On New Year’s Eve, my cat’s butt exploded. And for the ensuing three weeks, as she was toted back and forth to the animal hospital, I kept wondering which day would be her last.
All the wondering exacerbated the unsettling nausea that’s been hunkered down under my rib cage since November’s election. And then January hit, with all its melancholy January-ness.
January: When, in the old days, the glorious reign of Christmas vacation would fall to the tyranny of formal education.
January: When, two years ago, my grandmother passed away.
January: When, every year, the physical world of the Northern Hemisphere sits in its frozen bleakest, starving tree branches like skeletal fingers scratching at the sky.
And this year especially, reminders of death were hitting me left and right like snowballs kept frozen in the freezer.
I’ve decided January tastes like death.
And because it was January in Indiana, the sun had been banished to its room for quite some time, a punishment for breaking curfew all summer long. But every once in awhile, in a victorious fit of rebellion, it pokes its head out from behind the screen of gray and reminds us that it still exists.
That’s precisely what happened on January 20.
As noon on Friday approached, I felt history being written. I felt it in my bones and in that nauseous knot in the core of me as I played with my nephew and tried to guess what kind of chapter this will be in his high school history book.
He was standing on a step ladder at the kitchen counter playing with a spatula.
In a fit of desperation to stop time for a moment, I asked him if he would hold my hand, to which he said, “Yes!” in the way only a young man approaching his second birthday can – with great confidence and great gusto.
I held out my hand, and he wrapped his sticky toddler fingers around my much larger (and also sticky?) fingers, and I just stood there for a minute watching him pretend to fry eggs with his other hand.
And then he forgot about the spatula for a second and sort of picked up my hand in his and gave it a very tight squeeze. He didn’t say anything, just looked at our fingers mashed together, but I imagined he was telling me, “Don’t worry, auntie. I got this. I’m strong and confident. I can climb up ladders and wave spatulas, and I am almost two!”
I smiled with my heart and my lips. I would have been happy if that moment had lasted forever.
But it didn’t, as moments never do. Noon came. And then it went. And who knows what this country will look like when my nephew’s almost six.
In my own form of protest (and a desire for lunch), I went out for Ethiopian food with a friend and talked about a crazy plan I was hatching to only eat at immigrant-run restaurants for as long as the 45th president might last. Immigrants make America delicious.
As I drove home, the sky foaming in rabid waves of gray clouds, I saw a patch of blue sky.
Blue sky in January.
I sat at a stoplight and watched tiny men working construction across the road. They were walking through the striations of gray clouds, balancing on the skinny skeleton of a massive building not yet born.
They were so small, and the tiny cars on the highway whizzed past them so quickly, and the clouds churned under a cosmic egg beater, and some part of me somewhere very deep felt mysteriously calm. As if my nephew were still holding my hand, his little soul telling mine not to give up hope, not to despair, not to flail my arms à la Olive Oyl screaming for Popeye to save her because she can’t save herself.
Like a lull in the wind or the still point before your body draws a breath, this was my reminder to always, always choose hope.
It helped that this particular January day smelled less like death and more like spring.
The air was mild despite the glowering clouds, and as I turned into my neighborhood, I spotted a woman in bare legs and a bathrobe getting the mail. It was 3 p.m.
I couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t really one of those days where you felt like getting up and getting dressed.
But as I parked my car, the sun appeared, just for a moment, very sleepy and very yellow, and the world seemed bathed in hope.
Oh, and the cat? She’s (somehow) still alive.