I wish I could say I am fine with going into my eighth year since my last visit with my mother and sibs in Mount Vernon, New York. I am and I ain’t. The one thing this pandemic has exposed is how little things have changed with my folks back in the New York area, and how little and how much I have changed living away from them and New York in the past couple of decades.
I had originally planned to visit my mom in March 2020 during my “Spring” Break week from teaching at American University and University of Maryland Global Campus. But we know what began to occur in the US due to bad policies combined with brutal narcissism, racism, and capitalism. COVID-19 Alpha slammed into the Big Apple like one of those ginormous worms from Dune, and ate into it faster than a supernova. My mom was sick by mid-April, as was my younger brother Maurice. If you ask her, my mom would say her “tests came back inconclusive,” but given the accuracy of her tests and the reality of her symptoms, she had COVID Alpha. My youngest brother contracted the virus a month later. I do not know for certain if I would have contracted COVID-19 if I had gone through with my plans in March 2020, but had I done so, I very likely could have infected my wife and then 16-year-old son, unacceptable by my standards then and today.
Then they started doing the unthinkably ignorant. They started having gatherings sans masks and vaccinations. My mom had my siblings and niece and nephew over for Thanksgiving 2020, and babysat the young’uns all during this shitstorm. My mom’s apartment is barely 800 square feet. Ten people gathered in the living room/kitchenette area of her place, nine not masked at all. My older brother Darren wore a KN-95, “except when [he] was eating and drinking,” he said. I all but facepalmed my forehead into mashed potatoes.
When the vaccines finally came on line for emergency use last December and the beginning of 2021, I assumed my mom would reluctantly but definitely get hers. After all, she worked for Mount Vernon Hospital and Westchester County Medical Center for a combined 27 or 28 years. Boy was I wrong! We last discussed it in May. “I don’t know what’s in it,” she said. “I wanna wait and see how it affects people,” she also said. Keep in mind, the younger brother between Maurice and the youngest one (convoluted, I know, but the 40-year-old doesn’t want me to mention him on my blog anymore) and his wife caught COVID-19 Delta earlier that month. They went out to eat at a restaurant, unvaccinated. “Probably got it off a fork or something,” my mom said.
After I explained the facts, that at that point, a billion people had been partially or fully vaxxed, she gave her usual defensive response. “I know the facts, Donald. You think I’m stupid?” Even now, though I may think, No mom, but you are acting as stupid as stupid can be, I don’t say it. It’s all part of her vanity, her anger and misunderstanding of me. At this point in her life, I couldn’t convince my mom that water is wet and the sky is blue, not even if I quoted Jesus himself. So I conceded. Do what you want. But it’ll be a long, long time before I come visit again. Don’t expect a lot of phone calls or letters or cards moving forward, either. For me, this was and remains about self-preservation, body, mind, and spirit, and not about anger or spite.
I last checked on my mom and brothers during Thanksgiving last month. I didn’t even bother to ask my mom about her vaccination status or her health. I knew she wouldn’t tell me the truth about her decisions, anyway. But my brother Maurice. Yep. He too refused to vaccinate. “I don’t know what’s in that stuff!,” he raised his voice while lilting on “stuff.” He was out of work, too, because New York State’s not allowing unvaccinated people to work for them.
He said one other thing that made me truly sad. I asked about what being unvaccinated has done with his social life. “I can’t be around these…’modern women’,” Maurice said with a pause and the feel of air quotes around the term. Somehow, a woman who doesn’t need a man to “take care of them” is “modern,” and made Maurice feel obsolete. All I could think was, Wow! Mom’s misogynoir and patriarchy really rubbed off on you. You, and all of us at some point.
There’s this not-so-famous 1997 movie Affliction, starring the late James Coburn, Nick Nolte, and Willem Dafoe. The cycles of physical and psychological abuse, the obvious misogyny and hypermasculinity, the mental breakdown, the need for distance from family, are all part of this movie. Nolte’s character eventually kills his father (Coburn), and eventually loses his grip with reality. His withdrawn and recluse brother (Dafoe), a writer and English professor, wrote down his brother’s story for posterity. This as Nolte’s character disappears to Canada, where someone eventually finds a cadaver matching his physical features.
I wonder if I am Willem Dafoe’s character. Probably not. At least, I don’t think my partner since 1995 and my 18-year-old see me that way. But I do feel the lurch to stay away from people, especially my immediate family outside of Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s not like I don’t want to see them. But they have never ever seen me, not even during all the years I stared them in the face.