Dispatch #007: Is Surrendering the First Step to Repairing?

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Have you launched a post-quarantine wish list? I have purchased nothing but groceries in the last six weeks but recently, I started an inbox draft, subject title: “Maybe you can buy this stuff when it’s safe.” So far, there is a black jumpsuit by the brand Sea in there. A pair of Proenza Schouler Birkenstocks, this incredible looking terrycloth sarong, a Maison Cleo gingham blouse, and these cotton shorts.

Oh god, and then there are this saran wrap for your feet. I have liked these shoes since I saw them at The Row’s presentation last September. It feels like such a distant memory now—taking for granted very little things like using my phone when I’m outside without first taking off the protective gloves that cover my fingers, or breathing in air without having a sheet of cloth intercept the contact between my nose and the outdoors. Other things I have taken for granted: the endless opportunities that awaited me on literally every street corner (a coffee, a muffin, a bouquet of flowers, a pack of gum, a bottle of water). The random act of greeting a stranger. And lest I forget the leisurely chance to wear something frivolous. More and more, I’m coming to see that as an essential effort to feel great.

It’s nice to talk about clothes and muffins and things that aren’t directly related to the outbreak. I think this is partly why I’ve taken to cooking: It’s another escape lever. But the desire to distract myself dims almost as quickly as I realize I am distracted and then, there I am again.

I have no idea what post-Pandemic life is going to be like, but I also get the sense that I am not the only one who is starting to think about it. I mean really think about it. Will you ever shake another hand? Get on another plane without first laboring over whether you really have to? I don’t know that I’ll eat out as frequently, even though I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss it. Every part of the prospect thrills me: picking an eating companion, picking a restaurant, picking a time and a way to get there, picking an outfit, then going and picking the greatest part of it all: a topic of conversation to get lost in.

Lately, I also wonder if I’m clinging to the small things like whether I will eat out again because the big things—like business! My work! Health. This country—seem too big. I haven’t yet really let those last two unravel, but they’re festering. For now, it’s easier to think about the inbox draft. My wishlist. I wonder if it will ever really be safe enough again to indulge its contents. I mean, I know it will be safe enough again—I guess what I really mean is, how long will it take? Eh, forget it. There’s no use in trying to guess.

It’s funny how coming out of one mode—panic mode, solutions mode, fight mode, whatever—and entering surrender mode can feel like defeat when actually, I think, it’s the beginning of repair. I can feel myself stretching into corners of my mind that I have not been able to access in the past six weeks and it’s really nice. Have you felt that way at all?

I’m still thinking about that terrycloth sarong. I have visited it nearly every day for three weeks; debating which color would best suit the rest of the contents of my wardrobe, evaluating whether the yellow, which is my favorite, feels too much like a tender gimmick, approximating beach umbrellas to be found along the coast of Italy.

And are you craving color more than usual? Initially, I wondered if I’m reverting to a maximal approach to dressing but I think I’m just craving more color. Before all of this started, I’d become a staunch supporter of the era of streamlined fashion. I wore jeans and gray jackets and sleek boots and stood up straighter and felt like a real adult anytime I justified buying a Sensible Navy Blue Sweater. But in quarantine, I’m looking for bold colors and printed shorts and wearing tie-dye socks, so I can’t help but wonder, because I’m sitting by a window typing into a laptop as if I were actually Carrie Bradshaw: Am I becoming a born-again maximalist, or is my world so much smaller these days that I’m pulling whatever levers of expression I know to widen its aperture?

Abie’s reading a book to Madeline and Laura in the other room. I can hear his voice following the rhythm of a rhyming book that Madeline loves. If I had to guess, Laura is barely listening. She’s probably counting the shapes on the rug or gathering her crayons or stacking the books. She seems not to care much about playing with toys but really likes to arrange them. Pulling them together, taking them apart. Madeline, on the other hand, loves to be entertained. She gobbles up books like they’re ice cream sandwiches, watches our iPhone screens when we FaceTime with grandparents as if it were Sesame Street. She loves to draw, and watch me draw. I feel like I’m in a fortress right now, talking about them from behind a closed door instead of to them, boots on the ground. Here I’m writing to blow off steam as I await entry into a Zoom meeting room while Abie’s out there reading to them. Boots on the ground. I’d like to be boots on the ground.

I spent most of last night up in bed writing a mental list of what perishable ingredients are still in my fridge so I could prioritize how to use them, force ranking the most to least likely to spoil. I started to think about all the flax meal I’ve acquired. The nearly-overripe bananas on my counter. The grain-free bread that is molding. I could smear the bananas on the bread, add peanut butter or black beans (don’t knock it til you try it) and feed all of us breakfast. Does anyone else lay awake worrying about how to optimize their produce?

It’s Sunday night now.

This story has been sitting on the backend of WordPress for like, 4 days and I’m editing the last two paragraphs because I don’t understand what the point was. I’m not actually sure there was one. I’d written something about the different ways Abie and I cope, which I’m certain was an attempt to talk myself off a ledge because even after The Great Head Bump and the consequent Tender Hug, I was still mad. Not about the hemp seeds — but not that far off either.

Why, for example, wouldn’t he lay awake with me thinking about how to optimize produce? How could he sleep so comfortably while time passed, okra unused? If that sounds crazy, I get why, but it never feels that way when you’re in the heat of the moment. He’s a rational compartmentalizer who keeps a safe (dare I jest 6 foot) distance between facts and feelings whereas I make mental hurricanes, knocking everything that crosses my mind (and guts) into the eye of the storm, each item carrying equal weight. And then I wear it so heavy! He’s light as a feather.

At the beginning of quarantine, I worried I might get resentful. Last week, I am certain it was beginning to happen and I probably wrote this too soon because I only just realized that I was so mad because I was starting to think that I was carrying weight for both of us — that this is what enabled his featherweight trapising, but guess what? That’s bullshit. The weight is all my own. Was all my own. I know this to be true because at some point midway through Saturday morning, by some miracle of sunshine, I said fuck it and meant fuck it and almost immediately dropped two cinderblocks worth of weight. Maybe I had tasted the sweet potion of surrender earlier on, but this, I am certain, was a more potent gulp and tl;dr? The weekend was really nice. Nothing is okay, but everything is okay.

Graphics by Lorenza Centi. Leandra wearing Toteme jeans and Chanel jacket.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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