I’m just as sick of saying/typing/thinking “The Pandemic” as you are. So, let’s call it something else. Like, Jessica.

“Are you alive?”

Jessica has wrecked a lot of stuff. We don’t need to list them. I’ve lived on islands and in deserts much of my adult life; isolation isn’t the problem. While I’ve had a surprisingly productive creative year, I’d like to think I could have done just as much without Jessica slamming doors in my face every four minutes, and making me cover it with a mask the rest of the time. The problem with this isolation is: Jessica tells me what to do. The problem is: I don’t like being told what to do by someone I can’t see.


In 2006 my husband was deployed to Iraq almost as soon as we arrived in Germany. My brother was also a soldier over there. I used international calling cards to talk to my parents. I wrote emails. There were a few phone calls from my husband, many of them were missed. His unit was a weird one and there were only three other wives in my area to commiserate with. They each had a number of small children. I had a number of burned Battlestar Galactica DVDs to watch. We were all super absorbed in personal commitments.

I substituted at the American schools a bit, but mostly, I read and painted, standing at the easel my parents sent me, next to the window as the rain slammed against it almost every day. I prayed and prayed and prayed for emails or phone calls. I took a few trips. Change of scene was good, but I really did spend a lot of time in our little house and walking up the hill to the ruins of Hohenecken Castle. If you take out the constant anxiety and terror, it was rather a charmed life.


I live now in a beautiful old English house on a beautiful farm within walking distance of a beautiful little wood. There are horses, sheep, apple trees, and vast fields soon to be waving with barley romantic enough to make Sting weep. My number of children are all in school. My husband is safe. I’ve written a novel, read about 80 books, painted many pictures, and had more artistic success than I ever dreamed. I’ve tried to focus more on having faith– confidence in hope, assurance in what I don’t see, etc.

I also had my first panic attack.


When my brother’s truck was hit by an IED, my parents were contacted with wrong information. My brother was only mildly injured, his wrist and hand likely saved by the large wide leather watch band he wore at the time. It was his friend who’d been hit badly and was on the way to the military hospital in Landstuhl– a few minutes from where I lived.

I didn’t know him. I don’t even remember his name. All I remember is thinking, “I can get there. I can see him.” At that moment, seeing was doing something. No idea what I planned to say. Not a clue if they’d even let me in.

I drove that Honda Pilot through the miniature ancient village and up the mountain like an absolute boss, managed to control the speed of my walk to that of a normal person, asked which floor he was being treated on, and got on the elevator. I still can’t believe they let me up. When I got to his area, the nurse at the desk said I couldn’t see him. Because he wasn’t there. He was on his way to Walter Reed.


Last summer, when my heart started beating so hard and fast that I thought I was going to pass out, I thought it was to do with some medicine I’d been on. It wasn’t. When it continued happening for the next two months, I thought there was something wrong with my heart. Seeing it pump so hard my pajama shirt moved as I lay perfectly still, having woken from a dreamless sleep at 2am was terrifying. Not knowing why was worse. There was no good reason for it.

Miscarriages, being robbed, care-taking, vandalism of one’s home, performing the Heimlich maneuver, international moves, war, driving a minivan in Haworth, public speaking–THESE are good reasons for body wracking anxiety. These are all things I’ve experienced without my heart exploding. Turns out, “staying home with my own family for a prolonged period of time” is up there with “defending strangers from assailants in Hawaiian alleys.”


Leaving Landstuhl that afternoon, having failed in my impulsive mission, I felt a weird mix of disappointment and relief. I hadn’t wanted to control my face if he was in really bad shape. I didn’t know what to say other than, “I love my brother. I love my husband. I know you’re not them, but you’re all I can see right now, so therefore I love you too.” I didn’t know much, but I was fairly certain that would have freaked him right the hell out.

I was glad he was gone, on his way to better help, closer to the ones who really did love him. I was glad I wouldn’t see him. He needed to see and be seen by different eyes.


Jessica is a big deal. Credit where credit is due. Fear with no face is the worst kind. Trying to find comfort in half a face is difficult. But the eyes have been there the whole time. We may not feel we have a voice, or anything to say if we had one. There isn’t always much we can do, but we can see and are seen.

The name Jessica means “foresighted; to see before.” If anything good has come of her it is that we’ve definitely been shown what is needed in the future: better care of ourselves, more attention to others, gratitude for what we have, and more than all of that–focus on how little we actually control and how badly it works out when we try to do it ourselves. I needed Jessica to close my mouth and open my eyes. Sometimes seeing IS doing. Jessica has directed my eyes to my heart and all that’s still wrong with it.

But Jessica, and I mean this with the utmost respect, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

4 thoughts on “The Eyes Have Had It

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