In the afternoons, the Texas sun, an unforgiving lamp in the sky, my firstborn and I would walk to our neighborhood park to blow dandelion heads into the wind and run in the wide field. My mind was its own enemy. My anxiety about motherhood, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and fears for what the country was becoming colluded together to create a walking daydream of a dystopic future where my daughter and I had only each other. A place and time where we scrounged through the rubble of our neighborhood for survival. Where I, inexplicably blind, needed her maple-syrup colored eyes to help navigate the hellscape around us.
In different iterations of this daydream, rust red clouds suffocated the sky and other survivors laid traps on the road to ensnare, and later, harm us. The more this dream appeared to me, the more I recognized it as the sum of its components—the aggregate of so much worry and sorrow. I used it as a stepping stone, and began to prepare myself for the possibility of a future that might reject me and my child in some form. I prayed for ancestral strength so that I could endure a harder life where it was unsafe to walk down the street, and breathe the air. I steeled my body and managed my emotions for the inevitability of greater suffering and less joy. I set my feet and gritted my teeth for life in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election.
I shook off part of this dream by the time we moved from Texas to Nevada, and our family grew by one. For two years, our family walks to the neighborhood park or to the playground at the local elementary school were filled with imaginations wholly different than I once conceived. We were intrepid adventurers slaying monstrosities as we searched for hidden treasures on our way to our destinations. Our voices rose up in singsong, the notes falling like rain on the sagebrush and sotols along our path. When the sun dipped behind the Spring Mountains, I stared at these silhouetted giants and imagined my family and I hiking up their rock-pocked sides, eager to reach the crests.
On these afternoons, as the sun baked us in the slow oven of the desert, joy bubbled up from a new wellspring inside me. My family had achieved a level of stability unavailable to us in years previous. We lived in the home of our dreams. It was spacious and forgiving. Each morning, light spilled inside filling every corner before filling us up too. Our neighbors became our close friends and confidantes. Their celebrations became ours, and our abundance was shared with them. The staff at my daughters’ daycare went above and beyond for my children and I soon counted them as part of my community. I rested in a general ease, a new contentment that cracked open my hard exterior and allowed a softness to flow outward. I told stories from my childhood and folktales I made up as my daughters, husband, and I journeyed to the park. I sang us songs that I would rearrange and quickly forget once we arrived at the playground. Utopia replaced its apocalyptic older sibling.
I don’t yet have the language to describe what it’s like to free myself from a prison, find my body racing the wind as I run in fields of clover, only to wake up and discover it was a dream and my mental machinations from years ago were prophetic. The sun was a bronze marble in a red sky once—the morning when ash and smoke from the California fires blew over the Las Vegas Valley. I did not pick through ruins with my children, but we drove by empty and shuttered businesses. I did not lose my sight, but when I was caught in a moment of the past and stepped out of our car, my firstborn daughter was quick to remind me to put a mask on.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, my body was already prepared to hunker down and draw my children nearer. But my mind, it did not want to rattle the old cages of its prison. It wanted to be still and deny that anything I had imagined could come to pass.
There was never enough time to manage the calamitous disruption of my own emotions. Two children stood at my feet, tugging on my literal apron strings, begging me to help sort out their own wants and feelings. My youngest, who turned two in quarantine, was mostly oblivious to what was happening around us. She went where we told her, did what we asked of her, and wore her face mask with joy, becoming a superhero in the shows she watched alongside her big sister. But it was my firstborn, who will turn five in the pandemic, who did not understand why the world was open to her one day, then closed the next.
The day before lockdown began in Nevada, my firstborn and I attended the fifth birthday party for the son of an old college friend. I originally RSVP’d for my entire family to attend, but the morning of the party, I asked my husband to stay home with our youngest child.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but she’s still so young,” I said. “I don’t know how susceptible she is to this thing.”
He agreed and they stayed behind while I cross-examined myself during the entire drive to the party, held at a local family fun center. I didn’t know if I was making a mistake. I didn’t know how much of the desire to stay inside was more fear than understanding of what was happening. But I knew that we were all standing on the precipice of monumental change and what happened when we made the step off the cliff would alter our world forever. More than anything, I wanted to live and I wanted one more moment of unbridled joy for my daughter. I kept driving forward.
We spent our last maskless day, sitting in too small airplanes that dipped and soared over empty streets and a half-occupied amusement park. We laughed as we spun upward and downward and back again, our time on the ride triple what it normally would be because there were so few people waiting in line. My daughter hugged close to me and smiled while the wind whipped tears from the corners of my eyes.
I crossed off every item on my parent bucket list that I could that afternoon. I drove go-karts with my daughter. We rode the roller coaster three times, crashing and rising on the back of a purple dragon. The instant that I strapped us down into the seat, I slipped into memories of my mother riding roller coasters with me. My daughter and I played arcade games until our wrists hurt then cashed in our tickets for plastic jewels and rings. On the way home, we talked about her birthday and the birthday parties of all her friends. We shared our hopes for the future and the fun that we would have outside in the sun, at parks and on other roller coasters in other places.
Now, we are always talking about The Virus. It litters our conversations in the car to daycare and on our way home in the afternoons. It appears in our frustrated shouts in the backyard while we play and is in our weary mutterings before we drop off to sleep in our beds. The Virus is the reason why my oldest daughter cannot have sleepovers with her friends and why we don’t accept invitations to backyard parties hosted by our neighbors. It is the reason why our entire universe is our two-story home and the seven-minute drive to daycare and back. Nothing more and, God willing, nothing less.
My oldest and I talk about The Virus so much it has taken on a tangible form to me. In the mornings, when the sun shines on my face and I awake to its orange lips kissing my feet, my mind runs rabid with the thoughts of the pandemic stretching its knobby fingers toward my window and letting itself in, a genderless creature of smoke and disease. Some days it is a neon green entity seven-stories tall like in the cartoons my daughters watch. Other days, it is a supervillain in a comic book of old, his face shadowed and dark.
I have to remind myself that these creatures and villains are always defeated. The good guys stumble for a bit but then they find their footing. They come close to being destroyed but they rise up again. It’s a trope, but it is one that exists for a reason. I need this reminder. My children do too.
My firstborn has taken to fighting The Virus sometimes. She flips and spins around the room, her punches cutting the empty air. She will stop to look me in the eye and ask, “Mama, can we beat The Virus?”
Each time she asks, I remind her that we can. I jump up and shoot it with laser beams from my eyes and power blasts from my palms. I pummel it with Kamehameha attacks and karate chops. In our living room, our imaginations create a new world where we have the power to destroy The Virus. A world where we find ourselves whole, where nothing can stop us from living. If my daydreams are to be prophetic then I hold these moments close as a sign that we remain undefeated in the future.
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