Here is what will happen in the first year of the pandemic

Woman holding a drink at a bar alone.
Woman holding a drink at a bar alone.
Photo: Erik Witsoe/EyeEm/Getty Images

It is March and I am standing behind the pine of the dive bar I work at holding a spray bottle full of sanitizer. I have cleaned everything I can think of that has ever been touched. The light switches. The doorknobs. The undersides of the stools. The skin of my hands is cracking from the frequency of antibacterial soap and I do not know it yet, but the smell of hand sanitizer will soon permeate every part of my life. …

You carried me for eight years, and now I am going to carry myself

Photo: Jennifer Lucero / EyeEm / Getty Images

I’m sorry I brought you to the city.

I’m sorry we ever left the mountain, I’m sorry the last four years of your life were attached to the end of a leash, and I’m sorry I didn’t take you swimming enough when we came here. I’m sorry for that time we had been driving for 12 hours, and I yelled at you in the car for trying to climb from the back seat into my lap in the middle of the night somewhere in Ohio. I’m sorry for every walk that wasn’t long enough because I was tired after work…

I am listening for
signs of life, listening because
I don’t trust the horizon, and so much can be held in the mouth,

I am biting down.

My body…

The easiest part is
falling backwards
and knowing already
what the impact feels like,
counting the moments
suspended in air
and bracing
for the pavement
because you know
exactly where your ribs
will crack…

Since publishing my last set of essays, my inbox has been full of confessions from strangers around the world, telling me their stories that mirror my stories, thanking me for finding words in the catacombs of their silences, in all of our silences.

We are messy and tempestuous because we are made of water and ghosts, because we are people, because we contain within us entire civilizations and abandoned cities and monsters and floods and also miles of desert where there is nothing to drink but our own tears.

And with every confession we offer, we become somebody’s confessor. …

I need to believe you are good, in case this never gets better. In case there is never a resolution, in case all that is left here is silence, the kind that is thick, palpable. In case it is just ghosts.

In case it someday feels like that town in Pennsylvania, the one with the fire underneath that has been sitting on a burning mine labyrinth for 56 years, what if you are like that? What if you never actually leave? I have washed the sheets, but I am still finding your hair on pillowcases, so I need to believe…

You are still
entirely whole,
made of all the parts of
what you have loved
even on the drive back
alone in the car, even with your
pockets full of lists of what you have
even helpless,
you are still intact

Sometimes there is just a
series of hallways
and burned out light bulbs
and sometimes it is cold enough
in June
to need a scarf
and there are not enough blankets
and there is not enough time

And sometimes you will
be afraid of the dark, still
because it will mean
there are days and years
at the end of these hallways

We were not dating, you were not my boyfriend, we were beyond those sorts of commitments, we were so woke, we could transcend all those prickly, binding words. Our generation does not like definitions, we do not like to be restrained, you were not my boyfriend. We were not dating.

We were not dating, we were friends, just friends, my guy, so it meant you did not have to return my phone calls and you did anyway, so that meant I was special. We were post-modern friends engaging in post-mortem love, except you’d think dystopian love would be more impactful…

I am harboring pieces of him like fugitives, stuck here, a cluster of cells and soul, and this ghost does not want to go. Inside my body it is a collection of memories, too. We made this in the dark or in the morning, he and I, each time with our hands in each other’s hair, each time with poems and confessions and exclamations of love. This ghost is here because once, somebody loved me. I place my hands over my abdomen, I press down, I say, Did you just come here to die?

Did you, darling disaster, you simple…

Rock bottom
for a woman
is sobbing in your friend’s arms,
How did I get like this? I am so smart, I am so smart,
how did I
get like this
when I am so smart?

Nina Szarka

Apocalypse carnival mistress, essayist, and animated story maker.

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