I’m writing this on St. Patrick’s Day, the one that this year might as well be dedicated to the patron saint of warding off COVID-19, the one where all the pubs and restaurants are closed in Ireland and Boston and a lot of other places, including, starting today, in Austin, where I live. It’s the first flush of Coronapalooza in the USA, as public life shuts down piece by piece and the world closes in on itself, people facing the undeniable reality that life has changed. I suppose that given the Irish fascination with death and tragedy some might think it an appropriate season, but I could do without it.
For a recently remarried widower like myself, it begs the question: How many new normals can one take? On an extremely micro level (me sitting on the couch posting this blog), it at least adds a certain impetus to the writing: Get it done now — you totally blew off the New Year’s Day post, which in retrospect was just as well, but, hey, events are happening. Really interesting events, too.
At my local supermarket today, the semi-zombie apocalypse had definitely arrived. It was the first time I’d seen the place completely bare of potatoes, onions and garlic (to ward off demons?), along with most cheese, cereal, pizza, bottled water, canned soup, and, of course, paper products. I did score a bag of frozen hash browns and a notepad.
This will be a long spring break, probably stretching into summer. At the moment the boys’ high school is slated to resume classes April 6, though I wouldn’t bet on it. As the parent of two ninth graders, one of them nonverbal and autistic, I wonder how I’ll manage to keep them occupied over the long weeks at home. My warm and caring wife, the second Mrs. Pogoer, whom I married in November after a lengthy engagement, works in rehab care at a facility for elderly patients, and I worry about both her possible exposure to the virus and the fate of her patients. And on top of this my dad has a big 90th birthday party scheduled in June in Florida and I wonder if that’s going to happen. We’re not buying our airline tickets just yet.
As someone for whom music has always held outsized importance, the vanishing of live concerts, along with all other types of live performance outside of online streaming, particularly hurts. As a freelance arts writer, it certainly impacts my livelihood when there’s not much around to write about other than “how are you coping with the shutdown” and what’s on TV (and although I’ve never remotely wanted to be a sportswriter, I feel for them too), but I realize that for most people, the livelihood of touring musicians — much less, the people who write about them — is pretty far down on their list of concerns. The performers I’m connected with on Facebook seem resigned to the current circumstances, but sane and steadfast, as most songwriters, in my experience, are.
Inevitably, I revive a snippet of a “song” that I came up with a long time ago, maybe even back in my teenage days:
Now that you’ve become infected,
Is it all that you expected?
Now that you’ve become infected, baybee…
That’s all there is of that. Just as well. I’m not that self-delusional.
I recently began singing lessons at a local music school. I have a decent voice that very few people have ever heard, and I want to learn how to use it properly. My teacher is a woman near my age who has performed in local bands since at least the ’80s and though our tastes in music don’t much align, she’s helping me slowly refine my technique as I work my way through the likes of “Three Coins in a Fountain” and Nick Lowe’s “Heart.” Though I like punk and alternative as much as anyone, as a performer I skew towards Sinatra. They’re switching to Skype after the break. Sigh.
Anyway, let me tell you about my dear departed friend Orsi from Romania.
I met Orsi — short for Orsolya, her actual name — during a trip I took in the summer of 1998 with Outward Bound Romania, which I’ve written about before on my previous website. At home among her peers, a group of mainly ethnic teenage Hungarians from Romania, Orsi was, I wrote, “a spirited, very bright 16-year-old girl with a ready smile, who spoke at least four languages (including quite fluent American-accented English) and sported a USA/California baseball cap.” She was cheerful and brilliant and was curious about me, and we ended up having meaningful conversations about languages, countries and cultures. We kept in touch after the adventure and met up in Budapest three years later to tour the city (it’s the Brooklyn of Central Europe), and over the years connected via Facebook. Orsi eventually married and had a child, and I sent her messages pretending surprise that she was of legal drinking age.
Then one night last October, Orsi went to sleep and never woke up. (I don’t know what happened; I never asked.) Her husband posted the news on Orsi’s Facebook page, to a chorus of laments in Hungarian and Romanian. She was just 38, and left behind her husband and a four-year-old son.
I sent a letter of condolence to her husband in Targu Mures. I didn’t expect to hear anything back, but at the end of February I received a response in broken English, thanking me for the letter, sending best regards and telling me that I was a “special friend” to her. He enclosed a photo of the smiling family, now shattered.
Orsi’s death really bothered me, still does. The usual questions — why? And the gut reactions — “No, this can’t be right. This isn’t right. I have to fix it” — happen, too. But in the end there’s little to do but fall back on the usual mandatory sorryforyourlossness.
Then I have to remind myself: No, this is not my fault.
Inevitably, the deaths of friends, and even relatives of friends and friends of friends, people you don’t know personally, resonate back to the death of my wife Donna, now over four years in the past. It all comes back. The widower thing.
The silence in the house.
The feeling (overwhelming and constant), when the boys get home from school, that everything is wrong.
You feel in your bones the universe telling you: Your life is over.
And, for a very long time, it is.
Until, if you’re very lucky, it isn’t.
So, how are things these days? Aside from the coronavirus thing, pretty good. I’m happy. I have a healthy sense of self-esteem, and carry the confidence which comes with knowing one is well loved. I contribute to the world, in my way.
Last year, the then-Fiancee and I went to our local Alamo Drafthouse (may it reopen soon) for a late afternoon screening of Mary Poppins Returns. It wasn’t as good as the original, not that we expected it to be and the songs were meh, and we weren’t five-year-olds anymore, but it was a delicious nostalgia bath and it made me miss my mother (who took me to the original, the first movie I remember seeing in a theater) as well as Donna, and it was good to have the Fiancee sitting next to me squeezing my hand.
Things are good now. But some people that I loved remain dead. The eternal tug between life and death goes on, whether or not a plague is raging outside the front door.
We fight to preserve life, even if we believe the soul lives on after death. Because we go with what we know.
Saints preserve us.