A View from the Hill: Onward

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Fragments. Splintered. Scattered. 

From the whiteboard by my desk: “Ectoplasmic presence.”

I’ve no idea what it means. Something about the other-worldliness of all this? From a book? A song? A weird day? There were plenty of those.

Collected fragments from a year of deep solitude and silence. Images. Thoughts. Dreams. Ideas. Daydreams. Nightmares.

With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control dramatically easing masking rules, we now have what could be called a symbolic bookend to the still-pulsing pandemic. A starting around March 12 of last year and an ending of May 13, 2021.

I sift through the fragments scattered about my home, my brain, my writings, my music, my books, reconstructing this very strange period. I need to collect them before I forget them.

Dream: My late wife, Mary, walks toward me. She wants a hug. “No,” I say. “We can’t. We have to social distance.” 

My God.

Whiteboard: “This is what it’s like to be a boomerang.” How life felt during the pandemic, I suppose. Always returning to the same place? Tethered? Airborne only to crash back to ground?

Image: Self-portrait in front of the bathroom mirror, long gray covid hair flying as if electrified, three-day beard, eyes wide in mock terror. Doc Brown in “Back to the Future.”

Sensation: The electrifying touch of my 8-year-old granddaughter’s hand on my rib cage as she walked behind me in the woods. The warm caress of that little hand in a time when touch was forbidden. Searing.

Imagine collecting all of the fragments of our collective COVID-19 year into an exhibit of some sort, a mosaic of this incredible experience.  What is unique and what do we share?

From photos: My walk on the afternoon of April 11 from Munjoy Hill over the Casco Bay Bridge to South Portland. India Street. Middle Street. Franklin Arterial. Commercial Street. No cars in motion. No people in sight. Deafening quiet.

From the bridge, an abandoned Portland Harbor. 

Already, so soon, as the cars and trucks return, doors open, pedestrians fill the sidewalks, it becomes difficult to remember how absolutely and profoundly our lives were suspended in March 2020. 

History will dry this period out, wring out its strangeness, its intensity. A Wikipedia summary. But not yet. 

On the whiteboard, something pulled from an essay on grief. “I will write into this and I will write out of this.”

And this from I don’t know where: “I will fly into the clouds and I will fly out.”

From my Phoenix column of Sept. 2, 2020:

“As I watch from my balcony, two large jet-black birds come screaming like fighter jets across my vision, turn sideways, and, without slowing, disappear into the green canopy of a big leafy tree in front of my house. They do not emerge from the other side of the tree. It seems impossible that they could have found a foothold at that speed.

“But yet they are gone. Poof! Magic.”

Magic. A year of magic. Stunning magic. Tragic magic. Magic isn’t always pretty.

From a March 19, 2020, letter to Mary, an invocation for some special magic. 

“Well, I hope you are at peace in a lovely, peaceful, sunny garden by the sea.”

Neko Case music noted: “I’m so lonely, I wish I was the moon tonight.”

From an “Ideas for columns” note to myself: 

“Jock itch and COVID.”  

Never written. No idea.

From the Whiteboard: Favorite answer to the unanswerable question “What have you been up to?” from my friend Bud: “Less than nothing.”

A year of listening to deep silence. Watching stillness. 

Now the noise rushes in again. The world closes in. The silence is gone. We, the survivors, begin to move forward, uncertainly, perhaps, but that is the only direction we can go.


Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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