Pumpkins Past Their Prime

Nala so wanted to go closer, to sniff these things that were displayed on an uprise, like Olympians who once stood there to accept their gold, silver, and bronze medals.  I checked her lead and kept her close. I could not identify these sloppy things, once displayed with such dignity. From a house away, they vaguely resembled animal sacrifice.

When I realized the seepage, coming from the pulp was merely jack o’ lantern guts, I was relieved first. A little. I looked up, widening my perspective to the rest of the yard: the bent hanger that once held up a small pride flag, the corner of which now dragged in the mud; the tricycle, missing a back wheel lying on its side in the driveway; the curtains semi-closed as if yanked into the privacy of poverty.

The more I looked, the more I could see the trauma of those who lived behind the curtain. The yellow patch of winter grass, where a tarp once separated the sun from the blades seeking warmth. The cracked corner of the window in the bottom of the storm door. The sticker on the door whose colors alone let any passerby know not to come any closer.

Trauma doesn’t have to speak for us to see it is present.  It announces itself in abandoned decorations from another season. It whispers through the holes of broken toys. It screams from stickers slapped on doors.

When people began to fully emerge from the pandemic, not shyly, like munchkins coming out from behind toadstools to see the dead witch and the house that killed her. But confidently, losing their masks more and more, pushing through peopled places powered by vaccines and boosters and an adamant desire for life to fall back in place. When people began emerging from behind locked doors with resolve, they wore the signs of trauma on their faces. Wide smiles and laughter were hard to come by. Practiced smiles and head nods became the norm. Everyone looked older.

Awkwardness tripped many a stride when we tried to resume where we had left off, more than two years prior. We tripped, hit our heads, stepped around abandoned masks, like empty Smirnoff bottles on the side of the road. We walked into public places on a mission: to get what we needed and get out as quickly as possible. We told ourselves we had too much to do to linger inside.

January 2023 has begun. Planner and calendars purchased online are filling mailboxes. Plans for parties abandoned in the last two years are being resurrected. When we wear masks, it is with a sense of the experienced, the accomplished. We know how to do this. We have a stock of fresh N95s. We take them off as soon as our reason for putting them on is finished.

Hope ushers us into this new year. Hope for a world that is less arrogant, more mindful; wise enough to act on what we have learned from surviving a pandemic that took the lives of nearly seven million people to date.

And yet, it seems we can only look back at what has happened in glimpses, and talk about it in short conversations, voices hushed. Like the lawn that tells a tale of the trauma behind the curtain, our silence on the topic of sustained trauma paints a picture of a people still trying to find those elusive bootstraps with which to pull themselves up. We may think about trauma, notice it, but like the thoughts that try to interrupt our meditation practice, we let it go. Opting instead, to focus on measured lists in new planners, where we vehemently cross off our to-do’s: fix her tricycle; wash the pride flag; pitch the pumpkins past their prime.