Day One

My sister gave me a T-shirt for my birthday in August that read:

In August. As in, the summer.

That’s how bad 2020 was. I wanted that year of my life to end also, but it seemed like a lot of pressure to put on 2021. “Does The Universe know that it is a new year and that we pin a lot of meaning to that change of numerics? Does it care?” I was, of course, looking for an end to the shit show that was 2020. But I didn’t want to put my one fragile egg in that basket.

Before long (but also years later, 2020 was weird that way), November came. I spent election day working the polls at my local precinct. It was a sixteen hour shift indoors, interacting with my fellow poll workers (who were strangers) and hundreds of other people (strangers), helping them to vote. That night, after the last person voted and we secured the machines and cleaned the precinct, I drove – not home – to Park City. I rented an Airbnb for fourteen nights (AKA a fortnight! That’s what that word means!) in order to isolate from my family after that prolonged exposure, “just in case!” It was partly out of my own concern about the COVID risk, but also deciding that A) it was important to me to follow through with the commitment and B) to prove to Matt’s ex that I did give a damn about COVID prevention (an ongoing argument in the family).

It was a one room apartment with no natural light, and the main light in the room was out. I contacted the owner, and she wrote back and said that the guy who did those things for her was busy, but might contact me at some point. (He never did.) I could have gone out to get a light bulb, but I wasn’t about to go out and buy a ladder. So, I moved the lamps around as I did my work and I went for walks to get some sunlight, but it was snowed in and 30 degrees, so those turned out to be short damn walks.

Mostly I sat there, bored and lonely, watching an unhealthy amount of cable TV, and wondering if Steve Kornacki would ever be allowed to change his pants. And, also, crushing a little bit. (Oh, Steve! Tell me more about Maricopa County, you nerdy boy!) It took days, but eventually there were developments. Joe Biden was (finally) declared the winner. A few days after that, Pfizer declared success in the development of their vaccine.

This was of particular interest to me, because I volunteered to be a Guinea pig in that clinical trial! And here they were, saying that their projected effective rate was 95%! I had a fifty/fifty chance of having received that vaccine! (Also a fifty/fifty chance of having received the placebo.) “So, 50% chance of having received a vaccine that was 95% effective equals…” I was talking to myself, obviously, “fuck if I know? Less than 50%? I feel like that’s math done right.” I stayed put in my isolation hovel.

And THEN! a week later Moderna made a similar announcement about their vaccine! And people (still on MSNBC) were saying that vaccinations might be available as soon as December! And, damn me if I didn’t start to have a little hope. Hope that Steve Kornacki’s pants would be donated to the Smithsonian for all to appreciate, and hope that 2021 might be different. Could it be that there was light at the end of the tunnel?

It was somewhere in that time that went home, but also I saw a pin that called to me. So much so, I ordered one for me and another for a friend. It said:

I decided that these would be my “words” (in the Game of Thrones sense of things) for 2021. Because, in addition to copious amounts of fried food and barrels of wine, I ate a lot of shit in 2020. Bags and bags of pungent, gluey, unsalted shit. From The Universe, from the pandemic, from my boyfriend’s ex, from the world in general. I was getting plates of shit served to me on a daily basis, and I was ready to say, “No, thank you!”

And so I got onboard the “2021 Will Be Totally Different!” train and got my ticket punched.

But you know what? I was right to begin with. The Universe doesn’t care if our year changed (aren’t we cute, though? With our fireworks and our kisses and such?). The horror show of last year is not done with us yet. Clearly.

We had Ethan for New Year’s so we took a little road trip to Arizona. It was fun, and we saw some really cool birds and animals (some that I had never seen before) and then we headed back toward Utah. It was January 1st, the first day of my new mantra, and we broke up the driving to Salt Lake City with a night in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Again, we were doing the Airbnb thing, and we had a little spot reserved near the university’s campus. We met the couple who were in the next apartment over as we were coming in and parking our cars. We chatted briefly and mentioned that we would be driving to Salt Lake the next day. The woman exclaimed (with a notably gruff voice) about the length of the distance, but that was the end of the conversation.

It was a cozy spot with only one bedroom so we just piled in. Unfortunately, their sitting space was adjacent to our sleeping space, and the walls turned out to be wet pasta thin, and we could hear every word of their profane conversation. The bedroom had a TV so we found some episodes of Shaun the Sheep (turned up louder and then slightly loud) in the hopes of reminding them that we had a child with us and, also, “Did you notice these walls are super thin? Guess we gotta work together, to coexist, ya?”

They did not take the hint. We wanted to be in bed by 10pm to be fresh for the long drive (about 520 miles), especially because we let Ethan stay up until midnight the previous night for New Year’s. We turned off the TV, but after a bit Matt pounded on the wall to try to send a stronger message.

That had the opposite of the desired effect. The woman exploded with expletives, outraged that we would complain when it wasn’t even ten yet (by minutes), and who did we think we were? It was clear to me from the sound of her voice ( imagine either Patty or Selma Bouvier, without the redeeming qualities) that they had been drinking for a while and that we probably shouldn’t provoke them. At the end of her rant, we heard her say to her man fellow, “Jesus, are the walls that thin?”

Matt said, speaking directly to the wall, “Yes. They are.”

There was a brief pause at that before the couple’s profane conversation started up again, as if they hadn’t heard every word, easing back into their conversation made of words that I didn’t even learn from my sailor father.

There was nothing to do but try to make the best of it. We all went to bed, tucking Ethan in between us. I tried to fall asleep but, tired as I was, it was just impossible. It is annoying enough when you can hear muffled noises coming from the next room, but when you can hear every word? She was ranting left and right, it seemed, about everyone they knew. But there was a moment where she was tearing yet another close friend to shreds, and I was thinking, “Poor girl. She does sound like a mess. I wouldn’t have called her that word, but I do hope she can get her shit together.”

Matt got up and moved to the couch. The next day he said he tried to get my attention, but I didn’t respond so he decided I was asleep. Without my contacts I am blind as a baseball bat so I’m not surprised. And in the dark? Forget it. I was glad though, because he was driving and so it was most important that he got some rest. Ethan was out like a hibernating hive of bees. I shifted to my back and tried to conjure the sounds of the ocean as a meditation, but I suck at meditating. Eventually, as time droned on, I began to think about revenge. For hours. From when we went to bed at 10pm until they went to bed at 1am, I had a lot of time to think about things I could do to them that would give me some sense of vengeance.

I thought about getting up at first light, walking Murphy, and then, upon our return, writing “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” on their windshield in dog shit. I smiled, starting to relax a little. “Finally, a type of meditation that is actually helpful!” It was no good though, I realized, coming back to a state of stress. They would know it was us. It might make it on to Matt’s Airbnb review and that would be bad for us in the future.

Lotion? I could write it in hand lotion! It would take some effort to clean it off. Especially in the cold weather. And I had a bottle with me that I bought but found I was having an allergic reaction to the fragrance… No, no, no. If they are going to know it is us, it might as well be dog shit.

Dog shit, but just on the door handles?

No! They can’t know it is us. Matt rented this place. Any blow-back would be on him. Not me.

That’s when I got an idea. An awful idea. A wonderful, awful idea.

I was thinking about car sabotage and suddenly remembered the time that I last had an issue with a tire. The tire was low, so I filled it up. A few weeks later, it was low again, so I took it in. There was a nail in the tire, causing a slow leak. It had been weeks since I picked up the spike, so who knows when or where it happened?

“Oh,” I told sleepy sleepy me, “that’s bad. So mean and so bad! And anyway, where are you going to find a nail? It’s not like you have one in your purse for just such an occasion (note to future me).” But the idea of it, the thought of this tiny sharp little thing making such an impact… soon? Or in a week or two? It made me smile and relax, and I finally fell asleep.

A few hours later, I was awake. My first thought was of my last thought. It seemed strange that I was still angry after getting some sleep, but I was. I was still in that same crazed place. These people fucked with my family. In 2021. The year when I told myself that I would be done taking shit! I had drawn a line in the sand, and I said, “No more!” And yet, on day one of 2021, these people gave me shit. And I took it. I laid in bed next to my stepson, trying to get some sleep, but taking shit instead. My mind hadn’t changed. I needed to give these people their shit back. Because I am not taking it! I made a promise to myself, goddamit!

This didn’t resolve the issue of the nail. I was still in bed pondering this issue and finally told myself, “Okay, this is the deal. I will walk Murphy up the block and back. If we happen to find a nail or similar, then great. The Universe is on my side. If not, then whatever. The Universe has spoken.”

I got up and went to the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet, shading my eyes from the too bright light, I admired the lovely and fashionable tile work of the shower. I was envying it a bit, actually. But that made me think, “This place was renovated very recently. So… maybe?”

I finished my “bidness” on the toilet and then washed my hands. And then, I got down on my hands and knees to have a look. Having completed enough bathroom remodels of my own, I had a hunch. There, under the sink, below all of the new furnishings, I could see some of the older pipes, and there, near the old shut-off valve, was a shiny brass screw. Just sitting there. Like, y’ know. Screws do.

“Oh. My. God. I thought,” having only moved six feet from the bed where this idea was hatched the previous night, wondering wherever I might find such a thing. “The Universe loves this idea so much, it is shitting its own britches!”

I changed into a preliminary dog walking dress, 50% pajamas, 50% street clothes, and I dropped the screw into my pocket. Then, slipping out in the cold, I walked Murphy for about twenty minutes, letting him explore the strange snowy neighborhood. I felt a little dreamy, not in the sexy way, but in the blurry way. “Are you seriously doing this? What the hell are you thinking?” a vague voice from far away asked me, and I patted the screw in my pocket to check that it was really there. But I felt like that questioning voice was a “put on” thing. Like me trying to have a Jiminy Cricket character on my shoulder because I thought there should be one, even though I felt fine. Not just fine; justified.

Murphy and I got back to our rental. I had a dog turd in hand and a screw in my pocket. Suffice it to say, lot’s of options. I opened the door and let Murphy in, but lingered outside for just a minute more. I checked for cameras. I looked for lights in the rooms of our neighbors, who were clearly still sleeping off last night. Then I did the deed. I could have left the screw standing upright on the concrete behind the back tire, but I didn’t. She might have backed up slowly, just knocking it over to the side as they left. I was angrier than that. I took the time to push the point of the screw into the tread, and wedge a side of the flat end into the concrete. Then I tossed the dog shit in the trash bin as I walked inside.

Like a fucking snake who takes no shit.

I won’t pretend that I feel profoundly guilty about it. Or even mildly guilty. I am not. I had several chances to remove that screw that morning as we were packing up, and then again as we left. As we drove away, I felt no compunction. No second or third thought. I literally screwed that lady and it felt great, like revenge on the entire 2020 and the let down of the promise of 2021. “This is what ‘taking no shit’ feels like!” I thought.

And then I sat in a car for eight and a half hours. I still didn’t have second thoughts or a moment of regret. I smiled each time I thought about that brassy little screw, waiting to ruin that woman’s day with no hope of teaching a lesson or sending a message or doing any greater good whatsoever. It was a point without a point.

But it did make me think. How does one refuse to take shit without doing harm? Is it even possible? Without going into details about the struggles between me and Matt’s ex, no matter how carefully I push back, (thinking that I’m just defending myself and “taking no shit”) I do harm. I do harm to the relationship, and the inevitable reaction brings harm on myself. I can only assume I am harming her also, even though that is not my intention. I spend so much time trying to draft these messages to make them set boundaries without insult, but I can’t predict the reaction and it seems backlash is inevitable.

On that long drive, I reflected also on 2020, and all the shit that it dished out. I don’t know how I will remember the pandemic year, but I hang on to the helplessness that I felt. At first, the hoarding was so disheartening, but I managed to keep my family in stock. Then, I wanted to help the people who hadn’t managed. I joined a neighborhood group to try to get essentials to the elderly or strapped who weren’t able to find toilet paper or isopropyl alcohol and other necessities. No one called. I tried to find other ways to contribute. I didn’t know what to do, but I looked for opportunities, and ended up as a subject in the clinical trials for Pfizer, and then a registered poll worker.

This sounds like virtue signaling but that isn’t what I mean (which is obviously what any virtue signaler would say). I had a box of toilet paper in my garage for all of the spring that none of my neighbors needed. Someone in my city needed it, I knew that. But I didn’t know who and finding them proved hard and I stopped trying. I want to help but there is a limit to what I will to do try. I don’t know how.

That brings me back to this pin. The “take no shit, do no harm” motto I spoke about. That clearly doesn’t work at all. It is a nice idea. It sounds so nice. Something that could elevate one above the fray, into a position of purity and faultlessness. That isn’t the world I live in. Even if it was, it isn’t a position that is meaningful, that might effect change. That isn’t who I want to be. I want to find opportunities, not just to be harmless, but to do good. As bad as 2020 was, I found some of those opportunities. Things that I could tell my great nieces and great nephews. With a wobbling voice, I might talk about the vaccine trials, or about wearing a mask while registering first time voters to participate in the 2020 election. And then I might say, with grandmotherly wisdom. “Some’a those cunts didn’t know their ass from a gov’ment issued ID!”

As for my new pin, I will hang on to it. The message is completely impractical, but who doesn’t like to imagine a quixotic future of easy coexistence? Also, it looks kinda baddass. Meanwhile, my words for 2021, I have decided, will be, “take some inevitable shit, and look for opportunities to do some good.”

It wasn’t an intentional goal but it guided me well last year. In that way, it was a better year than I realized at the time. That said, may we never see another like it.

P.S. To the lady I ‘screwed,’ I can’t apologize in earnest, because I listened to you spew your rants about everyone you knew for hours and you seemed awful. Thank you, however, for being so awful and allowing me to be awful with a sense of justice, because, if it wasn’t clear before, you are a dick and being a dick to you felt really good.

Happy New Year! (in dog shit).

That’s worse, right? The dog shit? I feel like you (and not a mechanic) would have to deal with that, and you wouldn’t like it. Therefore, making it worse? But whatever. You suck. And I may always backslide. Just like Mrs. Hedgehog.

About Rachel Lewis

I am a writer, ceramic artist, knitter, and stepmom. As a playwright, I had six short plays produced in showcases and festivals in Manhattan, Salt Lake City, and Austin. My full-length play, Locking Doors, was presented by Wordsmith Theatre Company in The New Lab Theatre (University of Utah) in 2005. I co-wrote a teleplay titled “Thank God I’m Atheist” which won the 2015 “No God But Funny” contest founded by the Center for Inquiry. My short nonfiction essay, “It’s Coming Down,” was published by the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. My essay "The Red Rock Chronicles" was published in Contemporary West magazine. I currently work in pharmaceuticals professionally and write recreationally, but dream of making the transition to write professionally and do pharmaceuticals recreationally. I am a Utah native and live in Salt Lake City with my family and our Goldendoodle. I am working on a collection of humorous non-fiction essays and a second full-length play. Follow me at: @rachel_lewis_ut (Twitter) @rachel_lewis_ut (Instagram)

2 responses to “Day One

  1. You know what? I’m proud of you. Thank you for doing the kind of thing I’ve been dying to do MANY times, but never been brave enough.

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