I crossed a border of sorts, last night.  For the first time, I dreamed I was wearing a mask and encountering other people wearing them, too.  My dream contained all the anxieties affixed to the issue, wondering who would wear a mask and who would not.  Who would wear it properly and who would have their nostrils showing?  The scene played out at a Dunkin Donuts where eight or ten teenagers bustled behind the counter.  While waiting for the drink I’d ordered, I felt relieved at how compliant all the staff were until stung by the sudden appearance of the manager.  A woman of massive girth, she strode naked-faced from an office in the rear to accost her minions in a spittle-laced tirade for failing to achieve their speed incentives.  Abandoning the cherished promise of iced coffee I turned and pushed through the glass door into blinding sunlight and…awoke.




As I imagine is commonly felt, the bizarre experience of 2020 is reshaping my mind in myriad ways.  For instance, an entire vocabulary is evolving.  It’s not just  “social distancing” I practice; I’m also acutely aware of “droplets” and “aerosols.”  I’d only ever considered the former in connection with water sizzling on a hot pan, the latter with regard to cans of hair spray.  Now, in theory, I know these things can kill me.

On a more positive note, “droplets” and “aerosols” are useful Scrabble words, holding the promise of a fifty-point bonus for using all seven letters at once.  Since the virus appeared, deprived of more active past-times, I have become adept at playing Scrabble on an I-pad.  I play against the highest level of computerized competition, a vain choice that both stretches my abilities and humbles me.  I lose most games to words I’ve never used or even seen.  I admit to some paranoia, too.  Could it be mere coincidence whenever I get a high-scoring word the machine immediately saddles me with a U, a V and a C as punishment?  In an alternative nightmare, in Scrabble terms, I get four I’s or three G’s and two W’s.




Born just three years after the last great pandemic, my mother died last December, just three months before this one.  She played Scrabble against the computer as her favorite activity during the last years of her life.  At 97-and-a-half, (One counts the half if one is under five or over 90, I believe) she still had all her wits about her.  She retained curiosity, too, asking after each grandchild or great-grandchild in order, never missing a name.  All she’d lost was enthusiasm for her own life.

I never fail to think of her when I play.  The memory is bittersweet.  Our family had hoped she would enjoy her final years at her beautiful apartment, a facility with a full program of restaurants, recreation and music.  Instead, she resisted all entreaties to socialize.  She explained, in nearly so many words, she had no interest in making new acquaintances, in feigning interest in their children and grandchildren.

When I received the call that she’d died I felt sadness, but also a measure of relief.  She’d died in her sleep, without having seen a doctor, let alone a hospital, in years.  She’d never complained about her declining physical abilities, and she’d never admitted to any pain.  I regret now that an impulse to call her with good news cannot take place, but I can’t say I really miss our typical later conversations captured, almost verbatim, as follows, after we’d “covered” all the children:

Me:  “Is anything interesting happening there?”

Mom:    “Nothing.”

Me:  “What are you doing today?”

Mom:  “Not much. Reading.”

Me:  “What will you do this evening?  Is there a concert or movie to see?”

Mom:  “Not interested.”




The theme at the funeral was, accurately, what a long and eventful life she’d led and what a painless death.  Born poor, she’d moved often throughout the 1920’s while her family struggled.  Only because her father ran a small grocery store, the Depression did not result in hunger.  She married my father, a much older man, right after high school, a choice perhaps more pragmatic than romantic, and proceeded to run a middle class household.  She gave birth to children when she was 21, 23 and 25, with an exclamation point (me) when she was 35.  She insisted I had not been “a mistake,” a contention I appreciated.  (My father could never bring himself to verbally affirm her assurance, though he acted sufficiently happy to have me, once I appeared).

My mother enrolled in college as soon as I started first grade, graduated with honors and completed a master’s degree by age fifty. Tired of relying upon my father to place $90 on the bureau each week, an amount unchanged from 1941 to the 1970’s, she loved her career as a public school librarian and the freedom it afforded.




As good a death as we commemorated in December, the events of 2020 have served to make her passing seem providential.  Though adept at social distancing, my mother would be miserable under the present circumstances.  As at many such senior facilities, she would now be in her fifth month of imprisonment in her apartment, with meals dropped off at the door.  I think I can accurately speak for my siblings, too, when I say we all are relieved she isn’t around for the pandemic.  Those turgid phone calls would have continued, but probably in a daily, not-optional, duty-bound sort of way.

Missing politics in 2020 is also fortunate.  Before 2016, my mother would contradict any suggestion that “things have never been so terrible.”  She’d experienced the Depression and the anti-Semitic demagogues like Father Coughlin in the 1930’s, World War Two and the Holocaust in the 1940’s, McCarthyism in the 1950’s and Nixon in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

My mother was interested in politics.  She often recounted her adoration for FDR and how she cried upon news of his death.  Perhaps unusual for a high school grad with three young children she campaigned door-to-door for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956.  She placed a McCarthy sticker on her car in 1968.  Though she detested Nixon like any good Democrat, she still believed the United States was special and, through his impeachment-spurred resignation, felt the political system was vindicated.

Therefore, nothing was so disillusioning as the reckless disregard of American values represented by the election of a reality-television buffoon as president in 2016.  She didn’t believe in voting frivolously and could not fathom how any rational person could vote for such a clown.  For her sake, I’m sorry she cannot at least make one last vote in November.  But the nightmare he and his cult-followers are likely to unleash in the next 100 days would likely shock even the most jaded nonagenarian.  Just thinking about it makes me understand her end-of-life attitude a little better; I will now go lose myself in a Scrabble game.