Our wounds from the trauma of the pandemic have begun to flatten into a kind of scar. My grief is softening, and the boys, 12 and 9, are less like drafted rebels and more like dusty soldiers, marching through blue window after blue window to the end of each day, to the end of the school year, as if walking home after a war that no one has won.
At 11:30 each day, we always get outside, whether the kids’ work is done or not. “Let’s play soccer on Fort Reno!” Diana, 6, says, and the boys agree. Soccer is in, bikes are out.
“You guys go ahead and I’ll meet you there with lunch,” I tell them. I pack a Sullivan’s Toy Store tote with 1 poppy seed bagel sandwich, 2 sesames, and 1 bialy wrapped in foil, plus a half clamshell of strawberries, ice water in 2 old sippy cups, 4 paper towels, and just for fun, 3 Kinder Sorpresa eggs sent by their grandfather in Italy.
When I leave for the park just a block away, Virginia, 16, is sitting on the floor of the deck eating her vegan pasta bowl, and in the basement a CorePower Yoga on-demand teacher demands heart strength and deep breaths from students who once sweated with her in a white-washed loft, and the ones like Sofia, 18, that she will never know.
I climb the hill and see the kids on the far soccer field. After days of cold and clouds, the sun bathes the hill and our tiny figures in a dome of golden light.
As I get closer I can see Diana kicking the ball toward the goal, and Mark missing it and falling down like a clumsy marionette.
They spot me and the boys run to me as they did when they’d see me waiting for them after school. ‘All gas, no breaks,’ as the graffiti on the retaining wall says.
“We were playing world cup soccer,” they tell me. “And sometimes one of us is an A.I. player.”
We select a picnic spot near the community garden. I am drawn to the unusual things in this ocean of grass — the orange-red poppies, bright as my grandmother’s cakey lipstick, and clumps of white irises, standing around like lieutenants.
On the courts beyond the garden, a pair lob a tennis ball back and forth. A guy hits a baseball — TING! — in the batting cage. A woman smiles at us as she walks by with a small dog on a leash.
“Yummm,” I say, and a small chorus echoes me, as we bite into bagels spread with salty buttery cream cheese. A pair of fat carpenter bees bump into each other, dive into the grass, and then fly away in a drunken helix dance.
“Why do they fight?” Diana asks.
“Who knows what they are doing?” I say. “Maybe they are playing,” or maybe they are mating, which I don’t say because I’d rather not talk about sex.
After lunch, Mark sits on the soccer ball, the stitching busted at one of its joints. “Luke pumped it up too much,” he says.
We pack up the bag and walk home for siesta, just the 4 of us, and I feel we are like the buttercups we walk through, insignificant and yet a part of everything.
I love this peace. Not that long ago, I fought against the breakdown, the shuttering, the quarantine as if it were a militia I had to beat back so I could live. Maybe I never understood what is an enemy and what is a friend, or that maybe something can be both and neither.