I’m living in parallel worlds right now.
In one world, Hoboken is flooded, friends and family are without electricity and heat, tunnels have become swamps, and the subways are fit only for submarines. Con Ed exploded only a few blocks from our old apartment and most of the world below 20th street has gone dark. My computer is permanently streaming the weather channel and I click over to facebook every few minutes to see if anyone has found enough computer charge to post an update, or maybe a picture.
I’m tempted here to say something about the need for the US to invest in its crumbling infrastructure, or to mention Nicholas Kristof’s facebook post, in which he says ” I’m always embarrassed when I have to tell Chinese or Europeans about our electrical blackouts. They look at me sympathetically as if I live in the developing world….” And I absolutely will not mention Romney’s high-handed comment about getting rid of FEMA or his insistence that individual states should handle emergency relief when disaster strikes.
Nope. Not going to say any of that.
Instead, I’ll tell you about the other world I live in, which has clear skies and blue that unfurls like silk against the shore.
And where it’s already Halloween.
Being that I’m the mother of sons who play pretty true to type most of the time, the costume discussion went sort of like this:
Me: How about one of the Marx Brothers?
Caleb: Nah, I think a skeleton.
Me: Groucho? With a cigar and a moustache?
Caleb: Nah, I think Death.
Me: A Hobbit?
Caleb: Nope. Skeleton. Maybe with a sword. Or a Nerf gun.
We arrived, ultimately, at Death Eater, specifically, Lucius Malfoy. And that’s how I found myself trying to take this:
The other child? He wanted to be a character named Skulduggery Pleasant, from a book series that he read and loved this year. So that’s easy: black coat, black hat, some white face paint (Skulduggery is…a skeleton), black pants:
Liam: So I read online about how to make safe handheld fireballs.
Me: Safe and fireball don’t usually go together.
Liam: They are totally safe. You just get some cotton and some lighter fluid–
Liam: Then what’s the point of the costume? Skulduggery has fireballs. Without fireballs, I’m nothing.
Needless to say, he went off to a Halloween party with some school friends but without the Molotov cocktails. I know, I know, where’s the fun in that, but still, it’s such a drag to get the phone call about your kid lobbing flammable objects at the pumpkin carvers.
As for the Death Eater? He went off to trick or treat in our building with a friend from next door — without me or any other grownup. For the first time in what–twelve years?–I did not traipse around with a gaggle of costumed children on Halloween night. I stayed home and answered the door to tricksytreaters, gazed out the window at the water, and clicked endlessly into facebook, where, in my other world, Halloween has pretty much been cancelled, or at very least, postponed.
I won’t make a joke about Thanksgiving turkeys this year being stuffed with Halloween candy; instead, I’ll talk about missing. My sister said to me once that basically she just doesn’t let herself think about how much she misses us, and I told her that it’s the same for me: I put all my “missing” in a separate little box and try to ignore it.
But at times like these – which I think you could pretty much call a crisis – that little box breaks open and I can think only about what’s happening not here.
The thing about this expat life? Sometimes it’s fine being far away.
And sometimes? It’s not.