Reunion After the Plague

The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.Charles Dickens

Several weeks ago I got the best news of the year, my wife had bought her ticket home. We would be reunited after being apart for over eight months. I was thrilled. For eight months, I have lit the light in the westward facing window and stood my vigil. Three seasons have come and gone outside my darkening window. I spent days cleaning our home. Yesterday, the great day arrived. We were reunited. My love and my step-son finally were allowed to step across that very real border between arriving and arrived. In anticipation of our reuniting, I expressed some of the shadowy outlines that have accreted within my soul.

There were afternoons, during the worst of the pandemic, when I would stare out the window waiting for the sun to set below the trees so it was dark enough for me to turn on the lights and close the curtain and hide again. Every day, I had ceremoniously opened the curtains in the morning – proclaiming my aliveness to the world. When I lived next door to my aged father, in the morning, I would check to see if he had opened his curtains, and in the evening just as it got dark I would check to see if he had closed his curtains. It would have been ghoulish or intrusive to have checked on him every day to see if he was still alive.

And each night before I went to sleep alone, I would perform my ritual of getting my coffee and oatmeal ready for the next day. As I repeated each step, I’d think about what chores I could give myself for the next day in order to feel as if I had a reason to get going in the morning. Many days I couldn’t think up enough tasks to make a new To-Do list. But there was always a note to myself waiting beside my computer, as a breadcrumb back to reality after finally falling asleep. The familiar structure of my day grounded me in the real world.

I woke before sunrise. The first sip of coffee rekindled my spirit. As if consulting an ancient oracle, I checked my emails and read a little news as I had breakfast. The sky brightened. I gently pulled back the curtain on the windows that face the forest. If I was lucky some chirping birds would be flittering around the bare branches. There were far too many days in a row when the only spoken communication I would have was whistling softly out the window trying to mimic the birdsongs. I would check the sky and then the weather. If it wasn’t raining, I would go commune with the ocean. But for six months, I minimized the number of trips outside as much as possible.

I was very careful not to break anything essential. Deep inside I wanted our home to stay the same way it was when my wife left. An important goal was to maintain everything until the time when the pandemic would begin to fade as an omen she would come home. I didn’t know for certain when she was going to come home until over seven months after she left. Fear stealthily crept up my spine. What if I got injured, or much worse – sick? I stocked up on food as best I could and went for weeks without going to the supermarket. Our pressure cooker became my friend, as did the bitter melon plant my wife left growing in the window. I cared for it like a parent. It’s steadying companionship earned it the name Koogie, since Ku Gua is Chinese for bitter melon. And when it bore fruit I was like an expecting father.

I documented Koogie’s growth. When the melon ripened, the pod opened to reveal a glorious yellow pulp festooned with crimson red seeds. The seeds slowly slid down to the opened mouth and drop into the pot. I gathered them, dried them and preserved them for the future. Afterwards, I buried the withered melon in the garden as an offering to primal fertility gods. Koogie tried again several times to produce another viable pod but failed. In late spring, I took Koogie to the garden wanting to give it a chance to grow naturally. Perhaps because of the shock of being taken out of its familiar environment, the transplanted bitter melon vine died, but it might also have been loneliness that killed Koogie. At that time, during the darkest hours, I was visited by the specter of despair.

I had been keeping a running total of the Covid statistics several times every day since the beginning of the pandemic. When the daily death tolls reached the thousands, part of my soul was frozen – locked in place from the terrifying scale of death. The ghastly pyre of one death nearly every twenty seconds glowed ever higher on the horizon. It seemed that most governments around the world had failed miserably at protecting their people. The walls morphed into cold steel plates. Uninterrupted sleep was impossible. The glow of salvation bloomed when I started painting again. Just after my wife left for her father’s funeral, my youngest daughter had given me some blank canvasses the last time I visited her. The first thing I painted was a sea goddess in ink. The dozens of layers of ink washes are a sedimentary record of my passing days like a stalagmite of mortality. My other daughter suggested I order some art supplies online. In late winter, after months of eternal dusk, the world brightened.

For months I had preserved our table the way my wife had arranged things. But one day I cleared the crowded tabletop and claimed the space as my own. Each day over coffee I would look at the previous day’s painting and plan what to paint next. Like one of those complicated models with dozens of tiny connections, the loose pieces of my soul popped back into place. As it had so many times in the past, Art had delivered me. The timeless flowing moments of creation lifted my spirit back into the light. With brush and pencil, ink and paint, art-piece by piece brought me back from the brink. I created two dozen pieces of art, you can see them on my Etsy page. But, for now, I only sell in the US, because of the mail services. I called my art page – Life From Art, because Art returned my Life to me.

The past few days, I celebrated the journey to today’s wondrous reunion. In nostalgic moments, I sat beside the window and listened to the tide roll in half a mile away. The small town grew quiet. Every few minutes a car drove past, but all I saw through the dark woodlot in front of me were brief headlight flashes. I watched the glowing embers of sandalwood incense as hints of distant smoldering campfires flavored the salty air. My thoughts floated away on the chilled breeze. For a time, my spirit drifted in the calm as I recalled so many long lost friends. The long hoped for morning has arrived. As I write, my wife is a few steps away. The stars have realigned. Our hearts reunited.

Published by cewheeler

Writer/Artist:12 years in China – univ. lecturer: writing,poetry,culture; editor – magazine/newspaper & actor. 40 years students of the Tao. Traveler. Father. Read my books at:

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