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Smoke Or COVID

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

(Note: This piece was written for AIR week of the class It's Elemental, My Dear. The prompt I chose was "What makes you catch your breath?")

We open the windows.

My daughter coughs. She catches her breath. We wonder who’s air she shared to become infected. I had begged her to wear a mask. Our degrees of separation from the virus were lessening each week. We had miraculously managed to dodge it for this long. But she is tired of masks. She has come of age during a pandemic.

An entire year stuck at home in our new downsized house far from town. Desperately, she clung to her parents with compulsive hugging that stopped as soon as she was able to return to school.

After her first game of Spin the Bottle I scolded her, “Don’t you realize we’re in a pandemic. This is no time to be kissing friends, even if you are outside.”

Her bat mitzvah, which she spent years prepping for with a private tutor, only to have to forgo the catered and DJed event for a small gathering in the backyard under a tent with three friends. Her family Zoomed in from afar.

I say it like that, as if it was a disappointment, but it was a beautiful service. The mountains as the backdrop to a perfect autumn day. The wind was calm then.

Not like recent weather with record high-speed winds, including 100 mph squalls in December that tore the roof off my neighbor’s singlewide trailer. For a while, we had to stay inside. It was dangerous to be on the mesa in the high winds. Who knew what might be tossed at you—a chair, a roof panel, a trash can, a patio umbrella. Our stout strawbale house stood sturdy and still. I thought of the Three Little Pigs. Our house was made of straw but not even the mightiest wolf could blow it down.

Where was this wind when my daughter chose not to wear her mask? She is missing her middle school graduation. Another rite of passage infected with disappointment.

The wind is our relief from COVID while our daughter quarantines with mild symptoms in her upstairs room. We open all the windows and let it circulate throughout the house. I imagine the breeze swiping the walls and corners with its cleansing circulation, picking up COVID particles and sending them out the screen door.

Until the smoke comes. Each new wildfire reported is a little closer to home. The wind encourages the fire and tosses it from treetop to treetop, forcing it to spread erratically. Days pass of drought and high gusts. We can do nothing but wait. Thick grey air fills with the scent of thousands of ponderosa bonfires. I hate how I love the smell of beauty dying.

We close the windows tight. Smoke and COVID are a worrying combination. We must choose between smoke or COVID. I cough and wonder if it’s from smoke or COVID.

Each day I test negative and thank the breeze for this next breath.

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