My essay was published in the Houston Chronicle:
This is the link to the online newspaper:
Here is the text so I can preserve it on my blog.
I spent my entire spring break working nonstop to get my classes online. My brain was cluttered. I had this sense of panic, as if the fabric of the world would literally come unraveled if I stopped for a minute and just let things go.
However, a few days into it, I started feeling this weird peace. I went out for a few minutes to walk my dog, and I was flooded with nostalgia. I suddenly felt the reality that I wasn’t a slave to a calendar or clock, which is a feeling I haven’t had since I was 14 years old. It felt like even my heartbeat had slowed a bit. My brain was only acknowledging the present, and I wasn’t even thinking about work.
When I was growing up, my homelife was a war zone. My house was dominated by an unstable stepfather who made daily life into a minefield. His temper might have partly been because he was a workaholic. If he was home, we constantly had to be doing some kind of work. If we weren’t doing homework, we’d better be doing chores. If you weren’t working, you were lazy and a freeloader. Also, because of his job, we moved constantly. I’d just get settled into a school, and it was time to pick up and move again because he’d been transferred. My life was a blur of movement and discord most of the time.
After a stressful trip to Disney World when I was 8 years old had left unpleasant stains on my psyche, I chose to spend my summers alone with my grandparents in Oklahoma. My friends definitely didn’t understand why I chose to do that instead of going to Carlsbad Caverns or Mexico with my family, but I needed it.
My grandparents had a small, cozy house with a giant backyard. There was an old mimosa tree with flowers that looked like pink feather dusters, a crab apple tree with a swing hanging from the branches, and a row of pear trees in the back that always had fruit.
My granddad built me a gazebo with a porch swing on it. It had trellis posts and a ceiling, which were covered in honeysuckle and trumpet vines. He rigged it with electricity so I could bring my record player out there. We called it “the Bower.”
Once a week or so, my grandmother took me thrift store shopping, and I got books and random junk to make crafts. There was a secondhand book store a block away that I could go to trade in old books for new ones. I wasn’t lazy. I got things done. I climbed trees and read books. I discovered Beethoven, The Beatles, old soundtracks, Big Band music and jazz. I created art, wrote stories and played with my grandparents’ dogs. I learned to cook, did crossword puzzles and had conversations with my grandmother about philosophy and religion and life in general.
It wasn’t exciting. It was calm. The days were long, and the world turned slowly. Nobody cared what I was wearing or whether my hair was brushed. No alarm clock got me out of bed in the morning. I got up because I wanted to. I couldn’t wait to start a day that was all mine. By the time it was over, I was usually ready to return to regular life, but I never missed it while I was away from it.
When I was 15, I got a job, and I worked all summer. Since then, I’ve always had a job. Sometimes two jobs. Down time feels like a criminal act. Even when I’m on vacation, I’m working. I don’t think I am unique in this kind of life. The current situation is shining a harsh spotlight on just how precarious most people’s situation is, even if they constantly work.
I don’t want people to get sick or die. I don’t want people to lose their income. I want this to not be happening. But I feel like, in a way, the earth is taking a breath, and I am getting to take a breath with it. I’ll be glad when it’s over, but I also know that I don’t want to go back to my life exactly as it was before. This is a wake-up call.
Decker is a professor at Houston Community College, and the artistic director and co-founder of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company.