It was 2:34 a.m. I was standing in my yard with my dog on a leash. And while sweet Fitz took his nature break, I kept my eyes peeled for the big black bear that had been spotted in the subdivision next door earlier that day.
I, of course, had no plan if a bear did appear, other than to run like hell with my leashed dog. True, I did own the book “How to Stay Alive in the Woods: a complete guide to food, shelter, and self-preservation … anywhere.” But my husband read it years ago and, at the time, I thought: yeah, good enough.
So I stood there in my dew-soaked flipflops and oversized t-shirt that says “Rosé, all day” in all caps. I became keenly aware of how much I can’t see in the dark.
Interestingly, I wasn’t scared. But that was only because I didn’t really believe a bear was nearby. I mean, I guess I believed it enough to leash my dog, but not enough to even feel a shiver of fear. Like, not even a frisson.
But then, suddenly, I did feel one. It was at that exact moment, just seconds before 2:34 a.m. turned into 2:35 a.m., that I suddenly felt positively wobbly.
It wasn’t because I saw a bear or heard a growl. It was because it finally hit me. We were in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. A deadly virus was sweeping especially hard across this nation. And now there were bears popping up in my subdivision.
As the funny memes say, “You win, 2020. You get first prize for being the worst.”
I imagine you’re also experiencing these sudden waves of surreality bowl you over throughout your day (or night). One hit me the first time I left town to go to Lexington. There, on the side of the highway, was one of those orange, solar-powered road department announcement boards that, instead of saying “Construction ahead,” said, “Wash your hands for 20 seconds.”
It hits me when I drive by Oakwood Residential Facility, where there is a sign skewered in the lawn that says, “Heroes work here.”
And it hit me when I took Fitz to the vet, which involved me staying in my car and texting the vet office to tell them which space I was parked in. This lovely, truly lovely, vet tech came running out in turn, wearing dog-and-cat patterned scrubs and a matching face mask. It was tied on with green ribbons in the back, one set above her ponytail, the other beneath.
The latest wave happened this morning. During the pandemic, I have been taking our other dog Tilly for walks along the back road behind our subdivision. It’s a windy, forested route that is especially beautiful in the spring because the road is lined, almost as if on purpose, with dozens of redbuds.
But to get back there, you have to climb some hills. If you take the way up on the southern end, that means climbing a hill that is a real beast, with one part so steep you almost feel like you could reach out and touch the road without even bending over. I’d been climbing it for years until my friends’ warnings that I’ll either get either squashed by a car or kidnapped got to me.
I heeded those warnings until the pandemic hit. Then, suddenly, that hill, the steepest part, made me think of the spike in Spanish flu cases Philadelphia experienced after it hosted a Liberty Loans parade on Sept. 28, 1918.
The goal of the parade was to promote government bonds and raise funds for the war effort, and more than 200,000 Philadelphians attended the event.
Twenty-four hours later, 118 Philadelphians were sick with “a mysterious, deadly influenza.” Three days after that, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled. One week later, 4,500 Philadelphians were dead of the Spanish flu and 47,000 people were infected.
The hill looks like that spike to me. And I wanted to climb it on a regular basis, just so I could remind myself that an ascent, no matter how hard it is, is always accompanied by its sweet descent if you want to get back to where you started.
I didn’t even realize how dependent I’d become on those thoughts until this morning. When I realized that it actually was, finally, too dangerous for Tilly and I to go walking up there.
Because a bear might attack us.
And so the wave of surreality struck me again. And this time, I not only felt shock and disbelief, I felt real, red anger.
Enough, after all, was enough.
But, what can you do with that feeling?
I’ve spent the day thinking about it.
The only thing I can think to do is change my perspective.
Maybe the hill isn’t a spike at all. Maybe it’s a wave. Maybe it’s always been. And the thing to do is ride is out.