Rebecca Murphey

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all too well.

You landed in Tokyo for work in January 2020 and there was a text from your mom saying your brother was in the hospital with a surprisingly bad case of pneumonia. You’d seen him just a few weeks ago when the whole family all got together for Christmas, which was exhausting. You and your partner agreed on the trip home that you would skip next year.

Your last night in Tokyo, outside the Naka-meguro station, you said goodbye to a friend who had just moved to Japan. You didn’t linger because you’d be back in just a couple of months.

There were people with masks on the flight home, but not too many more than normal, really, but you were definitely at least glad to be heading back to the U.S., far away from there, with a stop in Seattle before you headed home. Coworkers with family in China had cancelled trips home because of a virus. You listened, on the way back, to a podcast about the start of World War I.

Saturday afternoon drinks and board games with friends and their kid at a packed pub, the same weekend you went to the grocery store and bought toilet paper, pasta, and an unreasonable quantity of canned tomatoes.

Taking your kid to school, trying to explain that his life might change dramatically any day now, but struggling to explain how because you can’t quite comprehend it yourself. Coming home and reading about how people in China were getting creative to make meals of the food they had on hand when their lockdown began. You call the pharmacy to see about getting an extra supply of meds, and they can’t fathom why you are asking.

March 4, the day that work asked you — well, told you — not to come to the office for a little while, and you started your morning watching the VPN collapse. You cut the tip off your finger that night with your new fancy knife while making dinner.

March, April. You come to terms with obviously impending death. Breakfast tacos at home. Wondering what it would be like to die before your parents and without getting to say goodbye to your kid. Legos at standup. Calm, capable people at work freaking the fuck out because no one can tell them what’s going to happen.

Making bread.

At the Airbnb you stay at in May, your kid takes your parents on a Face Time tour, showing them around the unfamiliar house, he’s absolutely marveling at the different styles of trash cans because at least it’s something new compared to the monotony of the past couple of months. Fishing at a nearby lake, no boats to rent or bathrooms to use because you might die. Wide berths around a few strangers, but especially the ones forsaking masks outdoors.

Neighbors converse across the street. Your kid makes do with retirees as friends, joining them for “dog party” in front of the house. Summer afternoon on the screen porch, you explain to your kid that while, yes, the government does have a habit of using military-grade force against its own citizens in response to reasonable demands for justice and equality, we probably weren’t going to see the air force bombing our neighborhood anytime soon, and this among so many other things is what we call white privilege.

Convincing yourself that a 10-year friendship

(she hasn’t spoken to you since your attempt to come up with a shared solution for childcare in the fall of 2020 — back when you thought “if this wasn’t over soon ...” but also “at least we might have a new, competent president who will certainly do obvious things like send out free at-home tests and high-quality masks in his first month in office ...” — she hasn’t spoken to you since that plan didn’t work out and you probably could have handled it better than you did but everything was just a lot, then, and it was hard to fight for things anymore)

had maybe run its course and wasn’t in fact a gut-wrenching loss.

Weekend bike rides with your kid, but especially that time you got him to ride the whole 22 miles of the American Tobacco Trail and he was so proud. Campfires and marshmallows and bat-spotting in the back yard on a weeknight, just because. A whole Lego city on the dining room table, and suburbs in the living room.

TFG gets sick, and you don’t know yet that the stunning lack of consequences is just cruel foreshadowing. The scarcity of lessons you can teach your kid in that moment without lying is just as stunning. RBG dies and all you want to do is break things and scream. A year from now you’ll grasp at a blur of memories trying to remember the exact order of all the terrible things happening at once.

You live in a failed state and winter is coming.

The election, standing in the cold for hours with a volunteer for the Democratic party who just couldn’t bring herself to vote for the opponent to our state’s plainly racist Republican senator.

A new job, one laptop closes and another opens, no wistful moment walking out a door for the last time, and most everything else is the same. Christmas, at home, just the three of you.

The beach, just after New Year’s, your kid came with you for the first couple of days and it was a beautiful 70-degree day. Anxiously watching him play with other kids he met, wondering what the price would be for the 45 minutes of sheer joy you were allowing him in the bright sun and stiff ocean breeze.

Three days later, alone at the beach Airbnb, one then two then three separate TVs tuned to different cable news channels in a 1,000-square-foot condo, deciding that drinking alone at two in the afternoon was in fact the most prudent thing to do under the circumstances. Emerging from a drunken sleep in the middle of the night to watch the election get certified after all, and learning that we’d have a Democrat-lead Senate. Hope.

Taking the day off for the inauguration out of a profound sense of fear about what might happen, but what happened is you cried your eyes out when Amanda Gorman spoke, and then slowly realized that a young Black woman was the only person there who was capable of rising to the moment.

March. April. Work, vaccines, basking in the fever that says this is almost over. Buying a last-minute first class ticket across the country and feeling near-reverent about the banality of air travel. Discovering the joys of taking a camper to a state park 30 minutes down the road, just to get away.

Trying Prozac, just to see, and discovering — some what to your surprise? — that you have not, in fact, been OK.

A summer road trip, you and your kid, you stay at a campground for a couple of days and he plays with a dozen random kids on a jump pad that is basically a bounce house without walls, and he is full of joy. He’s old enough to not need you around so much. Hugging your parents again, visiting friends you haven’t seen in a decade, just because there was a time when it felt like maybe you couldn’t ever do that again. Your partner joins you halfway through the trip and takes the kid in her car for one leg of the drive home. He throws up after 15 minutes on a winding road. She is annoyed, of course, but you laugh about it together because this is by far the worst thing that has happened in a solid three weeks.

December 2021. Your kid is fully vaccinated. To celebrate, you go out for sushi at a perfectly adequate place. He thinks it’s the fanciest restaurant in the world.

Visiting an office, reverent in banality again. You write on a whiteboard and hand the marker to your coworker, who is standing in front of the white board next to you, in an office, without a mask. Simple acts simultaneously foreign and familiar. You have never met them in person before today. Your one-year anniversary at the company was last week.

The new president has been in office for almost a year. His press secretary, at a briefing, scoffs at the very idea that the richest and most powerful country on earth would send free at-home tests to every person in that country. She is not fired, and this explains a lot.

Your friend who lives in Japan is back in the U.S. for her first visit since the before-times. She tells you she’ll be in Austin three days from now and 20 minutes later you’ve booked a flight.

You rent a house together and stay up until all hours of the night and some of the morning ones too, talking about climate change and geopolitics and Japan and holding on to friends from your 20s, and also just a little bit about climate rebellion. One night we spent a solid five minutes just reiterating to each other exactly how amazing Taylor Swift is. None of it got old.

The weather in Austin is unseasonably warm. Forced childbirth is the law here in the state where you sit on the porch at midnight in December, but masks and vaccines are entirely optional. The senate is about to head home without doing anything about voting rights or social infrastructure, and you feel like you can write the script for the months between now and next November. You don’t even feel weird anymore about using the word fascist to describe the soon-to-be-ruling-again party.

You still live in a failed country that mostly doesn’t realize it yet, and you’re pretty sure no one is coming to save us, but you’re reminded, now, on this porch, that you’ll slowly get to start living in this mess with friends again, and that will make it a little more OK.

Omicron. Christmas. At home, again. Just the three of us.

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