11 Short Essays About Walking My Dog During COVID-19

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:: FALL 2020 TRAVEL WRITING PRIZE WINNER ::

Fat bunnies, spike proteins, welted voices, persistent scheffleras, breakfast cupcakes, filthy inertia, perpetual fear, throwaway friendliness, phobic dogs, Division Street & an abundance of caution.


I.

Today I woke up at 12:46 p.m. My head was clogged and my throat was raw. My throat was raw, so I took my temperature—97.0°F—and toddled into the living room. I toddled into the living room and collapsed on my roommate’s couch and pulled some more stuffing out of the gingham comforter from my childhood, a time when my bed had a headboard and it was brass and my walls were plastered with illustrations of fat bunnies prancing around a field of sunflowers, a time when I believed the whole world was big and bright and full of promise and all I’d have to do is say yes.

The dim sunlight is struggling against the dirty blinds. I should write something brilliant about that, or at least I should clean the windows. I should clean the stove, the toilet, my face, anything. I should give the dog a bath, I should respond to text messages, I should read a book for class. I should take the trash out; it’s starting to smell. “Kill the oceans, you will choke to death,” says Margaret Atwood on a Hulu documentary that is apparently playing on my TV. My roommate has been using our bathtub to wash her paintbrushes with their oils—a hazardous material, Google tells me, and Google probably knows. The tub hasn’t drained for weeks, but the landlord won’t return my calls, so we take showers ankle-deep in our own runoff.


I’m afraid she’s going to dissolve and scatter into the wind, but she does not seem to notice her old body and she does not address me at all.


It’s getting harder to take a shower. It’s getting harder to move a toothbrush around in my mouth, place a cup of day-old coffee in the microwave, push the correct combination of buttons. The seconds tick by and become hours, and the hours might as well be years. Soon we will be out of tissues, and then we will be out of toilet paper. They won’t let you bring your reusable bags into the grocery stores anymore, “out of an abundance of caution,” the signs explain. Yesterday I went to three different places in search of couscous. There were no greens except loose spinach, caked in dirt, and there was a lone bag of smushed-up hotdog buns in the bread aisle. “LIMIT 1,” warned some urgent handwriting in ballpoint pen on loose-leaf paper, highlighted sloppily with a mostly dried-up highlighter, attached with Scotch tape to the empty shelves.

In the kitchen, I hold an apple under the tap, then place it on the butcher’s block. It rolls off the butcher’s block and lands on the dirty floor, then rolls under the fridge like it’s trying to get back inside of it. I’m furious when I retrieve it and rub it against the sweatpants I’ve been wearing for a week. I know I should wash it again, I know washing it again would take a maximum of seven seconds, but it seems deeply unjust that I should have to. I skip the wash and toss it into the trash. I can’t remember the last time I ate, but I know I’d be able to taste the bruise even before it began to form. I know it’d be grainy, mealy, like sweet oatmeal with skin.

I feel furious often lately, but I feel scared all the time. I feel scared all the time—of what, I couldn’t say. I wake up and it’s there. I go to sleep and it’s there. It’s huddled in the corner, watching me like a creature, and ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.

The governor has extended the stay-at-home order through April 30. The only time I leave the apartment is to buy groceries or walk my dog. I take him around the block and nothing stirs but my boots in the mud, squelch, squelch, and some children digging up their yard with plastic shovels. The trash still lines the sidewalks. The iron gates still clang open and shut in the wind. The sky is a thunderstorm waiting to happen, but there is a zero percent chance of rain.

Compass Rose

II.

M     y dog has an appointment with the local vet to get his yearly shots. My dog is afraid of shots because my dog is afraid of everything: the classics, like thunderstorms and fireworks and big garbage trucks and the high-pitched squeal of a bus braking and definitely the vet in general, the way it smells of rubbing alcohol and fear, but also pleasant or neutral phenomena like hands clapping or a plastic bag floating in the wind and, now, jangling keys, because once I accidentally dropped mine on him.

The local vet is located over half a mile away, down Division, which is full of big garbage trucks and buses that brake in a high-pitched squeal and plastic bags floating around aggressively like pigeons. The local vet is located over half a mile away and I don’t have a car and my dog stalls when he gets scared, just plants his feet and refuses to budge and there’s nothing I can do about it; he won’t even be bribed with treats unless he’s situated somewhere cozy and evidence-based safe, such as nestled between the pillows on my bed. He won’t be bribed with treats, so there’s nothing I can do when he plants his feet and refuses to budge except pick him up and carry him until my spaghetti arms start to scream.


The tub hasn’t drained for weeks, but the landlord won’t return my calls, so we take showers ankle-deep in our own runoff.


My spaghetti arms start to scream in front of the Wendy’s, so I put him down. I put him down in front of the Wendy’s and he starts to spin. He starts to spin and I grope in my pockets for a poop bag and my pockets are empty. “Fuck,” I mutter. There are people passing by on the sidewalk on their way to the L, shaking their heads at me, and there are people passing by in their cars on their way to work, honking, and there are people inside the Wendy’s, chewing slowly, watching me remove my backpack and make a big show of digging through it, even though I know it will be as devoid of poop bags as my pockets. I put my backpack back on and concentrate very hard on the ground, telling it, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” with my eyes, while my dog watches me miserably, while the people keep staring, honking, shaking their heads.

It’s Friday, March 13. In a few hours, I’ll receive an email from my school announcing that classes are suspended until April. My roommate and I will rent Contagion on Hulu, laughing it off. By Monday, the vet will be closed, and the Wendy’s too, and Division will be eerily silent, and it will stay that way while my roommate retreats into her bedroom and pretty much stays there and the weekdays leak into weekends and the months lose their outlines, hovering somewhere between grey and gone.

I walk away from the little pile of shit, willing it to disappear, but there is only so much we can do. Sometimes it’s laughably little. Sometimes it’s nothing. My dog stalls again at the corner and I give him a hard look that fails to register. The look says, “Why?” The look says, “Please, please.” My dog blinks and shakes, not moving. The buses shriek and sigh and moan as I carry him across the intersection.

Compass Rose

III.

The old woman hobbles toward me on the sidewalk, cooing. She bends down to pet my dog, who jumps on her as if she’s a much sturdier thing—a trash bin full of trash, perhaps; the trunk of an ancient oak tree.

The old woman sways; she is not, in fact, a much sturdier thing. In fact, she is not even wearing a mask. I’m afraid she’s going to dissolve and scatter into the wind, but she does not seem to notice her old body and she does not address me at all. She speaks directly to my dog, whose stubby tail does not so much wag as vibrate. “He’s a pitter-patter man,” the old woman repeats, over and over, all her teeth showing from her precarious crouch, her mouth not so much smiling as moving around on her face. “Just a pitter-patter, pitter-patter, tiny little man!”


I can’t remember the last time I ate, but I know I’d be able to taste the bruise even before it began to form. I know it’d be grainy, mealy, like sweet oatmeal with skin.


We’ve collided, arbitrarily, at the end of a block. They are tearing up every street corner in my neighborhood. Where there used to be grass, sidewalk, curb, now just the dirt, so dark and wet it looks black. The quarantine has been extended through May 30. Today I spent sixty dollars on groceries, by which I mean: dog treats and champagne. When I got home, I tossed it all onto my unmade bed, then put my schefflera plant in a bigger pot. It has been dying for a year, shedding its leaves and stems, roots poking out of the soil like fingers that are up to no good. I can’t believe it’s still alive. “Plants are so resilient,” everyone always tells me, solemnly, as if this is a fact that stands for something greater than itself, and I bristle. Resilience seems like something that should be earned. Plants pretty much just sit there.

I tug my little man, who is not a man at all but a dog, away. We cross the street, neither of us looking back at the old woman to see if she made it back up from her crouch. My dog sniffs a pile of shit some other dog’s left behind. A car doesn’t stop at the stop sign, just rolls right through, lazy like a Friday afternoon.

Compass Rose

IV.

W     hen we reach the bakery, I tie my dog to the fence. No dogs allowed inside, and only one person at a time. I watch him anxiously through the window, in case a bus passes by and he wriggles out of his harness, then runs away. I place my credit card on a table near the display case, then back up against the opposite wall while the cashier runs it through and starts to wrap up my cinnamon roll in a disposable cardboard box. I brought a plastic Tupperware of my own, but she shook her head when I held it up, said something about “an abundance of caution.”

“Breakfast cake, I like to call it,” she’s joking now, through her floral-print mask, about my order. “It’s essentially the same recipe. And then if you Google the recipe for scones and biscotti, it’s basically just cookies, with more flour to make it drier.”

I forget to laugh because I’m squinting at the cupcake menu, trying to imagine it being recited in the voice of someone who loves me—anyone will do. I used to write at the bakery a few times a week, but I haven’t been here in months. I haven’t been here in months and I haven’t been feeding myself properly and I haven’t been touched since February; I don’t even mean sexually, just basic human contact: a handshake, an arm around the shoulder, a hug.


By Monday, the vet will be closed, and the Wendy’s too, and Division will be eerily silent, and it will stay that way while my roommate retreats into her bedroom and pretty much stays there and the weekdays leak into weekends and the months lose their outlines, hovering somewhere between grey and gone.


Summer’s just begun. Now that the stay-at-home order has been lifted, small businesses like the bakery are starting to open up again. The cashier is actually the owner, I realize, remembering her face from the before time. It’s a peripheral face because she used to have employees, college kids with rumpled T-shirts and hangover eyes, who’d wrap up my six-dollar “breakfast cake” while she filled out paperwork and took wedding orders in the back. She’s had a lot of order cancellations lately, she’s chirping, but her iced cookies blew up on Instagram, round frosted faces wearing little white masks. She’s chirping so many words I suspect she’d be chirping them whether I was standing here or not, standing here still staring at the cupcake menu—red velvet, salted caramel, lemon strawberry. “Oh,” I say finally, nodding dumbly, feeling like an asshole.

The only “someone who loves me” who comes to mind is my dog last night after I gave him a Whimzee treat—the kind shaped like a crocodile. I imagine a cozy room somewhere, with a family inside, molding the crocodile shapes lovingly, a candle burning in the corner and chili cooking in a crockpot. But of course they must be cut out by machines.

Compass Rose

V.

A dry leaf scuttles across the concrete, making a violent scraping sound all out of proportion to its size and weight. There’s clover all around me and little dandelions, mostly brown and broken. There’s a pigeon poking around the garden, so fat I mistake it for a bunny. A plane passes overhead, so small and far away I mistake it for a bird. Some wildflowers wave in the corner of my eye and I mistake them for a person, coming to demand what I think I’m doing here; some tall grass brushes against my elbow and I mistake it for a spider or another wispy kind of thing, a thing with many legs and a body like eyelashes.

I can’t hear the cicadas. The sky in the west is a pale cotton-candy pink, and the sun is glowing salmon from behind a haze of clouds. It feels too cold for mosquitos, but they’re floating all around me lazily, as if they don’t even want to suck my blood. I wonder how many times per minute a moth flaps its wings. It looks exhausting, keeping yourself in the air like that. I wonder what it would be like to have a garden; it seems like one of those things I’d be uniquely good at fucking up. Cars are passing in a constant stream just beyond the trees. Someone is hammering something in the distance, sporadically and without much conviction. Summer’s almost over and the sun’s outline is getting clearer now, more orange, like the end of a lit cigarette. I thought my dog would want to explore the garden, but instead he lies down on the pavement and eyes me suspiciously. I thought it would be therapeutic to sit in nature, but instead I feel like the whole world’s rejecting me, conspiring to make me feel unwanted.


I squint as the old man gets smaller, then smaller, until eventually he could be anything: a dying tree, a stop sign, another person altogether.


“Alright, bro—later,” says a dude getting out of a car. An old woman walks by with a child attached to either arm, each child attached to a scooter, all of them wearing homemade masks. “Let me in,” I whisper to no one. Impossible to imagine when it’s not currently happening: a warm meal like a fireplace in your stomach, an arm around your shoulder, a hand clasped in your hand that isn’t your own.

Compass Rose

VI.

A young woman leans against a brick wall somewhere on Division, pleading with her child. The girl is small and she sits on the ground, stockinged legs splayed out straight from either side of her quilted skirt, hair hanging limp over a silent scowl. She stares at the concrete, not crying, not screaming, hands dropped into her lap like empty gloves.

“Do you want me to pick you up, bud?” the young woman is asking, in a voice that is raised and red but also tender, like a welt. “Is that what you want? Do you want me to hold you?”

It’s dead middle of summer, but you wouldn’t guess it from the bite of the wind. The girl is, apparently, uncertain whether being held would change anything at all. Her guardian grows increasingly frantic, her voice teetering on the edge of a void I’d rather not know about—“Come on, bud, please? Please? I don’t know what you want from me, I don’t know”—as I hurry by with my dog, studying the cracks in the sidewalk as if I will be asked to describe them to a jury later: How wide? How deep? How straight, how dark, how packed with tar and dirt?

Compass Rose

VII.

Apparently, it’s Tuesday. Apparently, it’s still May. I stand outside in the pouring rain for forty-five minutes, holding my umbrella over my dog, who stands there confused and shivering, refusing to pee. I know he has to pee because he hasn’t peed in fourteen hours, but he’s afraid of rain because he’s afraid of everything—the classics, like thunderstorms and fireworks and big garbage trucks and the high-pitched squeal of a bus braking, but also pleasant or neutral phenomena like children singing and a microwave beeping and water no matter where it’s coming from, a gentle sprinkler on a hot day or a few drops from my hands after I wash them in the sink or the sound of the shower on the other side of the curtain. We walk three blocks down and he still won’t pee, we walk all the way back to our corner and he still won’t pee, he raises his leg next to a juniper bush but then he gets distracted and puts it right back down again, and by this point we’re both soaked through and I’m screaming “GO PEE” and “YOU’RE SUCH A STUPID ASSHOLE” even though I know that actually I’m the asshole and he’s just too scared to notice his body, too scared to pay attention to the right thing. He’s too scared to pay attention and I know I’m gonna have to give him a bath regardless of whether he actually pees, so we just keep walking around, the soles of my boots sinking into the oversaturated ground, squelch, my dog wading through puddles up to his stomach because there’s one sewer on our entire block and all this water has nowhere to go, squelch, and if he doesn’t pee soon he will get another UTI, he will get another UTI and he will remember his body and his body will be suffering and the vet is still closed until further notice, “out of an abundance of caution,” the emails keep explaining.


I forget to laugh because I’m squinting at the cupcake menu, trying to imagine it being recited in the voice of someone who loves me—anyone will do.


It is easy to mistake vulnerability for doom. So much lies just beyond the reach of our control. “You just have to figure out whether he’s treat- or praise-motivated,” everyone tells me, earnestly, but later I will discover a different solution to this problem of getting my dog to pee when it’s raining: stand with him under the train tracks and crouch down when the train’s about to pass, shielding his view with my body and covering his ears with my palms, whispering “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, you’re so brave, you’re so resilient.” In this way we harness his fear: once the train is gone, he’s so terrified he pees immediately, he doesn’t even bother lifting his leg, just drops his hips into the grass and lets go.

Compass Rose

VIII.

The old man informs my dog that the road sign he’s sniffing is broken and, therefore, not worthy of his time. “No need to investigate further,” he advises, cheerfully. My dog watches skeptically as the man shuffles away, chuckling to himself underneath his disposable mask, what’s left of his white hair glued like string down the back of his fleshy pink head.

The sign has fallen over and now lies upside-down in the grass so that I can’t see what it used to tell people to do. My dog lifts his leg and I yank on his leash. “Storm’s gonna pass us by,” the old man calls from somewhere down the sidewalk. I watch skeptically as the clouds loom low and fixed like a ceiling, and sweat trickles down my arm, then splashes onto my knee. The edges of the concrete are lined with sticky smears, the corpses of cicadas and whatever’s started feasting on them. Somewhere a child shrieks.


I thought it would be therapeutic to sit in nature, but instead I feel like the whole world’s rejecting me, conspiring to make me feel unwanted.


“For a minute there, I lost myself,” whines Thom Yorke through my headphones, which are held together with painter’s tape. It’s been nearly twenty-five years since Radiohead released OK Computer and a few months over thirty since I refused to be born, since they had to drag me out of my mother’s womb three weeks past my due date. I can never hear this song without picturing the music video: in it, Yorke is the same age I am now, Google says, but I can hardly believe it because he looks so much younger, so small and sickly inside that creepy red car with the red-leather interior, perched in the back seat like he’s haunting it. He’s staring into the camera as if he knows so much more than we do about buzzing like appliances and crashing parties and giving all you can; he’s peering out at us disappointed, us who are alive twenty-five years into his future, us who’ve sleepwalked ourselves into a reckoning with all the ways the world is insisting on falling apart, because by the time the car bursts into flames at 4:04, he’s somehow managed to get himself gone.

Summer’s officially over. My dog looks up at me, not moving. The child shrieks again, out of fear or glee or maybe both. I squint as the old man gets smaller, then smaller, until eventually he could be anything: a dying tree, a stop sign, another person altogether. But it turns out he was right; it does not, in fact, end up raining that night, at least not before I fall asleep. My dog paces around the apartment for an hour anyway, whining and shedding his fur in clumps, probably something about the barometric pressure. He’s panting so hard the stink of his breath fills the room—kibble with a trace of fish and bile, plus whatever everyday bacteria festers on the inside of a mouth that never gets cleaned. “It seems like dogs should have evolved to the point where they understand this incredibly common weather phenomenon isn’t going to kill them,” I say to no one, irritated and sick to my stomach, my dinner growing cold on the counter. But I also know: I have plenty of fears that don’t make any sense at all.

The next morning, there are puddles in the gutters. My dog’s little paws leave fresh tracks in the mud. The sky is clear but the air smells like my spider plant when I remember to water it—somehow dirty and clean at the same time. We’re rounding the corner as some workmen come to take the fallen sign away. They flip it over as they’re hauling it into the truck and I can finally make out what it wanted us to do: yield.

Compass Rose

IX.

I have stopped wearing my glasses when I take my dog out. I should wear my glasses all the time—I can’t see anything without them—but everything seems more bearable, lately, when it’s a little blurry, when objects have fuzzy outlines that glow like halos and every sharp edge softens into the background. My little dog looks bigger; he takes up more space. I protect myself from details like the craters on the moon, wiry hairs struggling their way out of moles on necks, the calamity on a stranger’s face. I can forget a tree is made up of individual branches with individual leaves, a building made up of individual bricks, that cars are not just cars but also the people inside them.

It is 37 degrees and cloudy and it feels like 37, too, promises my Weather app. “No active alerts,” it declares, above the hourly forecast. “Inside Tornado: Watch Car Be Tossed Like Toy.” It’s been winter forever, longer than half a year. The early April sky’s a slab of concrete and all the trees are dead, so I look down instead, at the laces of my boots.


I imagine a cozy room somewhere, with a family inside, molding the crocodile shapes lovingly, a candle burning in the corner and chili cooking in a crockpot. But of course they must be cut out by machines.


I woke up a little earlier today: 11:57 a.m. My roommate was dragging a hamper of dirty clothes across the living room floor. The garbage truck was parked outside again, lights flashing, white-noise roar like a highway. Last night it snowed like December—thick, fat flakes that turned the trash cans white—and the stuffing kept escaping the gingham comforter I’ve had since my childhood, a time when my bed had a headboard and it was brass and my walls were plastered with illustrations of fat bunnies prancing around a field of sunflowers. I’m pretty sure this is the second time in a week I’ve evoked that exact image—the mark of a lazy writer. I’ve been trying to trick myself into coming up with something unexpectedly brilliant, some stunning insight or metaphor, but nothing comes. Mostly I’ve been working on a 1,000-piece puzzle about sailboats and filling my Instagram story with other people’s poems: “Numbed hunger is like hunger / but numbed.” “Saltwater is like / water but demands more thirst.” “Paint is like perfume but demands / more violence.”

A man rides by on his bike and honks some kind of goofy horn and I don’t look up from my boots. A child is speaking loudly in her yard, somewhere, but I can neither see her nor make out what she is saying. Every now and then my dog stops and looks up at me worshipfully, as if I’m the sun. When we get home, I will take my temperature—96.3°F—and my roommate will be taking out the trash and this will feel like a miracle. I’ll stare at my reflection in the kitchen windowpane while I cut up an apple, grinning and grateful, thinking, “Anything is possible!”

There is a certain linear lie behind phrases like “It gets better.” Surviving is less about the steady passage of time and more about what you notice. Dogs see with their noses, not their eyes. I don’t watch the car get tossed like a toy. I watch the laces of my boots and let my dog’s nose lead me home.

Compass Rose

X.

W     hen we reach the door of the local vet where I have brought my dog to get his yearly shots, he takes one whiff of the air inside and scuttles backwards so violently he escapes his coat and his harness. “Clooooo,” I call, almost singsong, as he trots away naked back in the direction from where we came. “Cloo, where ya goin’, bud?” I break into a jog at the same moment he turns around and looks back at me, stops and does a play bow, wagging his stubby tail tentatively like a slow-tempo metronome. I pick him up and carry him back, use the toe of my boot to nudge the coat and harness with us through the door of the vet’s. “I’ve got Cloo here for his shots?” I ask the receptionist, who nods a pitying nod.

In the tiny exam room, my dog paces around, shedding his fur in clumps and panting hard: kibble, fish, bile, fear. “Maybe time for a teeth cleaning,” the vet suggests when she walks in, wrinkling her nose. The tech tries to hold him and he growls, then screams like he’s not a dog at all but a baby dinosaur. They offer him a greasy line of Cheez-Whiz on a flat wooden tongue depressor and he jerks his head away as if it’s poison or, worse, celery. They take him to the back room so they can get more people involved and they’re back three minutes later. “He didn’t even notice,” the vet tells me, cheerfully. “Not one growl.” Fear, apparently, has everything to do with context—possibly, even, with love. I look down at my dog and he smiles with his eyes. I smile with my mouth. The receptionist smiles with her voice—“That’ll be $289”—and I laugh a laugh that is more like a bark.


Surviving is less about the steady passage of time and more about what you notice.


On the way home, Cloo shits in the middle of the sidewalk. Not even off to the side, just right in the middle. I stare up at the sky while he stares up at me, like, “Thoughts?” Google tells me dogs are not capable of spite, but how would Google know? I dump the heartworm meds and doggie Advil out of the paper bag from the vet and try to scoop the shit into it, but the shit just scoots along the sidewalk like it’s trying to get away from me. I use my right pointer finger as a barrier, flicking the shit onto the inner corner of the paper bag, where it leaves a jaundiced yellow stain after flopping, finally, onto the bottom.

I smear the shit that’s on my finger onto my jeans. I look around for a trash can and there isn’t one so I just hold the paper bag tightly in my hand. There is only so much we can do. Sometimes it’s laughably little, not even close to adequate. Sometimes it’s enough.

Compass Rose

XI.

The man passing us on the sidewalk is burly like a Harley guy. He’s wearing tinted sunglasses and a black mask over his ratty beard and he walks as if his muscles are in their own way. I don’t notice this in the moment of his passing; it’s only later, scanning my short-term memory trying to figure out what he said, that I’m able to conjure the image. I watched him coming toward us, but I was looking through him, not seeing. I was not seeing, so I was only vaguely aware that he opened his mouth and spoke to me; it sounded like background noise. It sounded like background noise because I was distracted, trying to think of something to say to my ex, trying to come up with some collection of words that would feel like a suture or at least a flat palm against their sternum, the way I used to respond when they were upset.

“______ is dying,” they texted me this morning. These types of texts are getting more and more frequent, from my exes, from all the people who used to love me, and still there is nothing to say. “I’m so sorry.” “Is there anything I can do?” “Whatta fucking year.” Summer’s just begun. My stomach growls like my dog when anyone other than me tries to hug him; I haven’t been feeding myself properly. Around the time we first got together, my ex had a bad day—not a 2020 bad day, just a run-of-the-mill variety—and I made them a playlist called “wallow,” full of every song that’d ever made me cry. I never stopped adding to it and there are nearly four hundred tracks on it now, five-plus years later. I don’t remember when exactly it became more mine than theirs, but I guess the lines of ownership start to blur under the weight of bottomless feelings, feelings that have no reliable structure: grief, dread, fear.


It is easy to mistake vulnerability for doom. So much lies just beyond the reach of our control.


Once the man has passed us, I rewind my memory and see it all clearly: his kind face, the nervous bulk of him turned sideways, the unsuccessful effort to take up less space. I see it all clearly and I hear the way he arranged his voice like a greeting when he hooted, “Jack Russell terrier! Yeeeeah!” He’s already halfway down the block, far out of reach of my delayed reaction, when I finally manage a chuckle and a weak “That’s right.” He’s far out of reach and I don’t look behind me and probably he doesn’t hear, but it feels necessary to acknowledge this throwaway friendliness, this proof that I exist.

Difficult, but not impossible, to remember: there are all kinds of ways to be held. My stomach roars again. I consider asking Google “What does it mean if I keep waking up hungry?” but the answer will almost definitely be insultingly obvious: you’re not eating enough. Tomorrow I will go to the bakery—it’s opened up again, the first time in months—and I will buy a cinnamon roll. I’ll bring it home and eat it slowly. I’ll lick the icing from my fingers.


Jax Connelly (they/she), a non-binary writer whose creative nonfiction explores the intersections of queer identity, unstable bodies, and mental illness, was a finalist for Fourth Genre’s 2021 Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize and is the recipient of honors including a Notable in The Best American Essays 2019, first place in the 2019 Prairie Schooner Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest and the 2018 Pinch Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction. Their work has also appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], The Rumpus, Ruminate, Pleiades, Fugue and more.

Lead image: Michael Kucharski

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