Bringing the Outdoors Inside – (Day 3 of My Coronavirus Journal)

I know I casually talked about feeding the farm in my last post, but we didn’t always have these many pets. We had Ringo and Gidget when we moved to our new home in 2019. Ringo was our elderly schnoodle, black with specks of grey, and the appetite of a hungry school of piranhas. Gidget is a 6-pound possibly Maltese terrier whose boundless energy and sweet disposition endear her even to the pet-aversed. My husband and his coworkers found her abandoned in a community garden untagged and unchipped; they all thought she was a rat as her fur was covered in dirt. I thought we would just foster her for a few days as we already had a dog and my 16-year old cat Mila, who passed away in 2018, same year my mom died. Well, Gidget had me at first lick. My friend Anna aptly named her after the mischievous teen played by Sally Fields in the ‘60s.

When the pandemic hit, I started imagining a garden in our living room. Couldn’t go outside so why not bring the outdoors in. I took an old curtain rod and installed it above the windows. Instead of curtains, I draped it with hanging plants. One, two and now there’s eight of them.

Luis wanted a project too, and he thought about getting aquatic turtles. Where you gonna put it? I asked. He said downstairs with the bearded dragon and the snake my son decided to raise. But I thought it was perfect to have a pond in the indoor garden, and so we built it with a concrete mixer tub and some rocks, one of which was from the ruins of the old building where I used to work.

The turtles came in the mail. They were the size of a silver dollar! Luis named them Bonnie and Clyde. He has an affinity for any old-school gangster. We got Curly, the goldfish, along with Larry and Moe, at Petco. They were feeder fish worth 18 cents each. Larry and Moe died within an hour of release in the pond. Curly lived and is a hefty four inches long! He steals turtle feed and holds his own among the growing turtles.

The parakeets came after. My friend’s co-worker has had enough of their squawking during zoom meetings and the mess they made with their bird food husks. I wanted to get a canary after I read that they learn songs the way humans learn language — from their caregivers! But I didn’t want to spend $150 for a male canary! The females are worth half the price because they don’t sing, or their songs are “broken”. Parakeets sing too, just not as melodious. And these ones came as gifts. I named them Pepe and Pilar.

I love working among the plants and with the sound of water running through the filter. I think my plants have kept me from being sick and the house, oxygenated. The birds, I notice, do like joining in on discussions. Needless to say, I can’t teach remotely in my “office” unless I cover their cage but I don’t like doing that in the middle of the day. So, I drive to work to teach remotely. Well, it’s not the only reason. I leave home to teach remotely elsewhere because sometimes my garden is not enough. I need an actual workspace. Because when you’re a parent, the “Do not disturb” sign on the door is just a suggestion.

So today I drove to work like I used when remote learning was not a thing. Talked about writing a definition essay to my students via Zoom. (Note to self: I have to write a definition essay.) Chit chat with my embedded tutor Josh who was a former student and is now becoming a friend. As I was packing my stuff to leave at the end of my “office hours,” I found out that my colleague and good friend just lost her best friend to covid. I had texted her about a deadline we had yesterday, and she texted back distraught about her friend’s passing. I told her to take a break. I got this. I got her. I asked Luis to take care of dinner. I unpacked my laptop and took off my jacket and got our task done within an hour.

At home, I lay in bed to rest my abused screen-weary eyes. We had yummy Mexican food from the carniceria. Always a winner. We saw an episode of 90-Day Fiancé, our 15-year-old’s current obsession. I tried to do homework in vain. Rinse, repeat.

About filinthegap

Lani T. Montreal is an educator, writer, performer, and community activist. Her writings have been published and produced in Canada, the U.S., the Philippines and in cyberspace. Among her plays are: Panther in the Sky, Gift of Tongue, Looking for Darna, Alien Citizen, Grandmother and I, and her most-toured comedy drama about gender and immigration, titled Sister OutLaw. She is the recipient of the 2015 3Arts Djerassi Residency Fellowship for Playwriting, 2008 3Arts Ragdale Residency Fellowship, the 2001 Samuel Ostrowsky Award for her memoir “Summer Rain,” and was finalist for the 1995 JVO Philippine Award for Excellence in Journalism for her environmental expose “Poison in the River.” Lani holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She teaches writing at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago and writes a blog called “Fil-in-the-gap”. (filinthegap.com.) She lives (and loves) in Albany Park, Chicago with her multi-species, multi-cultural family.
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