By Nikol Hasler
From the balcony of my new home, I watched a neighbor water her tiny garden. As a 41-year old single mother who’d once been homeless, I never imagined I might own a condo one day. My roommate came along as my tenant, and we’d been eyeing up the neighbor’s pepper plants.
“Beautiful peppers!”, I called out to her. She smiled and made a gesture toward me, asking, “For you?” She hosed off the peppers and put them on my porch, then said something to her son in Spanish. “She says to tell you to watch out! Sometimes they can be spicy!”
That night I danced in my bright red kitchen and cooked pork chops with a sauce made from the peppers. She was right. They were pretty spicy. I loved them. My soul was soothed at the thought that I was eating a food that had just been on a vine.
An avid pickler, the next morning I grabbed a jar of pickled jalapenos I’d jarred a few months before. I scrubbed the jar and rubbed it down with alcohol, then wrote a thank you note. I donned my mask and gloves and knocked on her door. Her husband looked suspicious as I stood far away on the sidewalk, gesturing to the jar.
Later that day, she saw me on the balcony. “Thank you for the gift!”, she said, then gestured to herself, “Cristina!” She gestured to her family, telling me all of their names. I said, “I’m Nikol.”
It was a small, but important moment in my life right now. So much has happened in the past few months that at times I feel like getting out of bed is an impossible task.
My father died at the beginning of March. We had to do a Zoom meeting for his memorial. I moved, which is always a stressful transition. My entire office started working from home. I cannot hug my three children in person; only visiting with them using Facetime.
Yet, a lot of beautiful things are happening as well. I am distance-meeting my new neighbors with waves of hello and “How are yous” and “Stay safes”. The family across from me gathers nightly in their kitchen, and sometimes I watch them and smile. Then I remember they can see me watching them and I try not to seem like that kind of neighbor. Maybe I should hold up a sign that says, “I am just appreciating seeing you communing, eating, laughing with each other.”
I love to cook. Most “normal” weeknights I get home and I’m too wiped out to do anything complicated. Right now I find myself using a lifetime of the skills I learned when my kids were growing up to use the things I have in my pantry to create beautiful meals.
I’ve started trading needed items with my friends. We list what we have and what we need and arrange trade times. When we meet, we stay over 6 feet apart. “Here’s your bag of oranges and one packet of yeast.” “And here’s your half-dozen eggs and paper towels.” “Love you!”
I use Instacart to order things I can’t get from friends. I know a lot of people are having trouble placing orders with them, but I wake up every day and look for open delivery times until I finally get one. My roommate looks shocked when things arrive. How did I do that? I’m going to let him continue to believe that I’m some sort of wizard at this stuff.
I also have so much time to sit with my thoughts, which in the past I have actively avoided. I don’t need my brian being set free all willy-nilly, gnawing at me with sadness and anxiety. Instead, I have found myself sitting with thoughts about simple things, like different trees or plants. A fig before it becomes a fig is a beautiful flower. And then it gets to become a tool that nourishes.
And then there are the strangers. I go for walks through mostly empty streets, seeing the occasional other human. A wave to say, “I see you and I know you’re afraid. I am, too, but we’ll get through this.” In the event that we must leave the house and drive anywhere, I look at the other people sitting in their vehicles with their masks. A nod of acknowledgement and thankfulness that they have the respect to wear a mask.
I know that my experience has been much easier than it has been for others. I think of those who lost their jobs, those who have children at home, those who live alone, those who live together in small spaces, those who have no home at all. I anguish over their struggles and fear for what will come of this for them.
I also think that if what I am seeing immediately around me is any indication of what’s to come, we will work together in our communities to help those who are suffering once we come out the other side of this.
This time in my life will be retained in my bones forever. This will be the time I learned my own vast capabilities and was accepting and open about my limitations. And, yes, this will be the time I watched too much tv and drank too much wine. I think I’ll leave that part out of my memories.
I have watched my city handle itself beautifully through a crisis, both in the way the government is protecting us, and in the way we’re showing love for each other. I have never been more proud to be an Angelino.