Coping with COVID: Story

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified in March, Paul Taylor launched a collaborative writing project that was inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Boccaccio wrote his collection of one hundred stories in response to the devastation caused by the Black Death sweeping across Europe during the fourteenth century. The following story was written by UBC member Terri Vaughn as part of the Decameron 2020 project. 

 

Life Is…
Terri Vaughn

1983 . . .

I am running to the woods for shelter again. Not that I don’t have a home, but I need the emotional shelter of trees. My husband makes fun of tree huggers. Well, I don’t hug the trees very often, but they are some of my best friends: the tall Oklahoma oaks, the stable cedars, and the seasonally purplish-pink red buds. Instead of tearing the soul apart they lift it up into the comfort of their encompassing branches —any time of year, whether the winter snow whitens their boughs or the summer sun brings out their jolly green.

Today I am walking through our woods while the snow crunches under my feet. I don’t like the fact that I’m destroying the pristine beauty with my boots. . . I must duck carefully under the lower branches to avoid scattering a bucketful on my head. These distractions are useful—I don’t want my tears to freeze on my cheeks, so I’d rather concentrate on the environment. . . . No animals are visible—I imagine them in cozy nests, warmly cuddled together as families, and quiet . . . without human stress.

My emotions feel as if they’ve been torn to shreds and hastily glued back together. Why is it always like this? I can’t tell if I’m too sensitive or he’s too harsh. . . Now I’ve wandered to the frozen creek, probably not safe to walk on . . .sort of like my heart . . .frozen over, but not impenetrable.

I need to keep my thoughts on nature. . . I love the irregular shapes of the older trees. Even those that have ceased to bear life stand on in twisted beauty. Now their shades of brown and black contrast remarkably with the winter’s white magic. It is truly a wonderland . . . somehow the woods become enchanted . . . providing joy in the midst of sorrow and confusion.

Five years later . . .

Since I traded in my woods for a chance to make a difference in the world, life is exhausting. A never ending on-call, unpaid position that has me crying for separated families, human casualties, calloused immigration officials and American missionaries who try to cast out “the demon of illegal aliens.” Some days I wake up and unknown (to me) people have appeared in my living room floor without warning. I know who’s responsible.

Today I’ve plans to clean up the acre we bought with 5 old mobile homes in different stages of deterioration. They aren’t anything to brag about, but they beat sleeping in the park or condemned hotels that are full of people wanting to take advantage of women and children. So I swallow my anger at this little glitch, wake up the strangers, and try to find something for them to eat before heading out. They will have to come with me because they aren’t familiar with their surroundings. Fortunately I have room in our aging VW van . . .

It is Christmas Eve and we still have our guests, the seven women that I stumbled over in my living room a couple of days ago, as well as a few men who sleep in my neighbor’s van. The Christmas stocking stuffers are spread thin and the presents put away for later. I wonder if my kids will feel cheated. . . I hope instead they have learned that people are more important than presents . . .

Although it’s a little cold in South Texas, we spend the evening outside because there’s too many of us to fit in our 10×50 mobile home. . . First there is a small feast . . . then carols, mostly in Spanish . . . we laugh, and then we dance . . . . And in these festive, holy moments—among strangers— joy arises . . .

Another six years . . .

It’s Easter afternoon and I’m visiting my parents in Oklahoma. I spent the morning at church with Mom, and now I have stopped at the nursing home on my way back to Texas. Dad has lost so much weight and he is now bedridden. He can no longer speak. Alzheimer’s has turned a 65-year-old man who always looked young for his age into a shriveled body that appears to be 90. What do you say to a man that supported you, listened to you, played with you since you were born and is now lying in bed without movement? How can I do anything but cry? Yet there’s something inside him that knows me, so I must be strong. He looks at me, and I hold his hand and talk. In the background I hear a church group come into the lobby . . . a year ago we would have joined them. They begin to sing Amazing Grace, so I sing too. I am singing to the father who used to sing to me when I was sick or unhappy . . . but usually just for fun.

My dad loved music. When he was in high school he learned to play the guitar and began entertaining informal groups. With his corny sense of humor he made people laugh as well as pleasing their ears with his performance. My warmest memories of childhood are the nights we kids spent dancing while Dad played folk and country tunes. As an adult he taught me to play the guitar, and every trip home we’d sing to each other the new tunes we’d created. Mine were very simple, let me assure you, but he always loved them anyway.

A few bars into “Amazing Grace” Dad began to sing along with me. Not in words, but in a low guttural sound that came from deep within — and he was in tune. We continued together for the rest of the song—amid the grief, a touch of Easter joy.

Twenty + years later . . .

The last two years have been an up and down hill battle. This time I’m fighting not with someone else, but with my health. One day I limp because of pain in my legs, and the next day I sit most of the day with a heating pad on my stomach. Loud sounds and strong smells give me migraines. . . I’ve given up work and hikes and seeing most of my friends . . . My energy fails and I forget to practice the piano, to paint, to make my bed. Sleep eludes me at times. And when it goes completely I’m no longer a nice person. I cry and think maybe life is not worth it . . . Until I finally sleep . . . and when I awake well rested I see things differently.

The trees are calling . . . along with the spring breeze . . . and the birds on the feeder. I sit in the yard soaking in their friendship. My heart companion, Ron, is working in the yard . . . The dogs lay nearby waiting to bark at friendly traffic on the walking path and soon they will run to me for affection. . . Life is joy.

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