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Albertis del Orient Browere: Rip Van Winkle (1833)
"What an overlong and awfully strange nap it's been."

Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle slept for twenty-five years, at least a third of a lifetime, to awaken into an unrecognizable world where children had become adults and adults, elderly or dead. He, himself, had grown a long white beard and moved with unaccustomed difficulty. I can speak anecdotally, from my own experience, to report that one need not doze for twenty-five years to experience a Rip Van Winkle effect. I'm convinced that no wakefulness exists that's powerful enough to stave off this result, for this world seems in constant flux and moves indifferent to us. Focusing upon any piece of it will leave one out of synch with other parts, and there exists altogether too many parts for any one of us to ever even hope to keep up with their fluxes. The Muse and I went on a thirteen year exile only to return to a place essentially unrecognizable, then we set about refurbishing, which further erased many formerly reliable context markers. We returned to a place we'd never before inhabited to carry on a life that had been more than merely disrupted.

The first few years of our exile, we were able to easily maintain the dream, by which I guess I mean that we were already sleeping.
Our surroundings then seemed enough different to hardly seem real. It was easier to feel as though we'd been suspended in time than to accept that we'd somehow fallen out of any time we'd known. We'd become instant strangers, isolated and self-contained, trying to maintain the relationships we'd known "back" home while home moved on without our presence. Long distant phone calls. Periodic "return" visits to see kids then grandkids, we maintained an increasingly familiar absence in lieu of any consistent presence. We might just as well have been sleeping in some Catskill cavern with ten pins tumbling like thunder in the distance.

We returned not quite two months after my daughter Heidi had died, a year ago today. She was not here to greet us when we arrived. We found our town locked down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We were freshly vaccinated, but many here weren't. My older sister and a surprisingly large number of others refused the shot and so remained too dangerous for us to visit. We looked like bandits when we ran errands. We noticed that we didn't just run into anyone in grocery store aisles like we'd used to, because we were all in disguise, unrecognizable even to ourselves. An imagined summer visit from the grands dissolved beneath a fresh surge of infections rendering their visit to Grump's and G-Ma's place too dangerous to contemplate. Between twisted attempts to Make American Great … Again and lockdowns responding to the virus, the old home town had become almost unrecognizable, and we'd only been gone for half as long as old Rip Van Winkle had slept. I suspected that there would be no waking up.

The future seems inevitably dystopian. The innocence which hovered close to us through the first ten thousand complications erodes somewhat over time. Some losses cannot ever be replaced. Our smiles eventually become gap-toothed. Our hearts feel every loss, every infinitely extended absence. Those we once cared for so deeply, grow to become beyond our caring. What have we left after we lose another object of our authentic affection? I swear that once, once upon a now long ago time, this universe exhibited a rough balance. I could swear that I then sat astride this place and managed to maintain a pace congruent with its punches and feints. I extracted myself for a minute or so, or maybe it was more like a quarter century, and my clothes suddenly seemed outdated and my sense of both history and future foreshortened. I suffer from a probably terminal case of bedhead, my hair increasingly looking as if I stole it from Mayor McCheese no matter what I might try to do with it. When I look into a mirror, I no longer see myself staring back, but ghosts, my darling daughter most prominent, in front of the pack. What an overlong and awfully strange nap it's been.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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