November 4th, 2010 - Warren J. Cox
I was stepping into a role I swore I’d never take on, already gaining momentum toward the terrible goal, getting well down the rabbit hole whose curvy walls were lined with infinite stretching greige-colored dough and circular smears of pizza sauce and melty, bubbling cheese.
I had joined the management program of an up-and-coming pizza company, one obsessed with competing with the three major chains.
Having been part-time for years, I was well proven. On many occasions I’d fended off the Why don’t you become a manager? line with politest “no thanks” or “when all these bags of ham slices open and the pieces meet in midair to congeal back into the actual pigs and one by one they fly away and they’re wearing Santa hats, then I’m in.”
But now I’d met the love of my life, I was so sure, and we wanted a house. And the pay structure for managers was actually good; it had to be, to justify all the hazing kind of bullshit they were put through.
I was well on my way to getting my prize store, toward that good pay in exchange for eighty to ninety hour weeks, and all the insanity and responsibility tracing to my shoulders.
Part of me did it for the experience. I thought it would give me plenty of writing material, and I was right. It inspired one of two settings for a novel I’ll soon start querying. Although never did I think it would take me ten years to get it all in good order. I assumed I’d have it done and published within five.
Many things I could not have imagined ten years on.
Not to diminish whatsoever the real suffering of many people in 2010 but by comparison to 2020 that year felt like a kids’ Tee-ball game on an early autumn day, and some of the little ones, aglow with excitement and nerves, look even cuter with baggy jersey, or their cap’s on wonky.
Somebody hits the ball and a song of chaotic jubilance and innocence commences, gentle breeze playing in surrounding treetops.
Just for starters, I could not have imagined this country’s super-botched response or in some ways non-response to coronavirus, the politicization of public health measures like masks and distancing. I would have assumed such things were invented by some more imaginative writer than I in their dystopian or apocalypse novel, leaving them to be criticized by naïve readers like me.
In 2010 my parents were doing well, often taking road trips around the mid-Atlantic states to vineyards, beaches, cabin resorts. Being glued to my store I rarely saw them, but I was happy knowing they were living it up in their way. I would talk to my mom by phone and she’d keep me up to speed and make me feel strong to keep doing what I was doing.
Never could I have imagined ten short years later she would die before my eyes and my sisters’ eyes, her body ravaged not by Covid but by an aggressive metastatic breast cancer that had jumped into her bones everywhere. Never could I have imagined either that my dad would die four months later, not from Covid but from a series of infections stemming from his diabetes. And from heartbreak, confusion.
I could not have imagined my parents going like this, so much sooner than we projected and against this ghastly backdrop of COVID-19’s fast-mounting death toll. I could not have foreseen taking such a crushing crash course in loss.
I know it makes me even more open to the suffering of uncountable others around the country and world. I think of the many millions trying to live with all these deaths, these dangers. I think of those who have lost loved ones—parents, grandparents, close friends, children—and I feel such stinging hurt. I feel like I am sharing their grief too and I think I can feel some of them sharing in mine.
I think the collective human mind has been burning like wildfire and swirling like hurricane winds, tears falling like powerful rainbands. I think most of us are hurting and scared. Now, as I reflect on how these words will appear as the election results are making landfall, I feel another heaviness settle in me.
I want to say: whatever happens, maybe it is true we can get through this, even if we are stuck with a continuation of the hate, gaslighting, corruption. Whatever happens we should plan on supporting each other and working to make this country greater than ever before. Hard as it will be, hard as it is to imagine right now, we will have to imagine it and make it real.
Whatever happens, for anyone struggling, I’m sending strength for the days ahead.
Warren J. Cox writes and paints in beautiful central Virginia where he also works as an academic editor. His prose has appeared in Ducts, TIMBER, Slippage Lit, Rabid Oak, Eunoia Review, Soft Cartel, Corvus Review, and elsewhere. For more find him on Twitter @WarrenJCox
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