Pandemic Diary: A gathering


So I cracked the other day and I reached out to my friend of last resort. Do you have one, two? IT’s not quite what you think it is. For me, this is the rather surprising, unexpected person to whom I didn’t feel particularly close or connected to… but who life has shown me I can count on when the shit hits the fan. We need these people. We don’t necessarily love them, nor they us. We don’t see each other that often—if we see each other too often, we start to bore each other. But then…

Jane: Things are bad. I need help.

Him: I’m here for you.

And actually—that was enough. Often, that’s enough. A deep breath. A realization there’s still a safety net, someone to lean on if I must. And, a gathering—January is almost over. This cold snap is gonna be pretty short. I’m writing. I’m loved. You’ve got my back—I’m not gonna lean on you because you’re exhausted and brittle too, but I know you’re there. Surely, not much longer now…

Him: Friend of last resort? Really?

Jane: And what would you call me?

Him: Fair…

So now I think I might be able to call you—well. Take a breath but don’t hold it. Wait until March. The gathering is a process. January’s not quite over yet, and then, we still have to get through February. Brrr. March. We’ll talk in March. Perhaps in March, you’ll feel comfortable enough to leave your house and you know… hug me. Vaccine or no vaccine.

But if not—if you eed to wait until September, until 2022… I’ll be here for you.

At least… I’m pretty sure?


I’m a little worried about this, to be honest, but my worry is also proof that I’m shaking off the January blues. I’m thinking about the future, and that’s a big deal. Will I love you in March? In 2022?

It’s been a long, long time…

Him: A long time goes by between each of our encounters.

Jane: Yeah, but I don’t really love you.

Him: Remind me—why is it that I’m here for you when you need me, again, always?

Jane: I don’t know. You just are.

The pandemic has shrunk our social circles. Interrupted our connections. Will they resume when things get back to normal?

Some will. Some won’t.

I do think some people’s ability to connect socially, intimately with others will have been damaged, severely, and will take a long time to come back.

And some of us will be very, very empty… and not able to do the work we usually do in blowing on, reigniting the embers of friendship.

Him: It’s really not that hard. Look at me. Look at us.

Jane: Promise?

Him: I’m here for you. I was here in January 2019. I was here in August. I’ll be here for you in March. Or September. Or 2022.

Jane: Maybe I do love you. A little.

I do love you, a lot, but it’s been hard to feel and to give that love recently. Do you feel that lack? Experience the same impairment? I think so, I think you must.

But I also think… it is almost over.

I feel a gathering.

Jane: I’m here for you.

You: I know. You were there for me even when you thought you weren’t.

Jane: How’s that a thing?

I don’t know. But it is. January is almost over. February is a short month. Some stupid trees are in bud already.

A gathering.

Him: Um… and is anybody here for me?

Jane: I’m here. Always.




PS Do you selfie when you’re moody? I pretty much never selfie when I’m fully happy and satisfied. I think it’s a way of making sure I still exist…

But I would drive 500 miles, and I would drive 500 more…


Cinder, 13 (too grown up, not adult enough, don’t hurry, my love, stay a little boy longer, longer), wakes me up at 4:30 in the morning on a day on which I’ve set the alarm for 5:08 a.m. in anticipation of an eight-hour road trip. He has a sore throat, is sniffly, hasn’t slept all night, and it’s almost time to wake up, and he’s upset.

“I’m sick, is this going to ruin our trip to Kelowna?”

he asks, on the verge of tears (too grown up to dare to cry, not grown up enough to know that you never stop needing to). He’s been looking forward to this trip, counting down the days, for nine months—since the last one.

“Nothing is going to ruin our trip to Kelowna,”

I promise boldly.

“I’m going to dope you up and give you a bag of lozenges to suck on through the car ride. You will snooze and rest. And by the time you are on a beach with your friends, you will be fine.”

(Hey, sore throat and runny nose: We reject your reality and substitute our own.*)

603.2 kilometres, eight hours through the winding Rocky Mountain roads, three over-excited children, one under-slept driver.

“Jesus, Mom, are you stopping for coffee again? We’re never going to get there!”

“Do you want to live? If I don’t drink more coffee, we will really never get there.”

But we get there, we get there in record time, by 1 p.m., we are eating cake for lunch. The Posse is reunited, and my best girl and I are crying all over each other’s shoulders, and an hour later, seven kids are in Lake Okanagan, and two women are trying to say EVERYTHING to each other.

nbtb-500 miles

“How can you guys have so much to say to each other? You text every day!”

—that, from Flora, to me and Marie.

“How can you guys have missed each other so much? You Skype for hours every day!”

—that, from me to the Posse.

^^^And there, in an oversimplification that isn’t, you’ve got everything that’s wrong with cyber-tribes. They’re contact, connection… but they’re not enough.


I can’t remember when I first met Marie. “Isn’t that funny?” I tell her. I do remember a handful of awkward first contacts, coffees, “playdates” (I fucking hate that phrase). I can’t quite remember, though, either what it was that drew me to her—nor the moment at which I realized we were friends, and life-long friends at that. (Neither one of us is particularly fond of strangers.) Maybe it was that her house, like mine, had a solidly “lived in,” messy look. That her kids were barefoot and always moving and even louder than mine (to be fair, there were more of them). Or that we could go together to the river for six, seven hours—and either talk for all six of those hours or be silent for most of the seven, and it was all good.

She taught me more about vulnerability and courage than any other human I’ve encountered on my journey so far.


Stretched out in the hot sun while the kids play in the cold water, Marie and I talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, shoes, books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, ticks, fleas, “what do bed bug bites look like anyway?” (don’t ask) and how to get caterpillar gut stains out of white cotton (you can’t).

“Mooom! I’m hungry!”

“I’m bored!”

“Mom! He called me a…”

“They’re picking on me!”

“Mom, where’s my life jacket?”

“Mooooom, I need…”

nbtb-kids on raft

We feed them. Water them. Re-apply sunscreen. Deliver a lecture on big people taking care of little people, and on not being asses to each other, and then tell them to go the hell away. We have more talking to do.


She leaves me in charge of supper when she goes to work. I go all out:

nbtb-simple supper

Then, I work too:

nbtb-sleeping while i work

When she comes back, half the children are gaming, and the other half unconscious:**

nbtb-gamers and jumpers

(I mean sleeping. Really.)

(Half of seven is… well, I can’t chop one of them in half. You know what I mean. Fractions are not poetic.)

I pour wine. We talk some more. When the gamers interrupt us, looking for more snacks (“For goddsakke, do you guys NEVER stop eating?” “Never!” “Not true—we were just gaming for two hours with not a single snack break!”), we’re crying. Or laughing.

It’s hard to tell the difference.

Both are necessary.


We’re still, by the way, texting. While she’s at work:

“Hey, the twins and Ender are riding skateboards in the house. Is that cool? What are your house rules around that?”

While she’s making sure the kids don’t drown and I’m getting coffee:

“If it’s not too late, honey in my cappuccino, k, babe? Oh, and remind me to tell ya what happened on Tuesday when…”

While I’m at the grocery store:

“For Chrissake, this is fucking British Columbia, why is there no local produce in this store?”

“Where are you?”

“Your local IGA.”

“Yeah, it sucks. You need to go to…”


We watch our kids love each other and love being with each other, and it makes us love them more—and each other more. “Do you think they will be friends, when they are 20? When they are 40?” she asks. We don’t know, of course.

But we do know we, Marie and I, are going to be friends when we’re 60. 78.*** I’m gonna give her rides on my Vespa scooter. She’s going to buy me costume jewelry at Value Village. We’re going to wear age-inappropriate bikinis on Okanagan beaches and talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, grandchildren, orthopedic shoes (can they be sexy? Or do we just need to stop trying?) and support stockings (oh, those varicose veins!), books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, people who look like their pets, dentures, people who piss us off (“maybe it’s her, maybe it’s too much Botox”), and whether lime green toe nail polish on your 76-year-old feet is a strike against ageism or a cry for help (“Independence, baby! Don’t you fucking dare tell me what I can or cannot do to my toes!”).

And when I’m too blind, to old to ride that Vespa, I’m gonna make my kids drive me that 603.2 kilometres… and they’re not going to ask why.



nbtb-girls on the town

FOOTNOTES (cause that’s how I roll)

*You may think I’m quoting Mythbusters’ Adam Savage here, but he’s actually quoting Paul Bradford in The Dungeon Master so there you have a quote within a quote within a quote…

**Aunt Augusta—you know Aunt Augusta, right? If you don’t, let me introduce you here: On yelling, authenticity, aspiration, and the usefulness of judgemental relatives-and-strangers—looks at this photo and pursues her lips.

“And you drove 603.2 km so they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype why, exactly?” she says.

“I drove 603.2 km so that they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype, exactly,” I smile. “Are you going to your bridge night tonight, Auntie? Yeah? Why, exactly?”

***I had my major life crisis at 38.5-39.2, from which I infer that I will shed this mortal coil at 77-78. I’m good with that. Right now, anyway.

And on that uplifting note, please enjoy this fabulous Proclaimers song: