The snow that lingers on the peak of Mt. Charleston has turned from encasing to simple gray slivers from across the Valley. The once crisp air which allowed onlookers below to make out the divots and rivets in the mountain has turned to a thin haze, blending the crevices together to make a one dimensional brown-gray horizon of mountains.

Closer to home, balloons remain tangled in the branches of a tree, just out of reach to pedestrians.

Happy birthday!

The first time I notice them on a walk with Fido, my rescue dog/long-term relationship, they are inflated. I imagine a child crying as the balloons lift up, just out of reach and the strings interlace with branches, creating a home for them. Each day, the child walks by, seeing those balloons deflate ever so slowly.

A reminder of the time which ticks by … tick.

Tick. Tick.

Moving constantly. But, in the times of this pandemic, it stands still.

Speeds up.

Keeps us in this limbo hovering between discomfort and release.

Now, when I walk by the balloons, they have shriveled to thin sheaths of whatever they are made of.

The shimmery silvery background of Happy Birthday has sunk into itself, leaving the surface wrinkled and crinkled. The thick border of magenta, a one-dimensional reminder of what life used to be like.

Pre-COVID-19.

When I first decided to pick up work on my memoir again, I swore it wasn’t going to be about this moment in time.

Because I thought it would be just that.

A moment. A blip.

As I jetted around the globe, the virus closing cities in my wake, I thought it’s only a quick thing.

Even when I put my tours on sale and started selling them, the same thought danced across my mind: this is fine. It will be fine. We’ve got this under control. It’s no big deal.

I literally booked a ticket to New York in March, the day Governor Cuomo made elbow bumps the new handshake.

Pre-pandemic fancy dinners are gone.

When James Beard closed its house and events through April, and I listened to assurances from the person in charge of our country, I think: It’s ok. May will be OK. 

But, we didn’t make it through mid-March with things being OK.

The full closure of the State hangs in the air as I go on, business as usual.

“It’s like a snow day,” I say on the phone to my friend. “We all know tomorrow it is going to snow. Dump down on us. Shut everything down. There is this weird electricity in the air. It’s a mix of foreboding and doom.”

When Nevada shut, it was solidified.

Two weeks.

I can make it through two weeks.

Then, death rates started skyrocketing. Ventilators were on short supply. Body bags pile up. And, I realize this isn’t going away in two weeks.

I eat my stash of marshmallows for breakfast. And cocoa cereal. And ice cream for lunch.

I email my tour participants and tell them they can have their money back, but I’m still hoping we can go to Spain in June. Even though Spain is closed and no one can leave their houses except for groceries.

It will get better, right?

I sit in a daze most of the time. When I’m not, I cry at the pause in life. The uncertainty. The releasing of projects I worked so hard to attain.

The realization that at 40, I have no income.

No family nearby.

No person to call if I get sick who would be there for me because when it comes right down to it, no one I know would risk their own health to make sure I’m alive.

It’s a shitty feeling to realize just how alone you are in a pandemic.

Fido and I, we bond.

He knows my moods.

He knows when I cry, I need him to jump up on my legs and nuzzle his furry face in my neck and lick my face until I get laughably irritated and tell him to stop.

Time ticks slowly those first two weeks. I don’t leave my house except to walk him, and each time I see those balloons still inflated, mingling in the branches.

When it becomes apparent we aren’t getting out of this in two weeks, I start to mobilize. To crawl out of my grief, to face head on my new normal … as odd as it may seem.

I turn the chaos around me into structure.

The announcement at the end of March that we’re sheltering in place through the month doesn’t surprise me. At that point, it gives me permission to lean in.

To lean all the way in to this new life.

Every morning, I wake up to an alarm and Fido, his furry, Muppet paws pouncing on me, his head burrowing into my shoulder as he groans his good mornings to me.

We walk. He eats. I feed the cats. Then, I put on my headphones and go for a three-mile walk through the ranch homes across the street.

Most days I talk to my parents.

When I get home, I click into my Peloton app and select a cardio workout followed by a strength workout. Some days, I feel so motivated that I scroll through the on-demand library, going from strength training to yoga to stretching to meditations.

Then, it’s tea and dishes while it steeps, followed by reading and mapping out my day.

It becomes a routine.

I seem to only notice the passage of time when my alarm dings for reminders of Zoom meetings or I’m out with Fido and realize it’s suddenly Thursday when only a minute ago it was Monday.

I take on new projects, I offer free private coaching, I keep myself busy and joke: I’m working more and harder than I have ever worked before and making zero dollars.

And so it goes … for almost three months.

Wake up. Work out. Work. Netflix. Read. Gratitude journal.

I create this nearly in penetrable bubble around me, protecting myself from whatever it is which causes my anxiety. And, my anxiety begins to disappear.

No money, no work … no anxiety.

Maybe it’s because it’s literally out of my control. Maybe it’s because I know there is a likely safety net of unemployment coming down the very long pipeline.

I barely write, even though I’ve set a daily reminder to take a writing break.

The tab on my computer with the document doesn’t close, but I don’t visit the page often.

And, when I do, it leads to feelings I buried long ago before I even left Thailand.

Stories I never thought I’d unravel, but one day, I do because I’m going through my old photos in a quest to find one to print and hang.

It’s funny, I have zero money, yet I find an extra $50 to replace my kitchen rug (a steal, right?!?!) and then move on to being focused on something to hang above my couch.

I come across a folder on my external drive.

March 2013.

Myanmar.

A week in my life that was perhaps one of the worst in my life. A time I was told I wasn’t allowed to ever discuss in any way, shape or form online or really to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

You can take the words away from a writer, but you can’t extinguish the feelings.

I scroll through the images of poverty, abuse, torture, and a tsunami of grief crashes over me.

For the first time since I’ve been in this self-decided isolation, I write from my heart.

I dig into the memories I was forced to bury and anger bubbles to the surface.

Hysteric grief.

Pure anguish.

I can barely see as I type, but I don’t dare stop.

This is nothing compared to the other photos from my experience.

My fingers are in direct communication with my brain and I don’t even know what I’m writing. The words simply end up on the screen as I sob and relive the experience.

My time in Thailand — the real time that I didn’t share with anyone — comes flashing back to me.

As I’ve grown away from the life I lived there, I’ve had time to process it … on occasion.

For the most part, I’ve barely processed the past decade of my life and travel and living abroad.

I’ve moved from chapter to chapter, barely pausing to think beyond the moment, let alone look and understand what’s taken place and how those moments have made me who I am — good and bad.

I’ve been moving. Moving. Moving.

Until now.

Until we were all put on a big time out.

The one thing that’s changed about me since I moved back to Vegas is the fact I can be alone. I am comfortable with me, when in the past I know I would have self-medicated, screamed and really lost my mind in the stillness and isolation. Or, I simply wouldn’t have been, leaving my world to be in other people’s worlds, regardless of the cost.

I sit in my thoughts and my stories and let them move through me. Process them.

This time has given me insight into me that I would never have achieved otherwise (or at least not in the time span like this).

It’s shown me I actually care about my well being.

I had a choice when this started. We all had a choice.

To move through and become comfortable or to rebel and avoid dealing with our demons.

Regardless of what I chose, the snow would melt. The balloons would deflate and time would keep on ticking.

I’ve grieved more than I’ve ever grieved for our people, for those whose lives were lost, for the racism which has been finally put in the spotlight of the world. I’ve gone from grief to anger to passion to activism and love.

I’m not who I was in March. I’m more of a person now than I ever was. I’ve started a slow dance with myself of more love and acceptance and unpacking my past to make a better future for myself and others.

And for that, I’m grateful.

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