You're in Reno both times the world ends
A guest post by comedian/writer Sam DiSalvo on facing the unimaginable during a storm
A few weeks ago, I included a writing prompt in THE ONLY CORONA ACTIVITY CALENDAR THAT MATTERS™ that said: “Write at least 250 words from the POV of yourself at 15 years old. Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? What are you feeling?”
In response, comedian/writer/actress Sam DiSalvo (follow her on Twitter and Medium) sent me this beautiful, heart-wrenching piece. I asked if I could publish it on AWKSD and she was kind enough to say yes.
Thank you, Sam. <3
Growing up in Reno, we’d get snow—nuisance snow: the type that drenched the mountains, but would leave us in the valley with a few inches to shovel. If you had the right car, you were fine. If you had a ‘98 Volkswagen Beetle like I did, you made seasonal friends with people who drove SUVs.
My first winter in high school, we got more than the usual few inches. This seems pathetic to admit to anyone who lived in a place that experienced significant snowfall annually, but Reno got a foot and a half of snow in one night. It shut down the entire city. The weather stayed below freezing and snowed a few more inches, so the roads were never fully cleared. Snow plows in the Biggest Little City in the World were only built for a nuisance, not a storm. This all happened during winter break, and consequently, the schools were closed for two more weeks. Similar to this quarantine, it was great—at first.
The idea of a short lived quarantine was (and still is) borderline arousing to me. Being alone, listening to music, talking to people on a variety of apps while never actually seeing them, dancing furiously then stopping, petting my dog—all things I did when I was 14 and am doing now.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if social distance is just my preferred MO. I was an anxious teenager who has blossomed into an anxious adult, so I simply have a preference for a light house arrest.
But a realization has set in. It’s this sensation I refer to as the “loose tooth memory.” Whenever I start to uncover something long buried in my psyche, it starts to rock like a slightly detached tooth. At first, it just kind of teeters in the gums. Finally, it separates from the roots, and the blood comes streaming out.
That winter when I was 14 came after a long year of unrest in my family. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had been aggressively undergoing treatment. When my parents told me this was happening back in the spring, it was one of the first times I consciously remember blacking out. Even with encouragement of “we caught it early” and “we’re doing everything we can,” the worst parts of my then undiagnosed anxiety choked me with the idea that “your mom can die, and she will die if you focus on that possibility too much.”
So, I didn’t. Instead, I drifted apart from my family and sunk into the pit that is high school. I had gone to Catholic school until that year so there was plenty of secular teenager stuff to catch up on. MySpace was catching on quickly. So many songs to download, cliques to study. I had dedicated myself to decoding the minutia of socializing and trying to mimic it the best I could, which was a full-time distraction from my mom’s health.
It’s hard to avoid thinking about that Reno storm as of late. Not only because I’m in quarantine once again, but because of my mom’s health. Two months ago, my mom—whose cancer has been in remission for the past 15 years—was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She has tumors in her brain, liver, stomach and bones—none of which were “caught early.” The world stopped again. I wanted to shut down, disconnect, and focus on something else. My 14-year-old self didn’t know any better, but now I do. I knew if I detached, I’d just feel worse later, discovering teeth I wish I would have just pulled out. Instead, I dedicated myself to being present. To feel everything as it happened. To let the panic attacks overtake me. To cry in public. To do it and feel it all.
Two weeks prior my mom’s cancer diagnosis, my boyfriend, Jake, and I became engaged. The wedding went from being in late summer of 2021 to spring of 2020. March 28, to be exact—my mom’s birthday. Though we were staying positive that my mom would fight her diagnosis, the best as she could, we wanted to have the wedding as soon as possible. Just to make sure.
My word suddenly became a blur of bookings, food, guests, Zola, parents, dresses, friends, hotel rooms, boutonnieres, cakes, suits, ties, Jewish bottle dancers, the Hora, signs, RSVPs, hair stylists, makeup artists, crying, laughing and deposits. P.S. if you ever need someone to shoot you a Zola tutorial for your elder relatives, I got you.
As Coronavirus spread, my family and I kept up a delusional dose of optimism. COVID-19 was a nuisance we had to overcome. We fought warnings. We fought misgivings. It didn’t faze us when every person over 65 said they wouldn’t come to our wedding, even when it fazed Jake. We just forged ahead, with my parents saying things like, “Everyone will sleep on our floor and we’ll serve spaghetti if we have to!”
Until March 16th, we fought to keep the wedding on. Then Reno shut down. And we had no choice. “We went down swinging,” I said to Jake, as I called him from the Reno airport, not knowing it was the last time I’d see my parents for the foreseeable future.
The last time Reno shut down, my mom was sick, but recovering. Just like she is now. The distractions were gone. I had to see her tired and sick from treatment. I had to see her without hair. I had to lay with her in bed and tell her I loved her, because it might be the last time.
Now, in the wake of another self-quarantine I am trying to face it all once again. I am mourning this heartbreak of a year as much as I can, accepting that uncertainty rules everything around me. I am spending time healing in the little home Jake and I have created.
There’s a uniting force in going through this together. We don’t even have to mention it when we speak. “How you holding up?” Everyone knows what you mean. In January, when my mom was diagnosed, only my close friends spoke this language. Now the whole world does.
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