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How Library Books Help Me Survive Long COVID

I lay on my side on the couch, my face centimeters away from a plate of canned green beans, every cell in my body shrinking in decay, my bones disintegrating. My arms, functional just yesterday, are useless sludge. I heave one hand up and push a few green beans into my mouth without moving my head, resting before I am able to chew. A fork sits outside my line of vision, so it does not exist. I am spectral. This is long COVID after a year and a half.

My husband comes in, carrying an armful of books from the library. He sits down and begins to read to me out loud, an act of love performed frequently since I became ill. He reads poetry about nature, a trashy thriller we both mock, magazines about space, Toni Morrison, a book of bizarre short stories. Severed from the hockey games and concerts we used to attend, unable to even walk down the street, watch a whole movie, or reliably sleep in the same bed together, we connect through this ritual formed via the library.

Becoming disabled by a condition that is trivialized, ignored, politicized, and judged is to be marooned in a parallel universe. The former body and former life slip away into quicksand; the surrounding society remains in all its selfishness and vitriol. It is not survivable without immediately claiming a reason to keep waking up.

I have claimed books.

I download library audiobooks like other people shop online. While the physical act of reading and concentrating is exhausting and induces post-exertional malaise, listening is more tolerable. I “read” a historical fiction book about Versailles, remembering walking miles around Paris, my husband spilling crumbs from his macaron pistache on the train, riding a bike past palatial fountains. I give in to the grief,

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Toni Morrison

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