisioned it growing on a cliff overlooking the blue Mediterranean, and I imagined that I was there, too.

Today my body aches from all the gardening. I can feel it in my back, my calves, my hands. But it’s the kind of good ache that reminds you you’ve done something physical, pushed yourself in ways you normally don’t. It reminds me that, for a few hours at least, I managed to really live in my body and not just in my head—so today the ache is in my body and not my stomach. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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