And If You Hear The Call, Don’t Wake Me When You Leave

Well then. This happened gradually and then suddenly, as the old saying goes. In a mere matter of weeks (really over the course of just a few days), COVID-19 has gone from late-night talk show punchline to all-encompassing apocalypse. Sit-down restaurants are banned from operating in Memphis city limits, and word on the street is the interstates are due to close this weekend. At this point, leaving home for anything other than food or medicine is strongly discouraged, though I imagine stricter measures are soon in the offing. So, noticeably less traffic on the freeways and back country roads, and virtually all planned gatherings are now cancelled. This all feels both strange and surreal, yet it’s also the logical culmination of everything that’s been happening in this country for the past several years, the choking dread diffusing a little more with each mass shooting, each scandal revealing the entropy and rot working away beneath. Paradigms are shifting at a dizzying and worrisome pace. Nearing forty, my older brother remains on the front lines of the pandemic as a trauma surgeon in the Seattle suburbs, though in a small moment of joy and abandon he impulsively married his girlfriend in Hawaii last Monday. Out on the other coast, visitors are being turned away from the bridges and ferries onto the Outer Banks. This spells major financial uncertainty for my watercolorist mother, who as a cancer survivor deserves none of these abysmal tidings.

As is always the case, those near the bottom will feel the crushing weight of the loss while those cruising happily along the surface are given resources to insulate. Still, I suppose in my own immediate life not much has observably changed. I’m a person who enjoys my own company and doesn’t mind solitude; I struggle to remember a single instance where I’ve ever felt ‘lonely’ in the way other people mean it. Nature, art, and animals are my preferred companions. Cities and nightlifes hold little appeal for my sensibilities. Thus, I often go long stretches of time without seeing anyone besides Denny and perhaps the UPS driver. Right now, professional worries about the upcoming LP (and the concept performance at Crosstown Arts in August) being pushed back seem small, dwarfed by the horror implied in maps showing steadily expanding red circles bleeding across state borders. People are panicking, hoarding guns, getting into fist-fights at supermarkets as supplies dwindle and empty shelves collect dust. All I know is I’m not going into Memphis, and I worry desperately for Denny driving into and out of a notoriously-volatile city day in, day out. If quarantine is enforced while she’s on the clock, then perhaps I truly will feel lonely, out here in the rural hinterlands on my own, cringing at the distant automatic fire past the fields, hugging my cats to my chest (and even they seem to sense that something in the usual weather of things is amiss, both tense and uncharacteristically skittish). I am not a person who communicates in the vernacular of violence, the language of dumb force, so who am I to stand in fierce protection of this small slice of grassy homestead I’ve come to treasure?

So woe to thee, O Memphis, thou art destroyed. Mine is a generation dully raised on the fetishization of apocalyptic moods and imagery. Being a solitary person by nature, I bought into that concept stock and trade from a young age, all-in on sweeping panoramas of flaming skylines and jetliners collapsing to burst apart in vacant fields. There was a radiance in it, a dark and spectral beauty, something both illicit yet somehow pure, a rapturous Old Testament way of grinding down towering implications of fate and mortality. Armageddon was sold to us Xennials as a sort of grand adventure, an exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping ramble through the tangled strata of a haunted and decaying society. At the very least, its been wearily touted as a necessary reset button for our bleak and fallen consumerist panoply. If the world ends and one somehow survives the calamity, one can write their own story henceforth, casting themselves as bitter but triumphant protagonist. It speaks to us as bone-deep Americans, appraising ourselves in golden memory as rugged frontier individualists, shying away from the truth of just how narcotized and placated we’ve been from the jump. So no, the fact is, while I may have cynically pined for some bloodied yet cleansing catastrophe to set the scales to right again, this is no kind of punk-rock fun. This is undiluted panic and terror like a fog, investing the tiniest minutiae in the shadow of the blade with unearned portent and fever. It’s simply unprecedented where we go next, day after day, aimlessly bereft of maps to point us towards some halcyon safe harbor. With all apologies to good ole Jean-Paul, the man was fundamentally incorrect when he famously claimed that hell is ‘other people’. In a blacker reality than his crowd likely ever envisioned, hell is uncertainty, and a vague sense that we’ve all got this fucking-well coming, that we’re finally catching up to the rest of a destitute world we’ve so blithely judged and cautioned and clucked over, decade upon decade. There’s no plan in place to salvage whatever we’ve become in 2020 America, not in the epidemic’s capering funhouse-mirror distortions. The remaining pages of this history are blank.

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