Last Night

BY Sima Belmar | Pandemic Diaries

Last night I dreamed I couldn’t swallow. My mouth was evacuated of saliva, my throat a tunnel paved with gravel. I kept trying to swallow but each time the gesture would lock at that moment when the throat closes. I couldn’t swallow so I couldn’t breathe.

My father arrived on the scene of the dream. He assured me that he also has trouble swallowing sometimes. Then we hid behind a parked car and waited for the assassins to retreat into their shiny red Ferrari.

In addition to being a lecturer in the Department of Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies, I am a dance writer. I am a dance writer who cannot swallow any more dance content.

Life under lockdown is too much for anyone to swallow. Sleeves of Oreo cookies may be going down easier than usual. And bottles of Syrah. Or Kombucha. But the news, the Saturday Night Live videos, the Zoom meetings, the needs of one’s own children—too much. There is no desire to swallow when you’re being force fed. Get off your screens then, you say!

Easier said than done. (The title of my dissertation, by the way. Cal Class of 2015. Another lifetime. Another life. Another time.)

What is the opposite of swallowing? Upchucking? To counteract the pressure to swallow content (dance or otherwise) and pride (in teaching, in parenting), I’ve been upchucking a daily Social Distancing newsletter via TinyLetter. I am writing this on May 8, 2020, day 57 of quarantine for me, my husband, and our two daughters, ages seven and 14. 57 days of familial blisters. Someone grab a needle and pop this thing!

For the first two weeks, I wrote in the present tense, recounting my moment to moment experience, being here now, very zen. These early posts are full of cleaning grout, cooking elaborate dishes, baking black bean brownies, gingerbread cookies, and banana bread, learning new languages on Duolingo, meditating with and without the support of an app, debating the proper time to take a Xanax, taking yoga and ballet barre, starting peer therapy, listening to storytelling and Buddha-heavy podcasts, Zooming with students, friends, and family, and writing, always writing. There’s a manic tone to these posts, anxiety leaking through the spaces between words, between letters.

As the days and weeks pass, I begin to discover things about my childhood (it was full of settler colonialist ideology), my children (younger daughter can go from thoughtful angel to Tasmanian Devil in whatever amount of time is smaller than a nanosecond, elder daughter rivals me in terms of psychosomatic responses to the world), my husband (he can move between shed construction and couch lock with unparalleled grace). I exhibit moments of giddy delirium. I begin to wax philosophical. What is freedom? What is security? Where do we go from here, now that all of the children are growing up? Wait—that’s a lyric from a song by The Alan Parsons Project. I discover that my mind freely associates when given the chance.

When I fear I’m losing perspective, I re-read my entries from the early days. Apparently, day 21 was “hell.” A month in and I’m as anxious as I was on Day One, when I couldn’t imagine spending a single day without a break from my kids, never mind a horizonless amount of time. As my Day 30 self wrote, “This will not be a linear process. Grief goes round and round like the wheels on the bus. And this bus has no driver.”

My Social Distancing TinyLetter keeps me connected to loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers. People sometimes respond to my letters with stories of their own, with YouTube links, with memories of times spent together in the flesh. Above all, my TinyLetter affords me the opportunity to release the pressure valve of the Instant Pot of my mind. To spew. To clear the space around my solar plexus so I can swallow again.

Sima Belmar, Lecturer, Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies, El Cerrito, CA