31 January 2022

The man comes around

The wind blew loudly all last night through Harborne, and something has been knocking around on our roof, making it hard for everyone to sleep. After I woke up and had my coffee and came back upstairs, Yoko and I took turns looking out the dormer in the front roof, like sailors sticking out heads out of a ship porthole, trying to figure out what had been making the noise. It must the redundant satellite dish that some previous tenant had put up, well before we even had thoughts of Harborne as place. We switched back and forth, looking again at the roof, the various antennas, the fitting on the top of the chimney, the roof more generally, but it all seems secure enough. The sound remains a mystery.

Last Spring, after Covid Classic had passed and I had recovered from my breathing difficulties, I could make it up the hill again outside our house without losing my breath. This was an accomplishment at the time and as I think back on my terrible marathon times for the last year, I probably should take this into account — in March, I was still having trouble running up hills. When all that passed, I would still get an occasional sore throats. I went to the doctor for my diagnosis, worried it was cancer, but of course, it wasn't cancer, it was a symptom of long Covid and that the sore throat and my occasional awareness of it has come and gone based seemingly on my need for some omen of coming disaster. I felt it when Mei got Covid in October. I felt it again in December when Omicron came the first time, and I felt it this last week, when the Pihlajas of Harborne fell one at a time, to the disease. 

I was sure that I had avoided the disease this time around, despite having been very close to everyone and those tests coming back positive every day. Not initially, of course: initially, I assumed I would be hit next, particularly when the youngest got it and she had been the one who had given it to me last year. But days passed and my sore throat maintained its mild, cold air running level, and though I cancelled my face-to-face meetings and wore a mask and stayed two metres away from everyone, Thursday came, and then Friday, I was sure this time I had made it, I had passed through it, even if eventually it would come back around, this time at least, I had stayed away from it. I had avoided it, despite being surrounded by it.

Beating expectations was an important part of my life growing up as a homeschooled kid in the States in the late eighties and early nineties. We were told there was the constant threat of the government coming and taking me to public school and our Christian faith becoming illegal, even though, as I reflect back on it now, the Moral Majority and Ronald Reagan were running things, and it's hard to see how that would turn quickly to all the born-again Christians being rounded up and thrown into Communist concentration camps. Still, that backdrop somehow meant we had to be on our best behaviour, to exceed expectations so as to not give them a reason to round us up. I could proudly tell you when I was nine that I read at a post-High School level, even though I was not entirely sure what that meant. I listened to classical music and took up odd hobbies to highlight this faux-prodigy aura I wanted to give off at church, so the other Evangelicals would see me as a kind of boy genius. Listen to him recite the book of James by heart. 

This desire to succeed, to do things kids couldn't do, and to please my parents culminated in me developing a sudden interest in getting a pilot's license. The idea must have been seeded from a news report of a pre-teen getting their license and flying across the States or some other story that ended up in the news. Somehow, I managed to talk my parents into letting me take ground school, the part of learning to fly a plane that involved studying rules and machinery and not actually flying as an elective for my first year of high school. I studied the books by myself: they had come in a grey bag with some instruments and I spent an hour a day for a semester trying to make sense of it all. I took the theory test at the end of all this when I must have been fourteen. I remember that I did well enough, the man administering the test on the old IBM computer was impressed that I had come as close as I had to passing. But I hadn't actually passed — the limits of my intellectual prowess had been very clearly defined, and I remember leaving dejected, even crying perhaps. Prodigies don't just do a pretty good job at difficult tasks. They don't just get close to passing.

After that year, for the most part, I gave up on wanting to be known for my intellectual prowess. Instead, I discovered big jeans and loud music — much easier ways to stand out without having to cross-stitch and wonder if I actually enjoyed Vivaldi, or if I only really enjoyed saying I enjoyed Vivaldi. The final nail in my prodigy dream coffin came when I took the college placement tests and couldn't get a particularly good ACT score: my girlfriend who didn't care about the test at all and hadn't studied got the same score I did and had nearly gotten a perfect score on the English portion while I had just done okay through the whole thing. I applied to one prestigious university in the suburbs of Chicago, and failed the interview in a spectacular fashion. They were looking for people who were brilliant, self-evidently brilliant, not kids who had bought a Baroque Classic CD collection to impress some women in their mother's bible study. I was decidedly not a prodigy. 

On Saturday morning, I ran and picked up the groceries and went to take my lateral flow test, confident that this round I had avoided it. I swabbed my throat and nose and put the sample on the test and the liquid filled up in the plactic housing, past the part that contains the test strip, on to the control strip. The control strip started to turn colour and I felt a sense of relief, but then you could see the colour start to come into the test strip. There it was, no way to deny it. I hadn't been lucky, I hadn't avoided it.

These Covid years have been a practice in slowly watching your expectations fall, your ideas about what is and is not the worst-case scenario slowly come down. This time, I had just wanted to be able to take my daughter and her friend to see Six, this show we bought tickets for, before Covid came. Now, I just want her to be able to go. I wanted to get my pilot's license at fourteen or fifteen, but now I wonder if I actually wanted to actually be a pilot, or if I just wanted people to be impressed by me. Maybe this has been my whole life, thinking I'll do something because other people will think I'm something I'm not. That I'm a mascot of some belief system or some organisation or some lifestyle. I'm just me, of course, just me. Non-prodigy, but earnest. That's enough, surely.