Remember to Listen
Updated: Sep 14
Paige Zubel shares a blog piece exploring how we can use our time in lockdown to slow down and listen.
Everyone is kind now that the world is falling apart and we’re forgetting what being held feels like. This is how we should always behave—smile and ask questions and listen genuinely to strangers. It takes the world ending to listen genuinely to strangers. And then the world will stop ending, then we’ll begin again, hit resume, leave our homes, and forget the lessons we learned.
When Houston was underwater we would always listen kindly to strangers. One neighbor had a canoe and we’d paddle it down the lake that 24 hours before had been a street. Hurricane season was baby squirrel season and we’d run up and down the blocks with shoeboxes full of straw and put the baby squirrels with eyes still screwed shut into the shoeboxes. We’d sit in the park, this loud group of bored teenagers with nothing else to do, and feed the baby squirrels milk from plastic syringes from the Walmart around the corner. We’d cut down fallen trees and make bonfires and grill our freezers full of meat, and pass down the line Styrofoam plates stacked with ribs and pulled pork. We wore tank tops and boxers because the air conditioning didn’t work. We sweat together and we smiled. We confided in candlelight. And then the power would come back on, and we wouldn’t talk to each other again.
The last time Houston was underwater, I was 1,500 miles away, three stories in the sky. I watched through the news, through facebook, through FaceTime, my city sink into the sea. Harvey. My parents put my grandfather on an air mattress and swam him a mile to higher ground. My mom had a backpack and in that backpack was only a carton of cigarettes and a handle of vodka—what a woman. My grandfather is frail and believes in god fervently (but only for the past ten years of his life) and doesn’t like help and honestly doesn’t really like people. He resents losing control. He is always losing control. But in the middle of a hurricane, maybe he realized he could never be in control, not of this, not right now, so he relented. My parents put him on an air mattress and crossed his arms over his chest around a rope and put a hat over his face to block the sun and they swam him a mile to higher ground. People thought my grandfather was dead. They thought my parents were swimming the dead away from the sea.
In my neighborhood, there are now pits in the earth where there used to homes. And where there are still homes, the homes are now up on stilts, like they’re trying to run away, like they know the sea will someday come back even if the inhabitants are too naïve to acknowledge it. We somehow imbue our creations with far more awareness than we will ever have. If only we could remember to listen.
Time is Elastic and It’ll Snap You in the End My therapist asks me if I want to die. I say no, not really, not particularly, not today. Today, I like being alive. Today, I like smoking. Eating greasy foods. Sex. Not necessarily in that order. I like the vibration on my phone that tells me, in this moment someone is thinking about you. I like my cat, how she needs me more than I need her and that makes me feel powerful, how she curves into the small of my belly at night like she and I are a whittled set.
My neighborhood in ten years’ time will be whiter. It will be more expensive. It will be chrome and sleek and shiny and I will hate all of it. The bodega around the corner will probably be gone and that makes me sad. Richard is so kind. His eyes have the kind of light that feel like a hug. He has children and those children will need money from the bodega that Richard probably won’t be able to keep. I met one of his children once—she was young and liked pink and unicorns and I couldn’t help but think if she and I were the same age, we definitely would not be friends. She held my hand and asked if I liked dogs. It was the purest question I’ve been asked in a long time.
I don’t know if I will be here in 10 years, to see the changes, to find out if Richard and his bodega and his children will be all right. Today, I only feel certain about today.
She calls me in the middle of the night to say she has to leave. She has to leave right now. In the middle of the end of the world she has booked an 18 hour flight to the other hemisphere of the planet because this country just isn’t safe anymore. I tell her, the virus is everywhere. She tells me, it’s not the virus I’m running from. She is Asian- American. She makes posts about the Chinese Virus. She is scared. And I, wrapped in the skin that is my skin, have been naïve. She tells me, I’m sorry. I tell her, there’s no room for that, not when you need to be safe, please be safe. She tells me she’ll call when she can and I tell her to enjoy her time with family when they live so far and I wonder if this is really what a pandemic is: the splintering of families of choice. 10 years ago, I would have predicted the future and known with the certainty that teenagers hold round in their guts that we would see each other again. Today, I can’t predict tomorrow, and I just don’t know.
10 years ago, I was 15. I was freshly gay. I had just kissed a girl for the first time and a boy for the first time and was immensely confused. Both of grandparents were still alive. I didn’t smoke or drink. I played baseball with the boys and was good at it. Now my grandparents’ wedding rings are around my neck and I don’t remember how to pitch and I don’t kiss boys anymore. And thinking about my neighborhood in 10 years means I have to think about myself in 10 years and that gives me anxiety, because how many more wedding rings will I have around my neck then?
About the author: Paige Zubel is a Philadelphia-based playwright and producer. Find out more about her here
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