Scaling HumpDay… page 60

Day 118 – 07/08/2020

This morning when I headed out for a walk my friend Shirley was in the parking lot so she did the rounds with me while we caught up. She lost her husband last year and is learning how to live alone, so we made two trips around the block and three around the building while we compared notes and shared encouragement. It was a much-needed serendipity to start the day, and a reminder that all of us are by ourselves in this experience called life since nobody can inhabit our thoughts with us.

This remote and solitary feeling grows daily as world events spiral out of control and human interaction becomes more and more of a minefield. There’s no safe topic anymore between one-time friends, no comment that doesn’t have to be weighed against a potential shitstorm. Every word carries the likelihood of being misinterpreted, misapplied, misquoted. If I knew who considers me an adversary on Facebook – where I post only to “friends” – I’d cut them all loose just to break the tension.

It’s July, hot summer, but other than the temps, there’s little to define the days, so I have to be intentional about mood in order not to get plowed under by ennui, a sense of suspended animation, and grief. The outdoors has a static vibe, the indoors is safe and cozy but also fairly changeless, food is a pain in the butt – what to eat when you do next to nothing and your throat feels like a pinhole…

Some days the cumulative losses of 2020 have their way with me. Tomorrow will be better.

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Mo-lasses City… page 59

Day 117 – 07/07/2020

Can’t get going today. Got up at 6:30, walked around the block, then around the building, came back inside and went into neutral. Seems like it should be about 3 o’clock, but it isn’t even noon yet, and the things I’ve accomplished aren’t visible to the naked eye, other than a passable job of making the bed.

It’s been mostly in the regions of heart and brain, the work I’ve done so far. Took care of a business detail… and spent time texting with John when he “made rounds” to check on us. My system was jammed with thoughts and emotions after we talked… a lot to process. A portion of what he said, shared with his permission:

I worked both the 4th and the 5th and they were pure hell. I worked the (once again bursting at the seams) Covid unit on Saturday, followed by my own unit on Sunday. We’ve hit our new peak, so far, as of yesterday, with no end in sight. Glancing at the system-wide update this morning, I see that uniformly across the system we are higher than what we thought was the peak (April 27th).

The difference this time is that no one is calling us heroes anymore, there’s no dropping off of food at the hospital, and, most importantly, we are severely understaffed because of the attrition that has occurred since the pandemic started.

I didn’t care for the free food and adulation; the sentiment was nice but it made me uncomfortable because I know there’ll always be a backlash, and we’re reaping that now. Nurses are “shit,” we’re “spreading this hoax ‘cold’ to make money” and everyone, including us, is just tired of it all.

There were a record number of call-outs over the weekend; so severe that the CNO and CEO showed up Saturday morning to try and calm and reassure everyone. A joke. I don’t envy them, they’ve got a real problem on their hands and it’s not going to get easier. They’re out of money and can’t use that to entice us to work more/longer anymore.

He’s called to what he does and he won’t be one of the walk-offs. Also, don’t mistake his words for “poor me.” His challenge comes from the people making this crisis worse day by day.

On the upside, only one other guy showed up for PickleBall this morning, so Kim spent his time biking on the Burroughs Trail instead. Rode from here to the trail, to Hiway 10, to South Iowa, to McD’s for a breakfast sammy, then took all the zig-zag shortcuts home. He brought me the photo above, looking off into infinity, which feels right.

The trail is named for William S. Burroughs, who moved to Lawrence in 1981 and died here in 1997 at the age of 93. Little bit of free history for you this morning.

William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz in the alley behind the Jazzhaus in Lawrence, Kansas (1996)

By Gary Mark Smith – http://www.streetphoto.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10459496

Burroughs Trail photo credit: Kim Smith

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Saturday, the 4th… page 58

Day 114 – 07/04/2020

Drinking pomegranate tea while fragments of thought pop in and out of my headspace.

It’s a wonky 4th, but I’m two for two so far – the traditional breakfast and a spa soak. The rest of it is gravy.

Thinking of a story I heard a while back about someone who’s managed to alienate their cache of friends and family and now they’re old and not in good health, with few human resources – a pitiable spot to find oneself in, and one I hope to avoid. But I’m outspoken to the max on social media among like-minded friends, so I always hope people who are on another page entirely will either out themselves or find the door… preferably both. They’re not the hearts and minds I’m talking to, and they will inevitably be offended. Oh well… they weren’t gonna come change my sheets at the end anyway, so…

Ray of sunshine here, veritable 4th of July sparkler! It’s those damn morose German genes, and before I bring the house up a little, let me just say this is the most demoralizing Independence Day observance of my 70+ years. If we reach the next one with our democratic system of government intact, functioning, and regaining health, we will be a blessed nation indeed.

So, the good news. The sun’s breaking through the clouds and the humidity is only 74%. The neighborhood is quiet this morning – no mortar rounds going off since last night. The flowers are perking their heads up and taking advantage of the wet air and sunshine to do that thing they do… likely only to get slammed by another rainstorm. Makes ’em strong, right? The day feels lazy and free, so imma celebrate that.

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Sheltering from the storm… page 57

Day 112 – 07/02/2020

Running through my head for the past few days is the phrase “when the light goes.” The air is still and the sky has an odd yellow tinge suggestive of a planet other than Earth. As the weeks pass, any desire to mingle fades in the harsh light of day – Douglas County’s COVID cases took a jump over the weekend, in step with what’s happening everywhere in America. It’s best that I stay isolated – my anger and disappointment with people who care about no one but themselves are fairly toxic at this point. Here in town, people are generally being careful, but the virus finds opportunities. We’re under a mandatory state and county mask requirement as of yesterday, but it remains to be seen whether the holdouts comply in the same way they hook their seatbelts, buy the required car insurance, and wear shoes and shirts inside restaurants.

For the first three months inside, I sensed that I was growing old in not-good ways, but I’m on my way back. Walking, either with Rita or by myself, getting my food intake in order again, imposing a modicum of discipline on my unruly self. Life devolves quickly if not monitored and it becomes easy not to shower every single day, to eat whatever provides comfort, and to spend the hours spaced off in another world. It’s hard to stay completely tuned in to everything when so much of it is painful. So in view of current circumstances:

And I know it’s “do unto others,” but when you’ve warned them repeatedly and they continue to disregard your boundaries, shit happens. Besides…

We’ll weather this storm, as Americans do, minus the 200,000+ fellow citizens who won’t make it through, a staggering and totally unnecessary loss in a few months’ time, and we’ll go forward with what needs to be done. Because…

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Got there… page 56

Day 108 – 06/28/2020

On the heels of yesterday’s Pollyanna post, I’m hitting the wall today. It’s like August outside – windy, dirty, and hot. In here it’s a Sunday with no live sports, my computer games have temporarily lost their charm, and my brain still wanders away a few pages into whatever I’m reading. I’ve thought about all the things… I’ve written about all the things… I’m too tired for all the new things. Every. Day.

My spirit is a caged animal but there’s no place I want to go, so I’m pretty sure what I crave is answers… and resolution. A blessed denouement to the chaos of the realm. I do only what’s required to sustain household life, how can I be so exhausted all the time? That was rhetorical.

Apropos of nothing, let me say this:

Also there’s usually another sunrise…

Photo credits: Kim Smith

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Love staying in… page 55

Day 107 – 06/27/2020

A friendly rain shower was in progress when I got up at 6am, but between 4 and 5 o’clock there was a windstorm here with some sort of downburst and 2″ of rain. Our pretty little tree outside the east entrance is broken in half, our deck furniture was shuffled around and tumped over, and all the flowers on our balcony and the rooftop deck took a beating. We were blissfully unaware until after we’d enjoyed our Saturday Breakfast… but everything will recover, with the likely exception of the tree… and the rain is nice. The photo above is one of Kim’s hibiscus blooms – before the storm.

These are also BEFORE – the rooftop is looking more and more inviting this summer as improvements are done.

The view from the top…
Our broken tree
Gorgeous yesterday and will be again, as will the rest.

In other news, someone from one of the commercial offices in our building tested positive for COVID-19 and left without informing the other tenants and owners, after presumably sharing elevators and a mailroom with all of us. It’s easy for people to forget that they’re working in our house and basic courtesies apply.

Oh well, here’s another happy lil’ hibiscus …

EDIT: The tree looks hopeful. 😎

EDIT: Weather Service says Lawrence got between 4 and 5 inches of rain from the storm.

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Cocooning… page 54

Day 100 – 06/20/2020

The process of returning to the social realities of life will be one of jerks and starts… and there are all kinds of jerks out there. We had to take our car to the KC dealership for service this week so we made a lunch date with our friends Seth and Adam who live nearby. It couldn’t have been more wonderful to reconnect and catch up with them, but the lunch experience left much to be desired, primarily because in a metro area where COVID-19 numbers are still rising, none of the restaurant staff were wearing masks.

We chose the upper outdoor deck, but the tables weren’t thinned out so other parties were in close proximity… and it’s freaky to have a waitperson walk up to your high-top and repeatedly poke her face next to yours. The proper course of action would have been to pick another restaurant after we stepped inside and saw what the situation was, but Midwesterners are trained to be so damned polite it didn’t even occur to us – and quite possibly it’s the same over much of the city. At our car dealership, by contrast, everyone wears masks, and the person who handles the car adds gloves. Just good business these days.

It was comforting to see Lawrence again where there’s no prevailing cavalier attitude toward the various crises assailing us all – most people here, ESPECIALLY those with eating establishments, wear masks; embrace the presence and contribution of a diverse ethnic population; are liberal-minded when it comes to the care and feeding of other humans; and are aware and in favor of constitutional laws governing American society. I fear KCKS is a tad too close to the hee-haw over there.

My patience for fools is on hiatus – no fact, emotion, or consequence moves them off their chosen mark. Zero tolerance on social media if they step onto my timeline and unload their predictable weaponry on me – if I know you I might go 3 strikes, otherwise out the airlock you go. Today as we pass the hours before Tulsa kicks into gear, wondering how it’s all going to go down, fools loom large – they aren’t known for clear-headed decision making under pressure. Hoping for a non-conflagrational outcome.

Kim was out on his bike at 5:45 this morning, shooting at the fog, which strikes me as therapeutic and apropos.

Bridge across the Kaw – Lawrence to NoLaw
A skinny window on Mass Street

Photo credits: Kim Smith 06/20/2020

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Still isolating… page 53

Day 96 – 06/16/2020

In the past 3 months I’ve been inside public places a handful of times – the barbershop, the ER, my doctor’s office, and a car-service waiting room – and as a downright upright citizen I like our county’s good record on COVID-19 so far – we made page 1 of the New York Times yesterday:

This morning Rita and I met at South Park and enjoyed a walk, by order of the primary care physician we share in common. She’s wise enough to use our sister connection as medicine for whatever might ail us, and it works. The park’s about midway between our houses and it’s beautiful – populated by old-growth trees and eye-soothing flower gardens, smooth sidewalks criss-crossing the length and breadth of the space, and benches for the occasional sit-down. Rita’s a hiker, I’m not, so we strolled this morning, loosening up muscles grown accustomed to a semi-catatonic state, and talking, which is the good juju.

City workers spray disinfectant on all of the picnic tables, benches, and playground equipment in Lawrence’s 50+ parks and green spaces on a rotating basis – those spaces get well-used. Things we once gave little thought to are now part of living together as humans, much of it long overdue.

In the middle of all the insanity around us that’s beyond our control, this little city in a forest has been an oasis of calm. We hope that holds.

Peace to you, wherever you are today. 💙

A blustery spring morning on a deserted Mass Street

Photo credits: Kim Smith

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Riding it out… page 52

Day 88 – 06/08/2020

Life returns, like green shoots across a fire-scorched terrain. Saturday evening we picked up fresh garden produce from friends and spent a couple of hours with them in the shade of their hugemongous back yard, quietly celebrating a birthday and reconnecting. It was affirming and highly comforting.

Yesterday morning we went to Rita’s, McD’s breakfast in hand, to help her with yard work. My help was slated to consist of sitting on the porch watching the big kids, but the mosquitos got wind of it, passed the word, and I had three rather alarming welts before I knew what hit me. My reaction to things lately is whack, so I retreated into the cool dark of the living room to ponder my uselessness.

Those two opportunities for connection have satisfied my sociable jones for the foreseeable and I’m content to wait for the next great idea someone has. Ready to sit on Cielito’s patio before too long, and see other friends when it feels right. Douglas County is striving to be New Zealand and doing well at it so far – 67 total cases, 0 deaths. But someone in last Sunday’s peaceful march of thousands has tested positive and wasn’t wearing a mask, so the risk has been set loose among us anew.

And the beat goes on. We think, plan, and adapt, working toward a day when we, our loved ones, our community, and the world are safer and life is kinder to the human race.

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In… page 51

Day 83 – 06/03/2020

Other than a haircut and an overnight in the ER, I’m still sticking close to home for all the reasons, the biggest being that everything I need or want is right here. The hot weather we pined for has arrived… and what were we thinking? Kim has left outdoor PickleBall early the past two mornings because of it, and the A/C’s making up for lost time.

He went for a walk this morning and brought me some alley photos. The one above depicts Gwendolyn Brooks and the introduction to one of her poems: “This is the urgency:  Live! and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind,” along with Oscar Micheaux, Gordon Parks, and Langston Hughes, each of whom had a seminal influence on the character of Lawrence, Kansas.

We’re in awe of this marble bust on Mass Street, not least because of the way it responds to sunlight. It’s an incredible piece of work.

This one painted on tiny tiles next to a doorway took me back to Sunday when we had my sister Rita here for her birthday. Kim’s Mexican Kitchen was in full-on production and the results were Ah-mazing. Alas, so amazing that a picture of the plates didn’t happen.

And the birthday woman, the only pic here I can take credit for. Her blue eyes and beautiful smile light up a room and our lives. 💗

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Hanging on… page 50

Day 78 – 05/29/2020

Hello Diary, I’m still here. The weather was gray and rainy for most of the week, making it more challenging to ward off the sadz – sunshine removes the sting a little.

The ongoing loss of so many fellow Americans weighs heavy in the atmosphere but we can’t talk about it as a nation, deal with its implications now and for the future, or otherwise exorcise our disallowed grief. The deep sadness is always there.

The transformation of America from breadbasket and caring hand to the world, to a hate-filled isolationism that’s ME FIRST from the top down, is discouraging and worrisome, thus adding to the sad stack.

The willful ignorance by a third of the nation, leading to violent confrontation between proponents of science and those of bullshit, is sad-making.

The hateful determination to preserve a “separate but equal” status quo, equal being entirely arbitrary, leading to murder sanctioned by law, is unbearably sad and anger-generating.

The fact that I’m out of sync with people I love while we make our way through this supremely lonely piece of history is the ultimate sadness underlying all the rest, and I’m as powerless to fix that as I am any of the above.

***************

But where there’s sad… there’s happy. After waking up past midnight yesterday morning in anaphylactic distress, I took a little ambulance ride, did an overnight in the ER and survived to fight another day. I remember very little from when the paramedics put me on the gurney and wheeled me out of my bedroom until just before I was dismissed to come home, but I share this as a cautionary tale…

My hands, when I woke up, were swollen tight and itched so savagely I wanted to rip them off my arms, and the only thing different in my day on Wednesday had been spending about twenty minutes with needle and thread, reinforcing the ear-loop attachments on a mask that wasn’t MADE IN THE USA. The other symptoms were frightening, and I woke Kim up when my tongue started to swell – I know my limits.

Be wise, kids. And always try for the happy.

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Remembering…

An edited nostalgia piece from 2013 …

During a nursery visit to replace trees and plants lost to the western Kansas drought and heat (we’ve since moved to the northeast corner of the state), the greenhouse owner snapped off a king-sized rose blossom and handed it to me.  As soon as I caught its scent, my grandma was there beside me and a whole era lined up for review. 

We grew up across a gravel driveway from my paternal grandparents on a farm in the middle of wheat fields and pastures.  There were cows and chickens and a big barn populated by sleepy cats, but the best part of the farm was Grandma and Grandpa’s garden.  It spanned acres, and included most of the veggies you could name — potatoes, carrots, onions, radishes, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, peas, green beans, turnips (yucky), strawberries and tomatoes (both of which we were allowed to pluck warm from the vine, with a tap on the salt shaker Grandma kept tucked under the leaves); fruit trees including apple, cherry, and peach; and flowers.  Peonies, mock orange, baby’s breath, tulips, daisies, columbine, cosmos, daffodils, lilies, phlox, snapdragons, roses. Not a complete list.

All of this was surrounded by hedges that my grandpa kept trimmed — a tall one across the back, with openings into the orchard beyond, and shorter hedges along the front and sides with shaped entryways into the three main sections of the garden.  In a corner, close to the cattle pens, grew watermelon and cantaloupe.  And a quarter-mile away, next to an irrigation engine, was a colossal watermelon patch (which became infamous in its own right — a story for another day) that produced enough for all summer and into the fall, including a happy celebration for friends and neighbors in the yard.

Outside the confines of the hedges sat the two-story farmhouse my grandpa built, saturated with decades of living. Between the house and garden a hammock was stretched between two big cottonwoods, and a rope swing hung from a branch.  The clotheslines where we helped Grandma “hang out a nice wash,” as she invariably declared it to be, stretched across the grass.  

There was a cement and brick milk house where our dad and grandpa filtered the milk from the cows, skimmed off the heavy cream, and left it all in glass jars to cool in troughs of ice-cold running water brought up by the windmill anchored next to the building.  A battered tin cup hung on a pipe next to the well so anyone who wanted to could pump a fresh drink of water. (There was no pandemic raging.)   

We (my sisters and brother and I, along with cousins and neighbor kids) spent long hours in that yard, held tea parties under the tall conifers set in the middle of the garden, and built more than one fort among the fruit trees and evergreens out back.  And on occasion, we worked.  

When I think of my grandparents – she born in 1889 and he five years earlier – he shows up in long-sleeved chambray shirt and faded Levis and she’s wearing a homemade housedress and apron, tied at the waist and pinned to the flowery cotton of her dress at the shoulders.  And she never went out, hoe in hand, without a handmade sunbonnet.  A real lady had creamy white skin, and although Grandma had been born with distinctly olive coloring, she tried.  Grandpa protected his head with a well-worn felt cowboy hat that he sweated through in nothing flat.

Thus they went forth every morning equipped for work, intent upon it, dedicated to it.  Those luscious fruits and vegetables out there in the hot sun were life, and life doesn’t wait.  They did their best to corral us, to slow our head-long summer romp through the garden, to foist sunbonnets upon us and thrust hoes and rakes into our grubby little hands.  I remember thinking I really should help out more, take more of an interest, learn something while I was at it.  But the fork in the big tree behind the milk house was calling my name, my book was still stashed there from the day before, and I was hot and tired and needed a drink of water from the well …. and I never quite found time to own responsibility and discipline in any discernible way.  

There was one time of year, however, when we all pitched in and did our part.  I’m ashamed to say, it had a lot to do with the fact that we got paid for our efforts, but, well ….

Every year in the days preceding Memorial Day, my grandparents would cut armfuls of tightly-budded peonies, wrap them in wet burlap, and store them in crocks of well water in the cool cement-lined root cellar.  The other flowers, too, found their way into crocks, awaiting that early-morning observance at cemeteries around the countryside.  Our job as grandchildren was to take old paring knives and snip daisy bouquets in counts of twenty-five, band them and put them in canning jars in the cellar.  It was a treat to go from the sunny garden to the damp coolness of the pit, and Grandma and Grandpa paid us a nickel a bouquet. We were suddenly rich, and Woolworth’s, McClellan’s, and Duckwall’s were a mere twelve miles away.

Despite our mercenary outlook, we managed to gain a sense of having contributed to something special.  The day before Memorial Day, which was known as Decoration Day in the 1950s, and very early the morning of, neighbors and strangers from surrounding areas started pulling into the drive to collect the big flower baskets and smaller arrangements they’d pre-ordered.  And many, knowing there were always unclaimed flowers, stopped by to see what they might pick up.  The air had a special freshness about it and people invariably seemed happy and intent on their mission.

I remember feeling proud of my grandma for her ability to grow and arrange flowers into spectacular gifts, and a connectedness to all those people coming to embrace her talents.  I started to feel tied to all the generations being honored on those Memorial weekends, and I still remember snippets of stories from the conversations I overheard.

After all the paying customers had retrieved their floral offerings, Grandma let us kids have the leftover daisy bundles to place on the graves of the nearly-forgotten babies from the 1800s in our small community cemetery a mile west of the farm.  It always felt like we’d done something amazing by honoring those brief little lives, and the yearly military ceremony conducted by aging war heroes in a sometimes haphazard and ill-fitting assortment of service garb lent added poignancy.

If my grandparents were here now they would be gratified to know how much I actually did learn through their example and the privilege of living in their shadow.  Things like hard work, respect for the living and the dead, a certain acceptance that no matter what happens life goes on … all of these have stood me in good stead over the years.

As with most farmers of that generation they never became wealthy in a monetary sense.  But the things they passed along to us are beyond price … and worth consciously appreciating as another Memorial Day arrives.

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At home… page 49

Day 71 – 05/22/2020

That’s one of Kim’s side chicks up there, the one he falls asleep with in his arms most evenings while we’re watching TV. The blonde Strat is another – she kissed him back the first time he put his hands on her. No jealousy here, my life has a soundtrack and all is well.

It’s been pouring rain this morning, with lightning and thunder, so we’re happy lil’ cave dwellers. Kim’s plants on the balcony and the rooftop garden are loving it and so are we. There’s something about the arrival of dawn followed by rapidly-increasing darkness that thrills my dreamy soul. When you add the drama of a thunderstorm, the day becomes memorable.

Since a rainy day is automatically a “day off” in this house, there will be less progress in evidence than usual – I feel I’ve already overreached by jotting a diary entry. Everything I need is right here, so Friday Zen it is, kids. Brighten the corner where you are!

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Still… page 48

Day 69 – 05/20/2020

A milestone – Kim got a haircut this morning at seven and came home with the swagger of a new man. As long as I get there before my dr.’s appointment a month away I’m good, but my goal is Monday or so after the desperate have had their shot at it all week.

Otherwise just maintaining. It’s been a windy spring and not consistently warm yet by any means, but we’re outside on the balcony for all the benevolent minutes we can catch. East Lawrence is in its glory right now – green as far as the eye can see. In the photo above and the one below, you’re looking at hundreds of houses and thousands of people but you can’t see them. The top photo is our view from the south corner of our balcony, and this one is directly across the street – in both directions a house on every lot, cleverly camouflaged by Mama Nature. The yards are like cocoons and seem especially inviting to stay home in this season.

Feels good to be here. Covid-19 cases in our county, which rubs elbows with Kansas City, are currently at 61, with 53 recovered and no deaths, which tells me people here in this university town take their science seriously. Kim rarely sees a shopper or worker without a mask when he goes for necessities. That feels soothing and reassuring, along with the way Mass Street shops are creating safe environments in which to do business. The barbershop we both go to apparently has it down to a science already, go Lawrence. It’s good to call you *home.*

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In… page 47

Day 67 – 05/18/2020

My baby sister, Señorita Margarita Rita, lives ten minutes from me but we hadn’t seen each other since March 10th. I put on actual clothes, shoes, and eye makeup and she came over today bringing the sunshine. Wow. Needed that. It was time to feel like a person again and enjoy the perks pertaining thereto. It was time to laugh a lot.

We distanced – no hugs, spaced apart – but that’s a distance I can live with since it was the only one in evidence. It’s affirming and gratifying when the people you love get you.

Because I have sisters, I will always have friends.

Photo Credit: Kim Smith 05/17/2020

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