As I write this, my 24-year-old daughter is working remotely from the kitchen table in the next room. She works for a large, California-based clothing company, and while their brick and mortar stores all over the world have closed, the ecom team – which Ruby is a part of – chugs along. Ruby is responsible for what you see when you go to their website and search for women’s tops and outerwear. Sometimes I’ll be in the living room working or teaching on Zoom and I’ll hear her say things like, “I like this top in Raspberry Scream,” or, “Do we have this in Tiger Puff Puff Orange?”
Some parents might worry if they heard words like that coming from their child, that in times like these, by which I mean, the pandemic – they’d raised their daughters all wrong. Why isn’t she out there on the front lines sewing masks like her friend Sally? Instead, I feel a deep sense of relief.
My daughter is dressing us for the post apocalypse, and it’s very sweet to watch her take it so seriously.
“How is Ruby holding up?” concerned friends ask. A day before sheltering in place, I drove to San Francisco from our home on the other side of the bay to retrieve her and her one house plant. She’d only been in her apartment for a month and she was loving her new life and her new job – sometimes walking, sometimes taking a cable car home from work. Her apartment was well lit. All she had to do was walk down four flights of stairs to be swallowed up by a sea of sidewalk cafes and bars, shops and lots of cute people her age lounging about, enjoying the sun.
My kid likes to dress – she puts delightful outfits together – platform sneakers paired with checkered pants and fluffy hot pink sweaters. Going out everyday – in the olden days – six weeks ago – was a lot of fun for her.
You know that opening scene in the old T.V. series, The Mary Tyler Moore show, when Mary is standing in the midst of a busy city center in Minneapolis, throngs of people and pigeons around her, and she throws up her arms like Hello Beautiful Life! I can still hear the theme song in my head;
Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have the town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all
Or something like that, it’s been a long time, but Mary clearly was at some kind of green light moment in her life; a grown-up job, the boyfriend, living on her own in the city. All those wonderful beginnings where, wow, a girl really might make it, after all.
That’s how it was for Ruby and her friends; working their first real jobs that came with actual paychecks. Young and in their 20’s, living that glorious life of dating and meeting people, staying out too late, gathering with friends for Sunday brunch. Simple cares. No mortgage, no one to support except themselves.
Even though Ruby follows the news and knows what is happening – to the extent any of us know what is happening – in some ways, head bent over her computer in the kitchen, she’s living in another world – a world of crop tops and button downs, which may seem shallow, but fashion equals a love of beauty, which equals a love of life.
“What’s going on in the world of fashion?” I’ll ask, taking a break from poetry and words in the next room. Last week they launched a comic book print on jeans and jackets and it was nuts – they ran out of product. “People need something fun,” her CEO told the group.
Ruby is my distraction, my break from the New York Times Daily show podcast, or Sam Harris’ Making Sense podcast, where scientists and journalist gather to have the hard conversations.
I think about when this is over and Ruby returns to our previously scheduled programming, the one where everything goes back to the way it was before life changed and she moved back home with her mother. What will that old/new life be like?
Last night, laying in my bed after watching a delightfully distracting episode of Ozark – I read Ruby a piece about what life will look like when it’s safer to re-group, as it were; patrons sitting six feet apart in a restaurant, airline travelers separated by rows, no gatherings of groups over 10 people. Masks and gloves de rigueur. “This is just a kind of time-out,” I told her. “There will be love and dating after this is over. You’ll go back to your job, you’ll keep making friends and having fun.”
“Maybe a year,” I said.
She turned to me in the dark, looked at me soberly and nodded.
In the meantime, she bunks with me. There is coffee made for her when she comes downstairs in the morning. Throughout the day, we bring small plates of food to each other. Yesterday we hauled a card table out to the side porch where the afternoon sun is bright and warm. She takes conference calls out there and I listen in as they plan what we’ll be wearing in the spring of 2021. I’ve got my eye on a workout top in a color called prune velvet.
At the end of the day we put on our masks and set off to walk, she putting her arm into the crook of mine, her hair splashing blond around her face.
We find ourselves talking about the future, but realized yesterday that so much of our former life was about making plans, inking in the calendar and looking forward to things. Now that is a complete wash. We say things like Hawaii in August, Mexico in April, but we don’t know. All we know is the feel of our arms locked as we take the long walk at the end of the day, avoiding bikers and people on the path, our eyes squinting into the sun. There are windsurfers on the bay to our left, the high seas rising all around us.
My newest 27 Wildest Days video series is yours free until May 11th – this is my gift to you, something I am creating now, during the pandemic – and offering to anyone who would benefit from a writing practice.