Yesterday was my COVID Isolation Anniversary. One year of lockdown. One year of paying attention to toilet paper supplies. One year of stasis and rapid change, of everything-stays-the-same and it’s-all-different. One year during which life has become infinitely more simple and relentlessly more complicated. One year.
Friends check in occasionally. And I check in occasionally with them. How are you? they ask, and I ask them, too, even though I have no answer because how do you access that kind of information? How do you peel those layers? How do you know which crayon color in the box of 64 accurately evokes the color of a heart? The color of a mind? The color of a soul? Which crayon color is frustration? Which crayon color is gratitude? Which crayon color is laying awake at night and staring down invisible monsters? Which crayon color is I Don’t Know What’s for Dinner? Which one is Liberty and Justice for All? Which one is I’m Tired of Isolation? Which one is I Don’t Want to Return to “Normal”?
What color is it when you melt them all together? Mud? Sludge?
How are you? I am mud. Thanks for asking.
How are you? Sludge.
If I tell that truth, will they see the joy in there? That there’s also laughter in the muck and warmth in the mire?
That’s my problem with answering. It takes too many words to explain. It takes too much thought to calculate and unpack. I’d prefer a go-to answer. Something pre-packaged like a cake mix. Just add egg and water. But “fine” is a lie I’m not much interested in telling. It’s a scratchy sweater I don’t like to wear. “It’s complicated” is better—perhaps the best Facebook relationship status of all time. I mean, if we were honest, wouldn’t we change all our statuses (statusi?) to “it’s complicated”?
What’s for dinner? It’s complicated.
How long will you be on the toilet? It’s complicated.
WHAT DID THE DOG BARF ONTO THE RUG? IDK, IT IS COMPLICATED. (FWIW, it is probs not complicated, but also I don’t want to look. Did you know you can clean up dog puke without ever looking directly at it? All peripheral vision and mouth-breathing? This is just one of my many talents.)
How are you? OMG. Complicated, complicated, complicated!
But, of course, you can’t answer this way. Kind people ask kind questions and deserve kind replies. So it’s a conundrum.
Except I asked my friend Sarah how she was the other day, and she replied quickly.
How are you doing in the After Times? I said.
Ha ha, she replied. Very fucking terrible but somehow still here. How about you?
And instead of being paralyzed by this question, as I almost always am, I had an answer. A true answer that wasn’t a scratchy sweater. A true answer that embraced the sludge without trying to untangle the colors.
Only somewhat fucking terrible, I said.
So I’ve come to a conclusion—an important discovery. How are you? is a squishy question. It’s too broad. Like trying to nail jello to a wall. But the Fucking Terrible Scale? THAT is something my muddy self can understand. That is enough substance to pin down.
And so I turn this question over to you.
How are you?
Answer using the Fucking Terrible Scale please. All answers from Not Even a Little Bit Fucking Terrible to REALLY SUPER EXTRA Fucking Terrible are welcome. This is a Fucking Terrible judgement free zone.
With love as always,