Be Someone’s Orange Daisy On a Bad Day

If you help me I’ll give your wife wine.

My h read the text aloud. A few years ago he became allergic to alcohol, since then I only get to have wine if someone brings it over when they visit. So I was excited, because The Alps was on PBS at 8:00p, and now I was going to have something good to watch *and* a glass of wine – the evening was looking like an 8 or a 9.

But the wine never materialized – the neighbor tried to bring it by while we were walking the dog. It was just another example of how things can not go as planned, even things you thought were sure things, like a job, or things that were givens, like longtime friends.

Of course these days plans are for fools. With four thousand people a day dying from the virus I have no right to whine but the fact is I recently lost most of my job and income, and a good friend, all very unexpectedly and right smack in the middle of the holidays, which could have ruined them but I didn’t let it, a huge personal growth moment for me to be sure because I can’t really afford not to have a source of income and raging panic would be a reasonable response. Losing a friend sucks too.

I wore my somewhat battered N95 mask under my cloth mask to the grocery store and wondered why anyone would take the chance with no mask. If you get COVID-19, you might get lucky and have a light case, like some folks I know, but you might end up rushed to the ER in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, like other folks I know. Wear a mask and predictably reduce yours and everyone else’s chance of becoming a frightened person in the middle of the night waking with an elephant sitting on your chest and the news that none of the ambulance services can take you, and even if they could the wait to get in the hospital is three hours long.

As soon as you you enter the Trader Joe’s I frequent, you pass through the flower section, bouquets of daisies and sunflowers and gladiolas bursting from big plastic buckets. I paused. I used to buy flowers all the time, reasoning that if I was no longer buying clothes or trips or lattes, flowers were ok as an occasional nonessential purchase. I can spread one bouquet til there is a flower in every room in the house. Now of all times I should not be buying something as unnecessary as flowers but the fact is that the orange daisies made me feel less panicky and the act of buying something beautiful felt somehow optimistic so I added them to my cart filled with vegetables.

The nice checkout guy says “How are you?” and I said, automatically “Fine.” Then I added. “Considering everything.” Meaning, everything.

I don’t normally tell people personal things about myself; I know so many people dealing with such difficult circumstances right now, who am I to complain? People who’ve lost sisters and husbands and wives and children. People with long term diseases that are worsening. People with a new diagnosis, people waiting to see what the diagnosis will be. Much of the news is not of the good variety lately, and it feels wrong to talk of your own calamities when there are so many many calamities all around us, from the personal to the national.

Then again I’d never want someone to say “Fine” to me when they feel like they are drowning – I’d want to be their orange daisies on a bad day – and so I blurted to the checkout guy,

“You know what, I’m not fine at all. I lost my job, or anyway most of it. But I’m holding it together.” And suddenly just by saying that, it felt true. He stopped scanning and put his hand to his heart. “I’m so sorry!” he said, and I could feel that he meant it, and I felt better, a little. He scanned while I bagged and we chatted about his roommate, who also lost his job. “Look, I know it doesn’t help much,” said Oscar, “but I’m giving you these.” And he held up the flowers, the first item into the cart was the last item out. “I hope you find something new, and who knows maybe you’ll end up in a better spot, right?”

I was suddenly, perilously close to bursting into tears, all the ones I didn’t cry as I absorbed the unexpected blows of job and friend loss.

“Thank you, Oscar,” I managed to say. “It does help.” And it did, it does. I felt less scared for a minute, like things really might turn out for the better.

Driving home I cranked the windows down – it was unseasonably warm in San Francisco today, no jacket required. When Blondie’s Heart of Glass came on the radio I turned it up and sang, the orange daisies on the seat beside me nodding along.

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