I never thought that when grief would knock on my door, I wouldn’t welcome any visitors. I never thought that when the day I lost a loved one arrived, I would stand six feet away from my Baba as he announced to me the passing of his own Baba in our hometown in Iran. I never thought that when my Baba needed me most, he would ask me to step away from him because my embrace could sentence him with the same, cruel virus that took his father. The thing about grief in the time of social distancing is that it is felt in distance too.
On Tuesday morning, I woke up with a hunger for a lick-your-fingers after a peanut butter jelly sandwich kind of sweetness. In quarantine, I have never felt so crushed by how young I am, so cognizant of a fleeting youth divided into everything that came before coronavirus and everything that will come after. Yet, that morning I yearned so badly to just be a kid again. Wrapped in nostalgia, I paired my craving with my newfound time and took my intention into the kitchen to make my own blackberry jam. I danced, stretched in the sunshine streaming through my kitchen window, stirred the saccharine beauty before me, squeezed fresh lemon juice into its welcoming heat. The acid seared into cracks on my hands from washing them down to dry flesh with each passing day in isolation. But these stings only warmed me up for the stab wound to come when I would leave the kitchen and find Baba curled on the couch, phone clutched to his heart, our door open to the kind of company that is never invited but waiting to intrude — grief.
Tuesday was a day in the history of our lives that neither Baba nor I will ever forget. Familial generations shifted, heartache of unearthly proportion pulsed through every person we love, changing each of our lives forever. And we didn’t even leave our living room. Yet, Monday and Sunday and any day that came before in this quarantine and all that have come since looked a lot like Tuesday. The air in our home decays, but we remain caged in these four white walls. The outside world changes, but we remain here. Our tomorrow will probably look like today.
Sure, this is the first time I’ve sat across from grief. But something about pandemic tells me this conversation I’m having with it isn’t how we were supposed to meet. I don’t know what to make of closure when in my family’s darkest hour, we cannot congregate and lean on each other’s shoulders in a funeral for the living to celebrate the dead. I don’t know what to make of “everything happens for a reason” when the person I owe my opportunities and comforts to was buried in an unmarked plot next to other contagious bodies claimed by the coronavirus as his children watched from their car windows. I don’t know how moving on fits into this kind of grief when the living, mourning our lost loved one, are equally occupied with wondering if their pain is only going to give power to their fever, cough and upheaval that has brought nations to their knees. I’m scared that this grief has many faces, and tomorrow, another may come knocking.
But I hold on to the fact that there is still truth to acceptance because when Wednesday arrived, something else did knock on our door. My roommate sent a bouquet of white roses to our home. An unseen face dropped them on our front steps and sauntered off. Baba ordered me to bring them in, leave them by the front door because we didn’t know what lethal hands may have touched them and told me to wash my own. We read the note of condolences and stared at the ornate vase. And six feet apart, we broke. We broke because in a world where flowers could be alien carriers, they were also the only material arrival from the outside world to show us that this heaviness in our hearts isn’t cabin fever induced blues. One minute our grief was remote, the next there were flowers in our living room. Those flowers were sent for a purpose, and that purpose was confirmation that the grief is real and the loss must be too. The roses were beautiful and they were fresh and they were real. And they entered our home.
On Wednesday, I took the jam from the fridge and finally made that peanut butter jelly sandwich. It was more tart than dulcet, delighting in it took effort, and it tasted more of a mediocre stab at a New York Times Cooking jam recipe than a flash of pleasant childhood. I followed the recipe to a T, and my dad reports that the jam actually tastes great. I just don’t think being a kid is what I want anymore. What I long for is a different kind of sweetness — a hug, perhaps.
Grief barged through our door, but I don’t feel like the story of how it arrived for my family is some immigrant’s tale that can only be understood by an audience well acquainted with the borders that the loss happened in. I am haunted by the reproducibility of our grief in our neighbor’s home. For the first time, hailing from a different nation than my neighbors may not mean that the language of our tragedies is different. I am haunted by the fear that in these times celebrating a different culture only means that our home could be on an accelerated timeline, dealing with that intruder that may arrive next door soon. I always wondered what it would feel like to share the traditions near to my heart, honor the people now gone who defined it, hear about the heroes of other’s families and melt the borders of culture and country between me and a neighbor. This isn’t the way I wanted to find out.
The day will come when we will welcome flowers into our homes, and they will enter for better reasons. On that day, we will smell the roses, feel their petals, adorn our tables and window sills with them. They will not be signifiers of death. They will breathe life into our healthy lungs. The day will come when a walk will be taken for no other reason than to sync our heartbeats to motion outdoors, not because it is the only means of escape. The day will come when blackberry jam will taste sweet again. Maybe it will even taste as sweet as the blackberries from my grandfather’s farm, berries that he would surprise his grandkids with on those days when the reason Baba would yell at me to not touch my face and dust my pants was because I would stain them with the blood of the berries, not because my touch could kill. That day will come. Until then, we will admire the flowers by the door where they were left, take that walk to escape anyway, spread the bland jam on our staling bread and write words even if there is no solace in them. That day will come.
Paris Ghazi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] La Vie en Prose runs alternate Thursdays this semester.