First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
“Hey, Google!” I shouted, as I lay dying, or so I thought, on the unforgiving ceramic tile of my cold kitchen floor.
“Hey, Google! Call Sam!” (Sam is my emergency contact.)
“I don’t recognize that voice,” Google told me, unsympathetically, in its dull, metallic monotone.
Now, I really thought that Google and I were friends. We had chatted frequently off and on through the pandemic. “Hey, Google, set the alarm for 6 a.m.” “Hey, Google, CBC radio news.” “Hey, Google what’s the weather going to be like today?” “Hey, Google, do you love me?” “Yes, you’re as sweet as maple sugar,” the male voice once responded playfully. At this point, however, I felt rather “ghosted” by Google. This was a strange emotion to feel as I lay on the floor, thinking that this moment might be my last. Perhaps I really was on my way to becoming a ghost.
I tried several times to reach Google. Each time my shouts likely sounded more frantic, which is maybe why Google didn’t recognize my “damsel in distress mode.” If I ever get off this floor alive, I thought, Google and I will work on this voice-recognition thing.
Despite taking two mindfulness courses this year on Zoom, I was not so mindful as I descended from my stepladder, missing the bottom rung. I flew backward and banged my head on the floor. By now, I was becoming mindful of a trickle of red, charting a course on the grooves of my grout. Life slowed down. My body was in shock and a feeling of peace washed over me.
In these few minutes on the hard floor, I took a hard look at my life. I especially pondered the two years of pandemic. But my first thought was – oh, I just received an e-mail from the library that the book I had placed on hold, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning was ready for pickup. I started to laugh but Google was not amused. My fall from grace occurred as I was completing yet another round of decluttering. Apparently, my tidying-up regime was not exactly “gentle.” My epitaph might even read: “Death by Cleaning.”
Was this the way the pandemic was to end for me? I really tried to make the most of these two years. I walked every day. I lost 20 pounds, although I did not exactly float like a feather to the floor. I read a dozen two-inch Victorian novels, digitized my complete photo and slide collection, worked my way through Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, restrung my harp, took four ukulele classes online, recorded songs for the church choir, Zoomed and re-Zoomed with friends. But my main occupation was casting off my possessions as if I were on a sinking life raft.
In fact, a few months earlier my life raft almost did sink. I was awoken by the newspaper delivery man at 3 a.m. as he pounded frantically on the door of my 17th-floor apartment. Water gushed from under my doorway into the hallway. Water was everywhere, in my living room, kitchen and study. The supply line of my toilet had ruptured. I bailed water for hours until the restoration team arrived. Of course, my neighbours below were affected. For weeks, I was also drowning in guilt, and hoping that I would not be “underwater” financially to pay to fix the damage.
My apartment did dry out, and on that day of the Great Fall, I did manage to rise from the almost dead, curse Google, and call Sam on my iPhone instead.
I spent the whole day in the ER. A doctor put five staples in my head. She cried when I thanked her for her service during the pandemic. I cried when she pronounced my right wrist was broken and that I would not be able to drive for a while. “Of course,” she declared, “You’ll get pretty good with your left hand.” One of my music teacher friends reminded me of an old joke – “I’d give my right hand to be ambidextrous.”
Gradually, I progressed from almost dying to almost living. I learned to order my groceries online, re-employed my Uber app, and relied on the local library assistance program.
And it was the residents on my floor – not Google – who came to my aid, showing the “relentless kindness” that British Columbia’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Bonnie Henry, said that we need to employ to fight the uncertainty of the pandemic.
My neighbours come from Iran, Chile, India-Africa, Iraq, Indonesia, and the United States. We are Christian, Muslim, Sufi, Ismaili, Unitarian and probably a few of us are agnostic or atheists. Five of us are single women, four of us over 70 and one over 50. Despite our differences, we have helped each other these two years.
They drove me home from the hospital, mopped up the blood on my kitchen floor and left meals for me. Two of my neighbours even offered to bathe me. An elderly woman on another floor even proposed to dress me every morning. True compassion knows no borders, knows no religion. We check in on each other; we shop for each other; we share food, recipes and stories.
At 72, I realize that my fall could have, indeed, been my ultimate downfall. I have, therefore, made a few changes in my life. Google has been replaced, not entirely banished. Google and I still converse about the news and weather, but my Apple Watch monitors my every move (which is a little scary), morning and night. If I fall and I do not respond, it will call the paramedics. I can call my emergency contacts myself, from my watch, just like Dick Tracy.
I am triple-vaxxed, double-masked but still single-handed (as my wrist is not yet completely healed). Most importantly, I am surrounded by relentless kindness, a hedge against that dark night.
So perhaps, I am as prepared as I’ll ever be to meet the future, come hell or high water. I am still standing, and Heaven knows, as far as I am able, I fully intend to raise a little hell before I die.
Linda Eterman lives in North Vancouver.
Sign up for the weekly Parenting & Relationships newsletter for news and advice to help you be a better parent, partner, friend, family member or colleague.