THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT LIFE BEFORE THE VIRUS

[First appeared in New Verse News]

By Lesléa Newman, Writing for Children & Young Adults Faculty, Spalding’s School of Creative & Professional Writing

I. I remember shaking hands: damp, sweaty hands and dry, scratchy hands, bone-crushing handshakes and dead-fish handshakes, two-handed handshakes, my hand sandwiched between a pair of big beefy palms. I remember hairy hands and freckled hands, young smooth hands and old wrinkled hands, red polished fingernails and bitten jagged fingernails, stained hands of hairdressers who had spent all day dying, dirty hands of gardeners who dug down deep into the good earth.

II. Thousands of years ago, a man stuck out his right hand to show a stranger he had no weapon. The stranger took his hand and shook it to make sure he had nothing up his sleeve. And that is how it began.

III. I remember sharing a bucket of greasy popcorn with a boy at the movies (though I no longer remember the boy or the movie) the thrill of our hands accidentally on purpose brushing each other in the dark.

IV. I remember my best girlfriend and I facing each other to shriek, “Miss Mary . . . Mack! Mack! Mack!” and the loud satisfying smack! as our four palms slapped.

V. I remember high fives and how we’d laugh when we missed and then do a do-over.

VI. I remember the elegant turn of shiny brass doorknobs cool to the touch.

VII. I remember my mother’s hands tied to the railings of her hospital bed and how I untied them when the nurse wasn’t looking and held them in my lap.

VIII. I remember holding my father’s hand how the big college ring he wore rubbed against my birthstone ring irritating my fourth finger but I never pulled away.

IX. I remember the joy of offering my index finger to a new baby who wrapped it in her fist as we gazed at each other in wonder.

X. I remember tapping a stranger on the shoulder and saying, “Your tag is showing. Do you mind if I tuck it in?” She didn’t mind. I tucked it in.

XI. I remember salad bars and hot bars. I remember saying, “Want a bite?” and offering a forkful of food from my plate. I remember, asking, “Can I have a sip?” and placing my lips on the edge of your cold frosty glass.

XII. I remember passing around the Kiddush cup, each of us taking a small sip of wine. I remember passing around the challah, each of us ripping off a big yeasty hunk. I remember picking up a serving spoon someone had just put down without giving it a second thought.

XIII. I remember sitting with a mourner at a funeral, not saying a word, simply taking her hand.

Lesléa Newman is the author of 75 books for readers of all ages, including the poetry collections I Carry My Mother and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Her newest poetry collection I Wish My Father is forthcoming in January 2021 from Headmistress Press.

School of Creative and Professional Writing

Spalding University

851 S. Fourth Street

Louisville, Kentucky 40203

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