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News: 07/15/2020

The witching hour

The witching hour is back. 

It started after the 2017 fires. I'd always been a solid sleeper, but in the evacuation days (and the months that followed) I woke up every night like clockwork, at about 1:30 a.m., the time my fire flight began. I wasn't having panic attacks; I was simply awake. I would roll over, assess my situation for a while, then eventually drift back to sleep.

It turned out I wasn't the only one doing this thing. A dear friend dubbed it the witching hour.

That iteration of the witching hour - the evacuation iteration - has passed, but waking up in the night now recurs on occasion. Why do I wake? It depends. Fire season is a trigger, but sometimes a windstorm, a financial crunch, a deadline, a family issue, will set me off. Do I smell something? Is a tree going to fall on the house? Where is the money going to come from? Will I finish on time? Is that stranger really related to me?

Roll over.

These days, in the witching hour, I explore COVID and racism - and again, I'm not the only one. Here's how it went the other night.

I woke up with a knot in my belly and my parents on my mind. They are in their eighties and my dad has had a series of heart issues and falls. I set about, for no good reason, wondering what COVID would do to him, and placed myself in the thick of it. Dad can't breathe, and Mom is worried. I go to their house, take his temperature, make the decision to take him to the hospital, understanding I likely won't see him again. I wait in the house where I grew up with my mother, to keep her worry in check. To check her for signs of illness. Checking myself for signs of illness. Calling my sons and asking them to bring an overnight bag, because I'll be staying for a while. Mom is not immune. 

I follow the narrative until I'm alone in the house where I grew up, nobody's little girl anymore.

Blech. Roll over. There's something different on this side of the bed.

I wander to the isle of Roatan in Honduras. My son and his lovely Welsh girlfriend, both dive instructors, have been trying to hold out there during the pandemic. It was all good - COVID-free, that is - until just a few weeks ago, when a group of people from the mainland snuck onto the island, hoping to reunite with family they'd been separated from when the Honduran government imposed a strict quarantine. Some of the returning evacuees sheltered in place in a cemetery; some dispersed into the tropical hollows. Then one tested positive. 

Then 39 of the 40 police officers sent over from the mainland to enforce curfews tested positive. Then the island's social and economic fabric began to wear thin. My son and his girlfriend have no work. They are white and relatively wealthy and not wanted. They must leave. They asked if they could come here. 

In the dark I mull the options. How can I accommodate them? A tiny home parked in the driveway? A yurt? What would the neighbors tolerate? And then I mull the more ominous questions - come to California, where cases are spiking? Fly through Florida or Texas, where the situation is even worse? Come to the United States, where the disease is on a rampage and the economy trumps human lives? 

No. They must go to Wales. So in the witching hour I explore my son's life in Wales. Then I wonder when I will see him again. When will it be safe to travel there? Will he marry in that faraway place? Will I be there, mother of the groom in a gothic Welsh church on a wuthering height, embarrassing him with my waterfall tears of joy?

Silly. Roll over. Now my mind wanders back to school, a recurrent theme in the witching hour. Should I go back? I really, really don't want to get sick. But I think about those little faces turned up toward the pages of the book I'm reading. I miss them, and I miss my library. 

The children are mostly brown at Dunbar School. I roll again and delve into my own brownness, and how the Black Lives Matter movement has wrenched open a regretful awareness of my ethnicity. Who will be coming back to school, and why? It'll mostly be the brown children, the poor children, the children without privilege. I want to be there with them, because I love them and I get it. I am half-Mexican, and I want to own my brownness as proudly as I have owned my whiteness. I want them to understand the brown child shouldn't have to adopt whiteness to get what the white child has.

I think about the choices the privileged, who are mostly white, can make. Many of them will be able to homeschool their children to protect them from contagion. They can make choices that many brown parents can't. I don't blame them; we can't end endemic racism by forcing white kids - any kid - into the petri dish that is school, raging pandemic or not. 

Money is the solution, I breathe into my pillow. Money would pay for the smaller class sizes, and the contained cohorts, and the protective gear, and the testing that might keep teachers and students safe. But the white male oligarchs who dominate our politics hold the purse strings, and they are greedy, self-serving, awful people...

I rage for a moment, then roll over. Ditch the anger; nothing healthy (especially sleep) comes through anger. Roll over again. Hmmm. How lovely it would be to have tiny schools - little neighborhood schoolhouses like in the olden days, one-room germ pods run by smart, caring schoolmarms wearing white dresses with leg-of-mutton sleeves and interspersing reading, writing, and arithmetic with history, music, and manners, all taught in the shady embrace of the valley oaks. I swirl that into the cauldron of the witching hour, cooling it down and sweetening it.

The witching hour in these days of disaster and revolution is chaotic, but I've come to embrace it. If I unravel my thoughts and tend to them, I find I can ease the anxiety out of them. After the fires, I nursed my wounds and watched them scar over. The scars of my experience with racism, it turns out, run deep and now ache; I need to tend them. The fire scar shows the way. It is the source of my resilience, a reminder that things change fast, that I will endure, and that the cauldron of the witching hour holds a tonic of my own making.


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