After our son's first grand mal of the night, I laid in bed with him. In my head, I began to write my blog. Like our daily car rides, my thoughts looped around. Words took different turns. Images previously seen clicked into narrative landscapes—physical, emotional, virtual. Eventually, I nodded off to sleep.

Of late, Calvin has been too ill to take car rides daily. Some sort of infection—urinary tract, bladder or kidney—means we haven't been out much, or we've driven short loops close to home in case he has another daytime seizure. I lament the days in which I can't travel the backroads. I so miss seeing the gorgeous vistas, the wide open spaces, the big skies, my people: the Carhart man with his three willful dogs; the pair of women with similar haircuts and purple jackets; the tall man with his cute, wiry mutt; the black-clad couple who live at the mouth of the inlet; the bikers and joggers of every age and shape; the marathon runner; even the skinny old hippy chick with the puffy coat, nappy hat, mauve stockings, hiking shoes and poles who looks at me with a bit of suspicion as if she owns the road. They all unwittingly buoy me through this lonesome pandemic. Each sighting, smile, wave and nod somehow lifts me, makes me forget about stresses and worries, Calvin's seizures and our limitations. Without these people, I'd be feeling altogether differently; in other words, not as good. These have been some long-ass, monotonous days—over a year of them—caring for a boy who can do nothing by or for himself.

But I do find respite. Ben came up from Boston Sunday. With Calvin secure inside the house where we could check on him frequently, the three of us sat safely distant in the sunny driveway. Ben's eyes shined bluer and brighter than I remember, at times exuding understanding and compassion. A former student of Michael's, we talked about photography and discussed the art of mindfulness—of finding deeper meaning and beauty in the mundane; with that I have a lot of practice. He asked what kind of relationship Calvin has with language. I was touched by his curiosity and depth of thought.

Ben told us he brings along Polaroid snapshots of his friends when he travels for business. Lays them out in lonely hotel rooms where he can see them. It's as if his people are there in person. It helps him pass the weeks and months away from those he loves. I imagine he might feel as if they're seeing him too, which must be validating in a pandemic for those seen by few.

On Monday, after starting an antibiotic, Calvin seemed to be feeling better. So we took a longer drive down a favorite road to a boat launch eight miles south or so. On the drive out and back we passed the runner. His pace is swift and fluid, as if he never touches down. I'm reminded of the winged feet of Mercury, god of travel. Like when I swim or tread water, it seems he can run forever. Though I reckon he goes quite far, his face remains placid. His endeavor appears effortless. So as not to startle him, in passing I put my hand out the open window hoping he might see me waving as we passed by.

Though we'd already traveled a distance, Calvin remained happy in the backseat playing with his toes. The songs on the radio—some familiar, others newer—soothed me. I chose to take two more favorite loops. Nearing a quiet corner where a sloping neighborhood street meets another road, again I spotted the runner. Well before the stop I paused to give him space—for mind and body. Flying past, he waved a hand in my direction. A sense of joy and ease washed over me. As if evidence of my own pandemic existence, I had been seen and, for a moment, it felt as if he carried me along.

In taking a left turn homeward, I was made to pass the runner one last time. I hesitated to catch his gaze for fear of interfering. As his form receded in the frame of rearview mirror, I was reminded of Ben's snapshots, and of mindfulness and gratitude. I mused: mental pictures of these backroads travelers, a couple of whom have become in ways beloved, are like snapshots in my pocket. I keep them in my thoughts, forever curious of their struggles, passions, hopes and burdens. Not unlike my dearest friends, I carry memories of their forms and faces throughout my days and in-between seeing them in person, like Ben's Polaroids displayed on hotel tables. 

At 3:00 a.m., in the wake of Calvin's second grand mal, he suffered some miserable agitation. After having done all we could to aid and comfort him, I heard the train roll through. Hearing its whistle and rumble calmed me. I imagined taking it to its final destination, wherever that might be. I thought again about my backroads folks. I wondered—not so humbly—if they ever imagine, however fleetingly, my travels through landscapes, time, emotions. I wonder if I've become in some strange ways meaningful to them like they've become to me. Like a stack of snapshots, do impressions of this smiling stranger behind the wheel endure—not as a burden, but as a buoy? Or are my musings more a measure of some real pandemic loneliness and fatigue?

Photo by Ben Painter


  1. I started walking each morning during the pandemic and find great comfort in the consistency of it. Some folks along my route started waving or even introducing themselves. Odd to think that I may be that affirmation for others. There was a man walking during the same time frame as myself but always in the opposing direction. We finally stopped and exchanged names. We would wave as we passed each other most mornings. I have not seen him for a couple of months now and it gnaws at me. I only knew his first name and the general area of residence. I have no way of checking to see if he's OK. I think about him every morning!

    1. dear unknown, thank you for sharing that with me!