And on the seventh week of isolation, I started wearing jewelry again.
A watch, a necklace, two rings.
The watch is a sister to the one my dad gave me when I started getting serious about running back in high school. The silver cross necklace was a birthday present from my grandmother the summer I turned thirteen. My heavy, silver thumb ring was a souvenir from a day out in Jefferson with my mom sometime shortly after my sister’s wedding in 2016, the other is my college class ring.
Inside the band, where we could have our names inscribed, I put a line from Tennyson instead: to the lees.
The full quote runs “I cannot rest from travel: I will drink // Life to the lees”
The lees are the dregs of a wine cask, the very last drops.
The words are a promise I made to myself before I left the state and the people that I love so, so fiercely. It’s a promise that I’ve started wearing daily again, alongside the other reminders and tokens from a few of the people I love best in this world.
Quantum theory says that there is an alternate reality where Covid-19 didn’t happen. Where New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, and Houston never suffered ventilator shortages. Where protests in Michigan probably happened, but they weren’t about this. Where Austin got to hold SXSW, and high school seniors got to go to prom, and 65,000 Americans didn’t die in just over sixty days.
In that alternate reality, a different Jenni got to see her family last week. She got to hug them, and eat with them, and got embarrassed at how blatantly American they can be. She got to be proud of them when they disproved stereotypes. She got to see tulips and laugh when her brother in law’s carefully mapped schedule went out the window. Maybe alternate reality Jenni actually likes beer, and didn’t have to ask for cider at every pub they stopped at. Maybe she got high with her parents—who knows? It’s Amsterdam.
In this gentler, more innocent version of time, the closest she gets to plague is the Wiertz museum in Brussels, where she hunted out Antoine-Joseph Wiertz 1854 painting L’Inhumation Precipitée, or The Premature Burial, an embodiment of black humour in the midst of a cholera epidemic.
In this alternate, kinder reality she would have gleefully explained the rampant fears surrounding live burial in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her family would have been polite enough to listen, even though they’ve heard her spiel on this before.
I comfort myself with this alternate reality. I pray that she, the version of me that exists on the other side of a fold in time and space, had a good time. That she held her people tight, and told them she loved them, and that she laughed when they all said goodbye at the airport because she would be home in August anyway.
I hold these imagined memories as I sit trapped across an ocean in this reality. A reality where my skin doesn’t feel like it fits. A reality where stepping outside is a calculation. A reality where sleep and rest are not the same thing.
On the seventh week of quarantine, I started putting my jewelry on again in the mornings, because it helps. A watch, to count days, a cross to hold when I need it, two rings. Links and anchors and tethers to keep me bound to those I love far over the sea.
Reminders that even over here, alone, and aching for human contact, they’re still with me.