Love to you from the parking lot

by renegademama

I’m writing today for one reason alone: To recount for you exactly how fucked up my days are, how poorly I’m functioning, in case you suspect everyone is doing better at this than you are.

I find myself secretly believing that all the other humans are quarantining better than I am, as if they all have some Secret Pandemic Insider info that was handed out—you know, at some point—and I, unfortunately, was absent. This is why they are coping like adults while I watch 15-year-olds do the same dance on Tiktok for three hours straight while telling myself I’m a loser.

I know it’s a sort of ego trip to think I am more fucked up, more disturbed, more deeply affected or deficient than others. To think, in other words, that I’m special. I know this, but knowing things is so damn useless sometimes.

And intellectually I know I am not wholly alone in my strange numb space. I’ve read a hundred accounts of people saying they feel brain dead, unable to focus, hyper-angry over nothing, in a time warp, etc.– and yet my self-repulsion is intact.

I feel like I “should” be doing better.

Who defined how we “should” be behaving?

MY BRAIN, obviously. Reliable guide that it is.

My friend Jack used to say, “We’re all in various stages of ‘my case is different.’”

As in, as you grow up, you realize you’re just like every other goddamn person on the planet. You aren’t better or worse. Being one among many is annoying as hell until you break through the immediate shock of realizing you’re quite standard. Then it’s the freest place possible.

I’m just another asshole on the planet. I’ve nothing to prove. I’m as well or poorly equipped as every other person handling or not handling life.

But sometimes, goddamn, I just feel like I’m the only one “here.”

 

Here’s my typical day: Wake up at 4am for no apparent reason. Look at my phone. Feel bad about that. Read until 5am or 6am. Listen to an audiobook until I fall asleep and sleep until 8am, or just get up at 6am and feel like shit all day. Have coffee. Have more coffee. Say good morning to George, the only kid who gets up before 9am now. Tell myself we should get Arlo into bed earlier (he’s probably sleeping until 9 because he’s up too late). Sit on the couch and/or get in my bed and listen to a book while playing stupid games on my phone. Until 11am or 1pm or 3pm.

I get up occasionally to eat or help my kids. Shower. Sometimes I tell myself, out loud, “GET UP JANELLE,” and I shake my head and ask the dog what’s wrong with me and feel like shit.

I’ll tell myself to write. DO SOMETHING! I’ll go downstairs to grab my laptop. Then I’ll come back upstairs to my room, to work, set my computer down and pick up my phone again.

At some point I try to invent one thing to do: Clean my room. Do the laundry. Vacuum downstairs. Respond to work emails. And I usually do that thing. Sort of. And then I’m so exhausted I feel I can’t do more.

What the hell.

Once a day I tell the kids we’re getting off screens and we do chores and they play or I send them outside. Sometimes this is three or four hours. Sometimes it’s one hour. Sometimes I enforce this “healthier alternative,” sometimes I hear them back on their screens and don’t care.

Every now and then I have a burst of energy for half a day where I feel almost clear-headed and okay again, and I’ll do work or write or catch up on adult shit like bills or whatever. But mostly I walk around in a state of uselessness, malaise, and soul-tired weirdness that I’ve never known before. I can’t follow a train of thought. I literally stare at walls sometimes. I particularly hate the wall-staring. Complete blank space in my brain.

WHAT IS THAT?

Mac and I were joking that they should start a new game called “Is it depression or regular quarantine life?”

My mental health has been a bit, in peril, for a few months now, and it worsened when this all started. Because my feelings of depression have been getting worse since October, and I’ve entered a state of apathy that was a bit terrifying, I called a doctor to discuss.

She said “Well, we can give you medication, but it’s hard to tell if it’s circumstantial or chemical. Everyone is so messed up right now.” I’m paraphrasing.

For now, I’m waiting it out, but it’s nice to know she’s there. And how shocking is it that we are living a reality that causes a mental state akin to those that require medication?

I just feel so cut off: from you, my brain, my loved ones, my whole life.

 

On Saturday, April 25, Mac’s cousin Chris was killed in a car accident. He was 30 years old with a fiancée and toddler son, and we love him and his family very much. They are in Kentucky and Mac was going to try to get there to be with them, but we were told that immigration “couldn’t promise” that there wouldn’t be a problem with him returning. So he stayed, and on Wednesday, we “attended” the funeral via Facebook live video.

Within two minutes of the video starting, Mac and I were choked with tears after reading a comment, “Love to you from the parking lot.”

Love to you from the parking lot.

And the comments streamed in. “We’re right here!” “Sending you prayers from our car!” “Love you, brother, from just outside.”

Ten people allowed inside, just immediate family members, and Chris’s friends sitting in the parking lot, circling them.

“They showed up anyway,” Mac said, looking at me.

We showed up anyway too.

Ava’s school sent the email letting us know about Ava’s “virtual graduation ceremony.” About the caps and gowns we can pick up. About the senior trip to Disneyland they officially canceled. Reading about the sad replacement, the pathetic “streaming event” to “honor my child,” it felt ridiculous and enraging. Fuck your online bandaid.

My rage masked a heart breaking for my child. It all turned to outright crying. Sobs. I’m not much of a crier. Especially like that. But it all shattered for her, her disappointment, what she’s losing—the final ritual culminating twelve years. My little girl.

And I can’t do shit about it.

Love to you from the parking lot. 

 

We’re all sitting in the parking lot right now, aren’t we? Waiting outside the circle where life seems to be, held up in strange, liminal gestures that feel half-human.

I don’t want to be in the parking lot. I want to be hugging Chris’s parents and I want to feel the sun on my face at Ava’s graduation and see her between her grandparents’ beaming heartbroken pride and I don’t want to wait for a future that may also be a strange replacement.

And yet we show up anyway, don’t we? We sit in the parking lot. We send the love we’ve got. We scramble up walls we never asked for, grieve, and wait.

I suppose someday I’ll accept this isn’t a proxy life. This is real life. And we’re all here.

Maybe I’ll let go, hang out with you wherever we are, one among many again, where things feel warmer and a lot safer and I can see your eyes.

Until then, love you, brother, from just outside.

***

This is a painting by Wendy Kwasny. It’s a rendering of a photo of my son Arlo. You can find more of Wendy’s work at www.wendykwasny.com or on Instagram.

****

Bored? Join us for my memoir workshop: FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR.

This workshop usually sells out with a waitlist in 48 hours, but we start next week and there are four spots left.

I’m also offering a $50 quarantine discount.

Just sign up and I’ll send back $50. Or email me and I’ll send an invoice with the discount.

 

  • Dani

    I hear you. I definitely feel like we are all in limbo, barely treading water as we wait for some door to open for us to finally move forward.

    One note about depression. I know that you have struggled with this in the past. But moving to a place that is dark half of the year and cold can definitely have an impact. My husband was a lifelong Floridian and moved up to NYC for grad school when we met. Every year from November through May he was a miserable son of a bitch. We finally moved to Florida last year and I have to say his attitude and mood has been much better all year. Just a thought. SAD is no joke. Sending love to you…

    • renegademama

      Yes, thank you, friend. This is the other reason I’m hanging tight to see if it gets better. The sun is finally out, the Netherlands is loosening some restrictions. We’ll see. Much love.

  • Peggy

    Janelle,
    Sending you love and strength. Send it back will you? I feel like I’m drowning today.
    We were supposed to fly to see our granddaughters recital this weekend,my youngest daughter and I to our eldest daughters. The younger hasn’t seen her sisters new,house. They moved two years ago.
    Ohio to Utah. We had to cancel…….everything is canceled. I don’t think we will ever be the same,the new normal is full of fear.

  • Kerry

    Well I definitely shouldn’t have read this post at work as I am now sitting in my cubicle crying. Good thing almost everyone else is working from home so they aren’t around to see me blubbering. I have been struggling with this feeling for so many weeks but had no idea how to put it into words to explain to my husband why I am not my normal self, while feeling incredibly guilty that he can handle things so much better than I can even though his mother died two weeks ago (so far we have been unable to have a funeral due to the craziness of the world). So, I think I will show him this post when I get home from work later. I always read your posts but this is the first time I have written a comment. Thanks for putting everying out there to help those of us who are terrified of having themselves known as completely. Thanks

    • Marta

      All of this! Thank you!! Makes me feel so much less alone. And where did you read the other hundred accounts? I could use a little more normalizing.
      And I’m sorry for all your losses! Grief is no joke right now. Love to you.

  • Writer of words

    I go through these rollercoaster emotions too. I keep thinking, although life as we knew it won’t be back any time soon, there’s got to be more than lockdown.

    Hang in there.

  • Tracey Becker

    I don’t know if it helps to read everyone else’s distress, to know that you struggle and I struggle and the people down the street and across the country and the world… we’re all struggling.I guess it does? Except it doesn’t. It just makes it feel worse somedays.

    I feel you. I’m sending you love from my spot over here. It’s not enough, but it’s here.

  • Val

    Hello there thank you for writing again. You lay it out as it is in all its shittery but there is no trace of victim hood. Thank you for that.

    Also I’ve been scared by my brain being depressed again and quarantine feels a lot like it. I’m in Bermuda and we’ve basically been under house arrest for a month although it is easing next week. I’ve been saying it’s been like being in an abusive relationship with the Bermuda government. Some friends have said yes, but the government is doing it out of love. I said, yeah fuck that – abusers always say that shit.

    You got me in my gut with your chat about not being special.

  • Mendozy

    Not just you. All of this (minus the lying in bed as have two kids under 3). But I feel you. Thanks for writing it.
    (Loved your book by the way. Have never commented before but just wanted to say. Not just you. About to try and apply your comment policy to the rest of my life now.)

  • Rebecca L. Decoster

    I see you. You are not alone. I’m right there too…

  • Anne

    I drive to the parking lot of the Marina near my home once a week and sit in my car for my therapy session. I sit in my car in the driveway when I want to take a personal phone call uninterrupted. I see a lot of people doing the same. Sitting in cars to get a quiet moment to themselves. The parking lot analogy is both literally and figuratively accurate AF.

  • Tina

    This was spot on. I’m trying to put on a brave face because my 17 year old came home from school March 13th, had surgery on the 16th and is fully in depression. He’s upstairs asleep now. It’s 4:16 pm. I had a hell of a time getting an appointment with his psychiatrist whose office is down the street. I kept faxing over letters and hoping the answering service would get the message through to the staff that we are having a crisis. But to them, it was an “emergency”, so I was using the wrong language talking to the answering service. Yes, this is a fucking emergency. My son wants to sleep 20 hours a day and is turning pasty.

    A neighbor’s beautiful 15 year old son committed suicide on April 1 and so, I too have taken part in a funeral put online. It’s irrational and grating, but the worst cases of Covid in my state stemmed from a funeral in the south part of the state and the mourners took the virus all over the country after the event.

    So I to bake and pretend that things are alright, but really, they’re not.

  • Tara

    My son is a senior, too. No prom, no class trip, the word isn’t in yet on what graduation will look like, but it won’t be anything we’d have recognized as a graduation a year ago, that’s for sure. My daughter and I were going to Italy together. Her choir was supposed to do a singing tour of Northern Italy. Obviously not happening. And the Supernatural Convention she was attending with her bestie in a month, also cancelled. I feel like every day I’m just breaking bad news to my kids and it’s eating me up. And my 83 year-old mom is in a retirement community on lockdown. She can leave her room once or twice a day for walk on the grounds keeping at least six feet of distance between her and everybody else out there. Otherwise she is alone. I call her every day, drop off what shopping she needs once week. But that’s all I can do. And yet… nobody I know has died. Our community has pulled together in amazing ways to get through this. I’m safe in my home with enough food surrounded by my family and my husband hasn’t been home this many days in a row in 20 years and that’s kind of heavenly. I’m not sure if I feel more guilty for the things I’m sad about or the things I’m happy about. It’s just a multi layered guilt parfait. But I keep reading everywhere I look, “What you are feeling is grief.” And I guess that’s true and I think maybe it’s okay to grieve for all the things we’ve lost even if they aren’t people. We’re allowed to feel sad about our losses and disappointments, even while realize the are small things compared to the losses others have suffered. They are still our losses and maybe letting ourselves grieve them will help us stay plugged into the losses of friends and neighbors and be present for them instead of becoming numb to this global sadness. I don’t know. I’m muddling along trying to buoy up the people who count on me and sometimes even letting them buoy me up, too. And I don’t think your reaction to all of this is bad or weird or strange. You’re grieving and that takes shape differently in different people. Maybe just try to take care of yourself as though you’re a person who has legitimate grief to process, because you do.

  • Christi-Anne Plough

    Well. You wrote this thing right here of stark and utter beauty so I feel that your entire Coronatine is a total success. Genius once every six weeks is still genius. Love to you from the parking lot ripped me apart. In a good way. I don’t feel like you need to be productive for AT LEAST another six weeks.

    But I get it that it doesn’t feel good. I paint, and I haven’t painted since this began. I’d been teaching myself guitar, but not since this began. I often feel useless. I hear you. I’m here with you. Love from Massachusetts <3

  • Sherry

    One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever blubbered and sobbed my way through.

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your cousin 🙁

    And I’m sorry for our collective loss of everydamnthing.

  • Anna

    If it helps (and it probably won’t) apparently a huge swath of The (at least American) population is cultivating alcohol problems. There was a recent article in the parenting section of the local news with suggesting things like”put the alcohol where you can’t see it” which is hilarious. I don’t try to laugh at other people’s future misfortunes but I guess it’s kinda funny cause we know. IDK

  • Trisa Espiner

    As a music teacher, I’m on line teaching up to eight hours straight a day (yelling into a screen, and trying to be all bubbly and positive), and then spending hours on the follow-up scans of music, small videos of me demonstrating something, or making backing tracks for singers (I teach singing and piano). Then there are the endless email messages to parents to set up the next lesson, ask them to order books, continue with the encouragement. Yesterday, when I’d finished, I had a bit of a breakdown. My heart was racing, I was shaking, and then the sobbing began. Having written this and read your piece, is it any wonder? How the hell are we supposed to be acting so normally, when we’re yelling through the windscreen from the car park?
    Thank you, Janelle, for putting this in perspective, and for bravely opening up in such a personal way, so that we can all look at this thing for what it is.
    In New Zealand we often sign off with, “Kia kaha” – stay strong xx

  • Jen L

    You are not alone in this. We are all dealing with this in different ways. I feel numb half the time, unable to focus on anything, then the other half of the time I forget for a little while, play with the dog, make food, play with my kids. My 6 year old is playing a computer game right now at 10pm because, well, why not. She’s quiet and happy and. In bed reading your post. I liked what you said last week. Don’t try hard – try easy. This too shall pass. We will grieve, we will move on, we will find joy again. Much love xx

    • Jen L

      I’m in bed reading your post. Not my 6 year old. Typo there.

  • Nieves Rathbun

    I also feel like i’m failing at the quarantine thing. I feel so tired, apathetic and pathetic. Then I spiral because we really have an ideal situation while there are people trapped in tiny apartments with abusive partners or toddlers or both and on and on and here I am being a lump when I could be getting so fit! Writing that memoir! Planting an epic garden! Being nice!

    Thank you for this piece, it feels good to know I’m not the only one feeling this way.

    Love from way over here.

  • Jen

    Well, you are definitely not alone. That may or may not help, but I thought I’d let you know that, though you know that already. Don’t believe everything you tell yourself. Your children are clearly loved and amazing, you are loved and amazing, and the sun is coming out in more ways then one.
    If you need purpose (and if it’s ok if you don’t), resist the “new normal” bullshit, because shitty is exactly what they want us to feel, in order to control us more easily.
    You’re a smart, complex, strong woman. Breathe and believe it.

  • Norita

    Your loving and brave post hammers down our time and place during this weird, challenging circumstance, flat on the head. ONE SLAM. Jesus, I am so sorry for all the simultaneous shit coming at you now.

    I hear you and am with you completely with a salted, open heart; logistics be damned.

    Keep breathing. Please know that people love you.

  • Shaan

    My neighbours son just took his life. He was 15. I am broken about this. We weren’t even close, but fuck. This is hitting so hard for so many. I had a hard time being 15 in normal times.

  • Debra Leschyn

    On the bright side, there are a lot of great Zoom 12 step meetings. And things are fucked up. So sorry about Mac’s cousin. That is rough.

  • Nathalie

    Hard to breathe at the moment. Last week I “attended” my mother’s funeral in France, on WhatsApp from under the blankets all the way from Australia. It was dark and cold outside here, but I could see the sun shining and hear the birds there…. Talk about disassociation!
    To watch my brother and Aunt crying at a “safe” distance from each other, and me, not able to hug them was so heartbreaking.
    This is not normal, and yet it is! I am grateful for the technology that allowed me say goodbye. I am grateful for the apps that allow me to communicate, share or just listen.
    I have no answer, no solution right now, but I hear you and send love. Maybe all the virtual love gets stored somewhere, and one day, somehow it will just pour out of this virtual cloud? Weird thought.. just popped out my head. Better go now 🥰

    • Marsha

      I am so sorry about your Ma. I can’t begin to imagine how hard that must have been to be so far away. Thinking of you and yours.

  • Joy

    Well, I’m in New Zealand, where we are supposedly the shining light of COVID response, where everything is supposed to be freaking amazing because we have the world’s most leadery leader and single digit daily cases and barely anybody has died and yet I still find myself sitting in a corner staring blankly into space and forgetting to feed my 6 year old, never mind home-educating her while simultaneously trying to hold down a full-time job, so I don’t know how the heck any of the rest of you are coping…

    • Trisa Espiner

      ××

  • Catherine Forest

    Janelle, I’ve read you for years and read your book and I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life. Here’s what I want you to know (and wish your doctor would have told you): yes, the world is messed up right now and it surely influences how you feel, but it doesn’t change that how you feel is very real and needs to be addressed. It won’t just go away. It is not about you willing yourself out of bed. You are depressed, your brain is broken right now and needs a little push to get back on track. Meds are awesome for that (if you knew me IRL, you’d know that I am a super crunchy mama, heck I picked a whole bag of nettle yesterday to make soup with my locally ground spelt homemade sourdough bread). But here I am telling you this from a sister to another: get some medication right now. It might just be temporary or you might decide to stay on them for a bit. I know you’ve taken meds before with different levels of success, but I believe there are great psychiatrists where you are who can find the right medication (or combo of medication) to help you get back to your old self (imperfect, questioning what is wrong with the world, but functional). Much love to you.

    • renegademama

      Hi, I know you mean well, but please understand how awkward and strange it is to hear a complete stranger tell me to take medication “right now” and “it won’t go away” and all these assumptions you’ve made based on a single blog post. First of all, I recounted one tiny portion of my convo with my doctor. Second, I am a grown woman who is not necessarily misunderstanding her situation. I’ve taken more medication for mental health than the majority of humans on this planet. I (not my doctor) made the choice to wait, for many reasons, all of them sound, thoughtful, and safe. The particulars of a situation cannot be known from a single blog post.

      Again, I appreciate your care but please think twice about commenting like this and consider the world of valid experiences outside your own. Since you spoke so directly with me I am doing the same. This type of comment is the only type that makes me want to never write about mental health online. I understand that I “ask for it” by writing so openly online, but damn does it make me wonder if it’s worth it.

  • Tara

    This is exactly how I feel. I’m so sorry for your loss and the inability to be able to be at the funeral in person. We’re in a weird place right now where life is still going on, just not how we’re used to.

  • Marsha

    This was super-helpful. Especially coming from someone of whom I have such a high opinion. Thank you for sharing it. xx

  • Tracey

    Love to you from Austraia

    • Tracey

      AUSTRALIA!!!!

  • Farrell

    That was beautifully written; thank you. Love to you from the parking lot

  • Wayno

    Thank you for sharing that. I feel the same way. Well not exactly the same because we’re all just dots in a sea of weirdness right?

    I can’t help but think that with all this time to ponder we’re collectively realizing how much utter bullshit made up our daily activities. And, for many of us, that was a luxury.

    Now, I’m gonna go back to looking at outdoor umbrellas, while berating myself for doing it.

    P.S. I took one of your writing workshops and we have a small group of three people continuing to meet. Thank you for sharing yourself with us to help us keep moving. It’s a gift.

  • Kassandra

    THANK YOU. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Thank you for writing this. My goodness. I feel CRAZY. I am taking it seriously and I barely leave my house. I was a lone wolf .. introvert already .. but, months of this has taken my isolation to an entirely different level. You wrote about how I am feeling. Your words bring me companionship on some weird level. This is a miserable time, but your words give me hope. We are going to be okay. I think we all might gain a deeper level of joy in our souls that we get to enjoy feelIng later because of this miserable time. Maybe we are suppose to examine our strange priorities and weird ways of existing in the USA. The USA has the potential to be great if we just would get together and take Bob Marley’s One Love lyrics to heart and live it and celebrate life in big huge, loving communities instead of living with these big fat egos and these big fat fears and obsessions with buying stuff and looking a certain way and feeling a certain way and following these so-called peculiar rules and social norms and expectations and then retiring and dying. SMDH.