The Way We Live Now

At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings I walk to the gym. It’s my one excursion out of the house, necessary to treat several longstanding stupid leg injuries. It’s a fairly solitary, very quiet, walk along 20 blocks of the neighborhood’s main business street and I don’t stop until I arrive at the uncrowded, well-maintained gym.

That’s why I can hear what the man sitting on a curb-side bench is watching on his phone. He’s very intent on something that involves a woman shouting:

We’ll take our guns down but we want peace.

By the time I pass right in front of him, she’s saying,

We’ll make it peaceful unless it’s not.

Maybe it’s a movie. Or a portion of his favorite TV show that’s posted on YouTube. Could be that, I decide, and continue on.

At the gym I wear a thick mask, scrub my hands before and after, and use the generous supply of sanitizer throughout. Between torture routines, I tell my sensible trainer about the man and his video. He confirms that it’s probably nothing.

Finished with the workout and once more in the women’s locker room to disinfect. A young woman silently weeps at the end of a bench, her back to the room for privacy. Hers is the kind of sustained weeping brought on by deep grief. I walk over to her, place a hand on her back and, at a distance slightly short of six feet but no closer than perhaps two because, no matter what, comfort has to be offered, I ask if she’s okay. She turns her heartbroken ravished face to me and shakes her head yes.

Nothing to do but leave her there and kick myself for not figuring out what else I could have done all the way to the nearby drugstore for a brief supply run. Another young woman with a baby stroller stands at a social distance ahead of me in the check-out line. She talks loud enough through her phone’s earplugs for all to pick up her tone of disbelief:

You mean I can be arrested? I’m a single mom. Can you tell them that?

The person on the other end responses.

I was with my brother. We only went in and stood around. I didn’t do anything.

The person replies.

I know but how can they do that?….yeah, I guess, okay. I’m in a store line. Can you wait until I’m outside? Yeah. I’m getting it now.

It’s her turn. She wheels her baby up to the cash register, tells the cashier she needs two money order cards and slides a thick fold of cash under the plastic window shield. She places the cards in her wallet and fixes her bag around the stroller’s handles. Before she’s out of ear shot, she says to her caller,

I’m going to your office, right?

I pay for my purchases and continue the walk home, gauging by my stomach indicator that my stress level scores 8 1/2 out of 10. Now, let’s be reasonable: It wouldn’t be the first time I fabricated an alarming story out of easily explained mundane details. There’s a ton of reasons why a young single mother might be arrested for being in some place she shouldn’t have been.

Only several blocks remain when a stout man dressed in full camouflage steps from a doorway. A tan woven belt cinches his waist and his hair mushrooms from under a fitted military cap. His shiny black boots thud on the sidewalk. I hurry by with a look over my shoulder: An old man with a bushy handlebar mustache under which his mouth clenches a long curved, intricately carved pipe. His march is really a leisurely stroll along the avenue while he enjoys his pipe smoke. Several elderly comrades amble up, greet him in Greek, and they settle down at one of the corner diner’s outdoor tables.

At last, I’m home and, during the ritual scour at the kitchen sink, the husband enters for his coffee. I relate the morning’s events, adding a reminder that our Democratic congressman lost to a Republican who last Wednesday voted to overturn the election results even though Biden won our district. In his opinion, do these encounters add up to mere emotional figments or legitimate weights to pile on my increasingly unglued condition about current and future national events?

He shakes his head, laughs–not a good sign if I’m looking for confirmation of sanity. “You’re right. I’d be alarmed, too.”

Then he pours his coffee and says quite chirpy, “plus, you’ve got a post with a great kicker.”

Oh, brother, I say to myself, and retreat upstairs where I lie down beside the warm dog sleeping on our bed in complete oblivion.