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 poem was written by UBC member Terri Vaughn as part of the Decameron 2020 project.

Insanity Beneath the Surface

Terri Vaughn

One perfectly fine Sunday day—right after 4:00 ginger tea—my world came unzipped. Oh, it had shown signs of disorder before now, but I just kept restitching that old zipper every time it began to break loose and then watched it bulge again under the strain. Finally it was just too much flesh under a weakened enclosure, and it all came pouring out. What was I to do now that a part of me I’d always kept hidden was revealed for all around me to see?

Around that same time my mustache began looking more noticeable. My response was to take inventory of other parts of my life that might be changing. I had grown independent and cantankerous and it was noticeable to all. My first response was to leave the home I loved, although my family begged me to stay. I just couldn’t bear the idea of my ugly inner parts parading themselves in front of those I loved.

Of course their main objection was that I would have nowhere to sleep, but I didn’t think I would be sleeping much . . . unless I was sleep walking. My desire was to travel . . . to look around the world a bit to see what was going on . . . I felt abnormal and I wanted to know why.

On the first day out of the house, I ran into crowds of people. Some of them were wearing masquerade costumes and doing the tango. Their heads grew larger and smaller with the beat. I didn’t know the dance but a costumed rabbit offered to be my teacher. Not only did the rabbit teach me the art of the tango, but also how to fly over trees and swim between continents. Except the absence of music, flying was even more enjoyable than dancing. And swimming? Well that depended on the temperature of the water.

I’m not sure where I was going, but there were lands I could fly to that I’d never discovered before. And houses that I lived in where I continued to discover new rooms to decorate. Soon I met people I had known in the past. There was Mom and Dad—much healthier than I’d last seen them. We lived together in an odd way. They could appear the parents of my childhood and later the parents I remember in their declining years. I had the habit of being me at times and then strangely becoming that angry person with a mustache. Another reoccurring event was that one moment I could be wearing a beautiful blue dress and the next moment I realized that I wasn’t wearing anything at all.

Eventually I found my soul mate. We did everything together. Walked on ceilings, played croquet, ate the richest food (definitely not on my restricted diet), and rode side-saddle on African giraffes. . . Then he/she was not. I cannot even remember their physical characteristics—only that we were like one.

I wandered through new surroundings, looking under red-orange rocks and periwinkle trees for that other part of me that I had lost. I opened an endless series of doors—with and without doorknobs—and found nothing.

My loss changed the nature of my wanderings . . . I moved through loneliness and grief to fear. The noises and smells I had delighted in before became overwhelming. The sky was full of grackles and their incessant noise . . . the earth smelled overwhelmingly of rotting fruit . . . everything I ate tasted like bitter herbs.

I decided to run away, and as I ran I attracted the attention of people who were looking for a good game. I became the chased, but avoided capture because I could fly and swim and walk through doors. The people tired out as I knew they would, but I hadn’t considered the animals. Now I was prey for hungry beasts . . . a giant black feline kept right on my heels. I ran to a cliff expecting to fly, but something had happened to my powers. I slipped and began to roll downhill until I came to a rock which I hit with a thud. . .

With that thud my heart leapt as I opened my eyes. I found myself up against the wall but still safely on my own bed. With strange relief I glanced at my alarm clock—it was almost six o’clock. I felt my face and it was smooth. With relief I realized that my strange journeys had all been taken in less than two hours.

I laughed at the idea that busting the zipper on my jeans before my nap had caused such turmoiled craziness. I guess I really should go on that diet!

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