We are thrilled to share some hand-picked readers' notes featured in Issue 55: Under Pressure. Be sure to check out our Summer Issue which releases mid June.
From Michelle Stiffler, Mesa, AZ
The rain hangs thick but falls light as I usher little ones onto the school bus. Clenching my teeth against the wind, I hurdle puddles home, postpone my errands, and brew another pot of coffee.
My phone rings. “The birth mom has no one, and I’m wondering . . . can you drive her home?”
Raindrops smack the window sideways and trees bend in the backyard. “Absolutely,” I answer, grabbing my coat.
The elevator opens to the waiting room where a few nights prior my friend and I cooed at the baby she hadn’t expected. She’d become a mother within an afternoon. The papers said, “Closed. No contact.” No strings attached. We marveled at the life birthed and gifted, but didn’t speak of the stranger down the hall, the woman in the room without a bassinet.
I knock softly and she invites me in. She’s smaller than I imagined. Sweatpants swallow her lower half, a tank top hangs loosely from her bare arms. She has no bag, no coat. Discharge instructions in hand, she slides on flip- flops and says she’s ready. Rain pelts the hospital roof.
We make small talk in the elevator. She says she has a prescription to fill and I say no problem.
“How about lunch?” I ask. She says she isn’t hungry. The lobby windows are a panoramic of November in cascades. I pull off my coat, hold it open, and she doesn’t resist.
The car is warm and we talk easily about many things, except for the usual things women discuss postdelivery. The rain lets up somewhere between the hospital and her apartment, but the wind does not. I offer her my coat for keeps.
“I’ll be OK.” She smiles. She hands me my coat and closes the door.
From Mckenzie Zaopany, Seminole, FL
The bananas went bad in the closet. It felt like a death, one of only two remaining fresh fruits. It meant we’d have to wait another week before going to the store garbed in a hoodie, facemask, and rubber cleaning gloves—the unforgiving Florida heat cooking us ripe on the way.
The next time Tyler goes to the grocery store, instead of leaving the bag of nonperishables in the towel closet, we pick up each thing carefully, wiping down the sweeping body of bananas, the metallic edges of seltzer cans, the hard lines of grains in boxes. I’ve heard the virus lives on cardboard for twenty-four hours. Or was it seventy-two? We don’t want to wait.
My toddler emerges from his room, his very own quarantine, while we perform our task.
We keep my son away from the exposed, potentially infected bags of food. We hope we have done a good enough job.
Bananas! he exclaims but does not reach out. He stays feet away, does a little dance for the bananas that he, I’m sure, envisions on top of bread smeared with peanut butter for snack. He goes back to his room, already accustomed to the giving of space.
Kids are resilient. He has already adapted to this lifestyle, the same one I cry about in the bathroom.
Bananas can last five to seven days. I resolve this time to turn any blackened fruit into a makeshift bread, maybe pancakes, whatever we have in the cupboard.
I wash my hands, ready to make my son his treat.
From Maggie Wang, Blacksburg, VA
I had not touched another person in over a month.
Not a playful tap on the shoulder or a firm, professional handshake or a gentle nudge in the right direction after wandering off the path. I had not felt someone else’s body fold into mine, their warmth reminding me of my own life. I had not breathed as one with anyone, not cried on another’s shoulder or let them cry onto mine, not lifted or been lifted in any momentary pas de deux, either celebratory or mournful. I had not braided anyone’s hair or buttoned anyone’s coat, not patted a younger sibling’s head or let a grandparent lean on my arm.
Instead, I buried myself beneath the crushing pressure of the air, and then the earth, and then the fire that burns beneath the earth. I watched the fire carve flowers into my skin as if burns could preserve youth like rosewater could. I saw the earth made into stars as it collapsed in on itself under the heat. I lifted my hands to catch those stars and pin them up in the earth-sky above my fire-bed but dropped them before I could touch any. I watched them fall, cascading like snowflakes from the hard nothingness above until they melted around me. Some landed on my skin and slid down the crevices of my body in small showers of light. They felt like bursts of ocean spray milliseconds of coolness against the fiery weight of every breath I took in and let out.
This is how diamonds are made, I thought.
Art: Washington D.C. Foreclosure Quilt by Kathryn Clark
Each issue of Ruminate includes personal notes from our readers on a topic—we love hearing from our readers! For even more stories, poetry, and art from our community, be sure to subscribe.
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