When the doctor guided Josue into the world, his grandmother’s face crinkled in glee. “We’re fifteen now!” she squealed. The next month another doctor studied her tissue. When the pulley lowered her out of the world, bent faces crumpled in pain. “We’re fourteen now,” someone whispered while Josue squirmed guiltily.
While her husband drove, Margaret kept her eyes closed, trying to identify each roll to the right, each jostle to the left along West Road. She had guessed the first curve was the bend around the Tudor house. The one being gutted behind a green privacy fence. “Privacy? Everyone knows what they’re doing,” she had laughed. Moments later a sharp bank had shunted her frail frame into the padded door panel, and she thought they might be at the place with the goats. Her uncertainty, though, had surprised her.
Six long years had passed since they had moved to the hills and found themselves quickly labeled “the kids from the flatlands” after the septic tank overflowed and raccoons tore through the chicken wire. Nearly every day since they had navigated this route, eyes alert to “all” potential threats. Margaret chuckled again, then promptly regretted the expended energy. In the momentary quiet she sensed her husband was staring so that the familiar pang of guilt struck. Six long summers ago she had asked him to trust her as they tracked the petite flags and glossy plastic signs along snaky one lane roads to the Open House. Six long autumns ago they had moved into their “forever” home. She tried to find it funny.
Soon enough, her contrition morphed into something warm as they descended a long, gentle slope. She knew they had reached the huge empty lot where the wild mustard grows. Where tall stalks burst out of compressed cracked earth with spectacular speed, growing taller than her in spots, revealing a radiant splendor seemingly overnight: intense yellow flowers arranged in delicate x’s atop sturdy hairy stems, their billowy ballet summoning dainty white butterflies. Margaret’s mother said that in the parable mustard represents faith. Well, here they chop it all down by May. In early spring, weed abatement notices start arriving. “Dried mustard plants? Highly combustible! Be safe and clear it out!” She chuckled for the last time. “Nothing that invasive is gone forever,” she thought. “After a fire destroys this place, the mustard will be the first thing to come back.” In her life before treatment, Margaret had jogged through the field each night, had stood rigid to hear what swaying sounds like, had heard the crunching beneath her shoes. She understood that well before the trucks and chainsaws rumble up to pull life out by the roots, wild mustard plants have already dropped much of their seed. She opened her drained eyes onto her husband. Oh, how she wished now that they had done the same.
In the apartment, we only had a living room. Now the burbs have gifted us a family room, too. Another unnecessity, like the fireplace that will stand sterile in 70-degree winters.
“Drywall over it. Then you’ll have another wall,” said the husband.
“I don’t need another wall.” My words ricocheted inside the bare space.
“One day we might.”
One day. That pacifies six-year-old hopefuls. Deludes middle-aged unexplorers. Aborts yet-to-be grandparents. “One day. One day.” Placates doomed bathroom visits, plastic stick always trembling in my hands. “One day. One day. One day.” Until the phrase whittles itself down stick-thin, empty—like me.
Four hundred feet above the column of ships waiting to enter the canal, we crossed the Bridge of the Americas to begin our winter escape in earnest. As Jeff and I climbed through steep Caribbean pines, rolled past arching ferns, and dropped into the sea of airborne palms in Almirante, I marveled that the rich landscape of Panama is ever eclipsed by something mortals made.
Our first stop was a week of snorkeling around Isla Bastimentos. Each day we plunged into the voiceless world of grazing lionfish and darting angelfish. Though accompanied only by the gentle ripples that smacked against my ears and the sound of my breathing, amplified through the tube, I did not feel alone. I felt at home among those who zipped and skittered below the surface.
On our last day on the island, I had just returned to my towel when a nose poked through the glassy surface. I sprung to my feet, then cut through the water as silently as I could to trail the large green sea turtle. My presence was no secret, however, and the creature wrenched his leathery rubber neck behind him occasionally as if to check my progress. When we arrived at a bed of tall, wavy seagrass, I remained at the fringes, sure danger awaited me inside the slowly swaying blades. My companion coasted smoothly through the flapping grass, stopping now and then to nibble while I pushed the water forward with my arms, then back again, making eddies with my legs, eggbeaters of resistance that labored to keep me stationary. “A lot of movement just to stay put,” I thought. “I get it.”
Before visiting Panama, my husband and I had already enjoyed extensive travel to six continents. We were the couple that was always on the move, even as—or because—our family remained stagnant at two. Years spent trying to get pregnant only to suffer recurrent miscarriage had tainted celebrations like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and the holiday season reminded us of what we did not have. Though I carried the hope of “Maybe by next Christmas,” each December was endured as another when only two stockings hung over the fireplace. During my first failed pregnancy, I had purchased for our would-be child an extra one, a long, stretchy, knit stocking that year after year collected dust in the rafters. Each Christmas I cursed my presumption and hastened the end of my once-favorite time of year. “The moment it is over, best to strip the tree and mantel,” I told myself. “Best to keep moving.”
As I tailed my ocean companion along the sea grass that December, I understood treading water, working all my limbs at once only to remain still. I could have done it all day. Eventually, though, the sky took on a violet sheen, and I trudged grudgingly back to our room. Tomorrow was the mainland, and while I was sure the forest would prove lovely, it would not be the confidant the ocean had been.
The next morning, we swapped the open water and jungle of the island for the open air fondas and forest of the Cocle Mountains.
On our first morning, a fleet-footed guide led us from the lodge down to the cascades near Cerro La Vieja. En route we were enchanted by a silent three-toed sloth and the elongated oropendola nests that hung from soaring, curled branches. The tidy, soaring falls were entrancing, too, and gave the appearance of bursting out the side of a tree-clad hill. We soaked up the familiar roar and enjoyed a bracing dip in the pool, made murky by the agitated soil. Reinvigorated, we laced up for the hike ahead.
Our newfound energy proved short-lived. The trail, the same we took down, felt almost immediately grueling. I had not noticed how steep it was, and though I wore a hat, the sun seemed to bounce off the ground straight into my burning cheeks. I watched Jeff for any signs of struggle. He smiled meekly, but his drenched “Birds of Panama” shirt and sweat-speckled baseball cap were impossible to miss. With a mixture of concern and bewilderment, our guide began to urge us on. “Close! Close!” We knew that was a lie. This was the path we had followed down; it had not shrunk for our benefit. I felt lame. And irritated. “I was never this hot on the island,” I thought. Tiny droplets snaked down my enflamed neck, and I cursed my surroundings. I eyed a cluster of large, grayish-brown leaves on my right. How any plant could wither in this sticky landscape seemed preposterous. “Close! Close!” I mustered a faint nod and pressed both palms against my searing thighs in a miserable effort to stabilize my gait. Another labored step had just crunched the loose ground beneath my boot when an explosion of color and flight brought my spaghetti legs to a halt.
In a flash, the grayish-brown leaves had erupted into electric currents of blinding cobalt. Like miniscule fireworks, the intense blues bounced through the air in a frenzied display. “Morphos!” the guide declared. Forgetting how depleted we were, we followed the butterflies with quick steps up the rugged trail, though I was certain we would not be able to keep pace. At times it seemed a lost cause, the bouncing shapes racing forward only to flicker and circle back behind us. We stopped, and the morphos instantly catapulted forward and idled, as if to beckon we weary visitors. We paused in a vain effort to predict their movement, only to find our necks zigzagging furiously. Jeff threw his head forward and cackled, and I giggled in spite of myself. After a few moments of frenetic propulsion, the manic creatures alit onto the dark undergrowth and silently shape-shifted back to dull and motionless. We stopped and waited, statues of anticipation. Our patience was rewarded when suddenly the sequence repeated itself, luminous flares of blue appearing and disappearing in a rapid, fluttering quest to addle predators. I smiled, and though I wanted to keep them in our company, I understood. They were moving to stay alive. In a final blast of silent pandemonium, the morphos again took flight and flitted off the trail, while we landbound watched. There was nothing left to do but continue up the summit in the quiet of reverence and thoughts of our soft bed.
That night I lay awake, listening to a pounding rain pummel the stucco sides of our small, simple room. I was strangely happy to be inside, happy to be in the mountains. A lightning bolt cracked violently and lit up the world behind our thin curtains. My thoughts leapt to the butterflies. I wondered where they might seek shelter. I was not sure they even needed to. Maybe, despite their delicate appearance, they were built for this ferocity. I had no idea. I was certain, though, that when the storm subsided, my morphos would once again be on the move.
Gathered on any random Saturday night before the pandemic, my friends and I would often recount our day. My tale usually involved our family of four bouncing from activity to activity like human pinballs caroming from one corner of the county to another. Inevitably, someone would kid me for our full itinerary. Dubbed “The Crammer,” I was accused of trying to win a contest of efficiency when, really, I simply operate on the principle that when opportunity presents itself, take it. It is a philosophy that has guided me since before I became a mother.
As a British Literature instructor at a small private high school, I loved teaching the importance of the written word. More so, I loved my students, including “Alex,” as clever and joyful as young people come. I still remember Alex’s smile and the way it won its way into a favor. I remember the way he ran his fingers through his hair when he became embarrassed. I remember the moment I learned he was killed in a car crash. I remember the wails of his brother, also a student at our school, during the funeral service, and how they were muffled when an instructor enveloped him in her long arms. I remember her jacket being discolored by his tears when he raised his head. I remember feeling guilty about all the life I had led and angry about all the life Alex would never experience.
That was the first funeral. Three more followed. In one school year, our tight-knit campus mourned again and again and again after separate, tragic incidents. It felt at once unreal and horrific. Students and staff were devastated by the overwhelming loss and jarred by the idea of young lives ending so abruptly. Much discussion and introspection followed, and though I appreciated that my job involved preparing students for the future, I decided then to enjoy the fullest life I can each day. Hyperaware that virtually any activity “could be the last time,” I said yes to everything I could. Years later, I still appreciate that tomorrow is not assured for me or for anyone I love, and this practice has made me abundantly happier.
My philosophy has allowed me to enjoy some exotic adventures abroad, but more often it has strengthened moments with family and friends. I am lucky to live close to my parents and siblings, and it would be easy to deem our frequent get-togethers as routine. Still, I never turn down a chance to catch up, and I never leave a birthday or Monday Night Football dinner without having laughed all night and feeling refreshed. Likewise, if friends text while we are out and about, we make time for them that evening. I know we may be tired later, but tired at home means dozing on the couch to bad TV. Seeing friends rejuvenates us. The odds are low that it will be “the last time” we hang out but remembering that it could helps me focus and appreciate the company of those I love.
It has been almost a half a year since we sat in my parents’ house, sipped cocktails in our friends’ backyard, or met another couple for dinner. Who knows when we will return to those days? Who knows when we will enjoy theme parks, playlands, or museums again? After remaining “safer at home” for over five months now, my kids talk a lot about “before” – long plane trips that no longer feel safe and quick visits to restaurants that have shuttered their doors for good. “That’s sad, mama,” Thomas recently muttered upon seeing a neighborhood ice cream shop boarded up. From the backseat, he sighed, “Well, at least we went before they closed!” I squeezed the steering wheel and thought, “My goodness, he gets it. He honestly gets it.”
Even before the pandemic, I had marked several “last times” with my boys. There was the last time I pushed Thomas in a stroller. The last time I fed Devin in a highchair. The last time I dressed either one. More lasts will follow. One day Thomas will not kiss me in front of the school gate. One day Devin will not write Santa a letter. One day they will leave home. Watching children grow is to enjoy many firsts and mourn just as many lasts.
So, when the boys ask me to join them in the pool after I just washed my hair I ask, “What if this is the last time?” Would I rather remember splashing and laughing with my sons or not having to shampoo twice? Any time I can, I do. Lately, my days seem spent saying “no”– no playdates, no pool parties, no movie theaters; I want to cram in every “yes” I can.
I also want to get back to packing our days with experiences and people outside of our home. Until then, we enjoy new interests like puzzles, gardening, game nights, and reminiscing about our adventures, big and small—not in sorrow for what we have lost, but in gratitude for what we did not let pass us by.
By March, the 2019-2020 school year was humming along nicely for my sons, Devin, a kindergartener, and Thomas, a second grader. They were happy in environments that challenged and encouraged them. Their instructors sent home weekly updates, and dinner conversation filled in more detail. Devin lamented that “Ms. Smith” too often rearranged table assignments; Thomas noted that “Ms. Brown” was stricter than previous instructors. Still, every morning the boys sprinted out of the car, backpacks bouncing like giant paddle balls, and eagerly disappeared through the front gate.
Then came Friday, March 13. My sons and I stood before the same gate in near disbelief, waving uncertainly at Ms. Smith and Ms. Brown. Instruction was moving online, and no one knew how long students and teachers would collaborate this way. As expected, distance learning proved a pale substitute for proximate education, and Google Classroom lacked the joy and energy of a teeming campus. Still, for all its shortcomings, remote learning afforded something for which I will always be grateful: a genuine glimpse into what makes these women so formidable.
I stayed out of the “classrooms” at home, but I heard much when passing the bedrooms where my sons were situated. One morning I caught Ms. Smith explaining that the silent “e” makes the “i” say its name. She asked if anyone, then, could pronounce “k-i-t-e.” I eavesdropped at the door, hoping to hear Devin answer. Instead, Ms. Smith excitedly intoned, “Yes, Steve! Unmute yourself and tell us what word this is!” Steve confidently replied, “Ms. Smith.” He took a beat. “Scooby Doo is opening today.” A few students giggled, and I remembered why I could never teach elementary school. In every way a Type A personality, I recoiled at the interruption and waited for Ms. Smith to put a stop to it. To my surprise and horror, she did not.
Instead she steered a raucous tangent about whether Scoob! could possibly be better than TrollsWorldTour. One breathless voice after another joined the debate, each high-pitched pronouncement outshouting the one before. Like rolling thunder, the giggles gave way to chuckles, then squeals of unbridled laughter. Through the crack in the doorway, I spied Devin doubled over the keyboard and smacking his right palm against his forehead in hysterics. I had not seen him this happy in days. Then, 90 seconds into chaos, Ms. Smith tapped “Steve” again. He announced the word was “kite” and the lesson continued. I closed the door appreciating what an acrobat the elementary school teacher is. And what a marvel Ms. Smith is. She had understood what those children needed in that moment, and it was not a quick answer to a spelling question. Almost without warning these young souls had lost so much: school, friends, visits with grandparents and cousins, playdates, parks, sports, playlands, restaurant visits, parties, theme parks, fine arts programs, music classes and normalcy. Ms. Smith gave them a chance to at least take back being silly, and it was glorious to watch. Afterward, any time I heard Devin laugh during class I offered a private thank you to Ms. Smith for bringing cheer to a boy so badly in need of it.
Days later I overheard Thomas’ class discussing fractions. Standard stuff until a voice I did not recognize loomed in the background. Ms. Brown’s teenage son had entered the room. Ms. Brown asked her son to leave and do his homework. When he claimed to have none, she uttered a stern, “Yes. You. Do.” A long, deep sigh. Then a slammed door. I smiled, for it was all a little awkward, a little amusing and completely relatable.
Before then I had thought little of the fact that Ms. Brown was a mother of two. Two was just a number, the same number as mine, the average number of children in U.S. families. The quick interlude, however, revealed there was nothing average about what Ms. Brown was doing. With scarce notice, she was teaching, reassuring and disciplining twenty-nine children who sat miles away while teaching, reassuring and disciplining her own children who sat mere feet away. Ms. Brown had always exhibited such a command of the classroom that I had not considered that she was juggling her own challenges. I began to pay closer attention. I listened in awe each time she stopped a lesson to console an anxious student late logging on because his connection was spotty, to calm a flustered student who could not get his math homework to save, to listen as another teary student described a cancelled birthday. I wondered what morning routine she sacrificed so that she could instead open and monitor the “classroom” a half hour early so the kids could just talk, laugh, yell, rant and rave. I nodded thankfully when she marshalled a cheerful tone and urged her young pupils to remember that this challenge is temporary. The narrow lens that was my 7-year old son had painted a stern disciplinarian, but the intimacy of distance learning allowed me to see a caring side I would not have otherwise.
I now enter the new school year with a renewed appreciation for the joy educators provide, for the stabilizing force they represent and for the strength it may take them to muster those smile that say, “It will be okay.”
Distance learning resumed two weeks ago, but I realized on day one what I will need to survive it: a door with a lock. Not an easy-twist knob lock. I want a padlock. A hardened steel padlock.
Actually, the door behind which I write during the day has a lock. But it may as well also have a sign that reads, “Come in! Your wish is my command.”
Each day starts with such promise. Early risers, my six-year-old and eight-year-old have plenty of time to eat, bathe and dress. We even have time for a quick walk, after which I arrange a snack basket filled with fruit, crackers and cheese that the boys can grab during breaks. I ensure school supply boxes have every conceivable item needed from now until senior year of high school. Twelve sharpened pencils, eight glue sticks, a calculus calculator. Chilled water bottles sit under desks so as not to fall onto school-issued Chromebooks, devices the boys treat with a delicacy reserved for newborns and Xbox controllers.
All my morning preparation is designed to stave off interruption later because once school starts, then it will be my time. I will have earned it. By then I will have spent two hours pretending to care about zombies, Creepers, and Endermen. I will have consoled Thomas after someone “accidentally” disassembled his Lego tower. I will have pulled a microscopic splinter from Devin’s toe with my good tweezers and a cracked magnifying glass. When the computer chimes at 8:30, it will be my time. Except it never is.
Before I have written even a full paragraph, someone tests the strength of the door hinges and bursts in because “Mama, my camera stopped working!” Because “mama, my math folder’s missing!” Because “mama, someone’s using a chainsaw outside, and I can’t hear!” Because “mama, we’re supposed to move around, and I can’t find the frisbee!” Because “mama, there’s a spider in my room!” Every disruption represents calamity.
I stop what I am doing to reboot the computer for the sixth time that week, locate the math folder sitting in plain sight, shut the window, tell my boy to grab a basketball, and pretend to remove what was probably a cricket.
I return to my room, close the door, put in my earbuds, and settle into a rhythm. I cobble together a few sentences before a blast of wind blows into the room and two beaming faces loom over me. “Lunchtime, mama!” Terrific.
After stockpiling an arsenal of bread crust and apple peel, the boys head outside for “recess” while I clean yet more dishes, sweep up and long for the days of 2019 when lunch was consumed somewhere, anywhere, else. At 12:55 Thomas and Devin stumble back in looking like two Etruscan gladiators. Too late to turn the hose on them, I remind the boys that school resumes at 1:00. Then it will be my time. Except for last week, which was “Back to School” early dismissal at 1:05. Really. 1:05. And except for Wednesdays—professional development early dismissal.
No matter. After school the boys have homework. Then it will be my time. Until ten minutes later when Thomas throws the door open. “Done!” That smile. He is convinced I will be proud. “Thomas, there’s no way you did your paragraph, math, and reading.” “I’m gonna read tonight in bed.” Thus ensues a time-chewing debate on when homework should be completed. “She said to do homework after school. She never said right after school!” Apparently semantic dispute is part of Common Core. No sooner have I shooed Thomas out of the room than Devin needs help spelling a word. I ask him to try his best and promise to check it later. He waves me off. “I’ll just ask Alexa.” Before I can say Amazon Echo, my six-year-old is holding a conversation with our smart device, and I wonder if he will ever need me or any human again. When we reach a merciful end to the exegetics of homework (“I just need to color the chart but is that really schoolwork?”) the boys are released to their own creativity.
We are fortunate to live where the climate is mild and yards are big. We are also fortunate to know generous souls who buy our children a variety of games, toys, and books. Imagine my shock, then, when I learn that “there’s nothing to do.” I threaten to gut their toy room and turn it into a workout room, my dream closet, a wine tasting room, whatever will get them out of my room. They slink out.
A few sentences later, I am interrupted by a quiet knock and two sad eyes peering through a small opening. “Devin’s building a train track. He doesn’t want to play catch.” I glance from those doe eyes to my blinking screen icon wondering why we didn’t have that third kid. Before I can answer, he bats his giant eyes. “I don’t suppose you want to throw the ball around with me, mama?”
It hits me, hard. This most extroverted, most gregarious of eight-year-old has lost what matters most to him. He has lost before-school jaunts through the halls with school friends. He has lost recess battles and challenges with classmates. He has lost lunchtime conversation with those his own age, with those who share his interests. He has lost collaborative work that helps him learn from and laugh with his peers. He has lost weekend playdates and parties. He has lost everyone except Devin, his father, and me. But dad is on a call, and his brother is finally entertaining himself. Right now, I am all he has.
I quietly shut my laptop and smile. “Sure thing.” One day he won’t ask me to play. One day he will close his bedroom door, maybe wishing it had a padlock. I stand up, pull the door all the way open, and tell myself I can write tonight when everyone is asleep. Then it will be my time.
I idled in the driver’s seat when the masked man strode past my door and knocked on the trunk. I pushed the release button and watched him toss the plastic bag in, slam the trunk shut, and run off without a word. It was quick and dreamlike. Driving home from Target I asked aloud, “Is this real life?”
I felt like a character in the first act of a horror movie; no fateful circumstance had befallen me, but in mere days an eeriness had settled over my interactions with the “outside” world. For two months now, it has felt as though something sinister has been percolating beneath the surface of normal family life, while an unease and a sense of incompleteness has permeated my thoughts.
At first, I thought the outside world felt surreal because I see so few faces now. True, I am not Will Smith, sole survivor of New York City in I Am Legend. There are people around — or signs of them, anyway. Cardboard boxes of provisions appear on our porch, delivered by drivers we never see. An errant soccer ball lies on the back lawn, our eight-year-old neighbor now afraid to hop over and retrieve it. Strangers fetch our dinner from restaurants after unseen faces take our order, prepare our food and box our meal. One night I studied giant Sharpie letters on a receipt – ALLISON – and tried to discern if the writer was male or female, young or old. Was I that bored? Maybe. Was I that desperate to connect with someone on the outside? Probably.
Still mulling over my unease after my Target run, I entered the house to the sounds of screaming. In the family room, my two boys were arguing over who broke the green light saber. The voices and volume felt familiar, almost comforting. Maybe I just hated how quiet it was out there. Our home feels more chaotic since the pandemic, yes, but it is not at all quieter. Our house remains a loud space where my husband and I still find little time to speak privately while social distancing with two young boys. Outside the home, though, I have lost simple daily conversation: chatting with the barista, the parents at drum class, the moms at school. I miss the little moments that recharge an extroverted stay-at-home-mom and bind me to my community.
What is worse, my few live encounters with others have ceased to be energizing, discolored now by risk and implication. A partition separates me from the cashier at the local market. On walks, neighbors cross the street when we approach. The one time I ventured out to buy dinner, I waited outside the cafe until a lone customer completed his transaction inside. Just three months ago, my boys and I had discussed how lucky we are to live in such a safe area. Now everyone is a conceivable threat, even me.
Online interactions are only slightly more satisfying. On Google classroom, my six-year-old speaks to friends reduced to glitchy one-inch squares. I watch my frustrated eight-year-old manage brief conversations amid the din of twenty housebound second graders speaking at once. Zoom dinners are nice, but the “meeting” invitations we send each other underscore the app’s intended purpose. During a Zoom game night, a friend left to use the restroom, and I found myself staring sadly at her empty chair. It made me miss her in-person visits more.
While meet-ups allow me to see and hear loved ones, they do little to shake off the disquiet I have carried since March, the strange sense that I am not living my real life.
Then one evening the true source of my anxiety became clear when I participated in a Zoom gathering with some former students from the high school where I taught for fifteen years. As we all adjourned for the night, one “boy” (he is now thirty-two) pressed a palm to his computer screen as a way of saying goodbye. That is when it hit me. I and the people I am closest to are tactile. We hug hello. We hug goodbye. We hold each other’s hands when we are upset. We rub each other’s backs when we are scared. We pat each other’s shoulders when we are excited. Even in the classroom I had communicated often through touch. The handshakes as each student entered my classroom on day one. The slap on the back when a student cracked a tough passage. The high five when a student aced his final. The hugs on graduation.
We know that touch is the first sense a baby develops in the womb. We know, too, that a caring touch can stimulate growth in children and alleviate a variety of physical and emotional difficulties in adults. While I know that needs and comfort zones differ from person to person, I also know that more than faces, more than voices, I miss touching. I want to hug my mom to validate the ache I know she feels for her absent children and grandchildren who until March had been the happy recipients of frequent drop-in visits. I want to shake the hands of our principal and teachers to thank them for their Herculean efforts these past weeks. I want to hold my dad’s hand in communion as he serenely reminds me that nothing lasts forever. I want to watch my boys grab their cousin Ashley’s hand and run with her to the lawn, to watch them curl up with my husband’s mother while she reads Dragons Love Tacos.
There has been much talk about “when this is over.” Will we feel safe traveling “when this is over”? Will we feel safe sending our children to school “when this is over”? How will we even know “when this is over?” On the issues of travel and schools, I honestly do not know when I will feel secure. Much of my outlook will depend on what health experts advise. I do know, though, that my own unease, my own feeling of incompleteness, will be over when I no longer rely on touch screens and touchpads and can instead offer and receive an unfettered, utterly human touch.