Days of Sorrow, Days of Lead: 2. Five Days In

Fragment of a Shirt, Ukraine, last quarter of the 18th century. Linen, silk, metal. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Edward S. Harkness in memory of her mother, Elizabeth Greenman Stillman, 1931. 2009.300.2715

Today is February 28, 2022. In Taiwan, this day marks the anniversary of the White Terror. It also marks the beginning of martial law. That situation would last almost 40 years. Martial law did not end until 1987. I do not recommend living under martial law.

I suppose history is full of moments where everything turned on a dime. 228, for Taiwan, was one of those moments. The Russian invasion of Ukraine appears to be another.

In our five-plus years of marriage, my husband and I have seen the world change in remarkable ways. On Saturday, we discussed how we met—and started dating—in one world, and now, we appear to live in another. Perhaps our sense of stability, before, was illusory. In any case, those illusions are gone now.

*

We are now, I think, 5 days into this war. Ukraine has managed to hold on, and the capitol city, Kyiv, remains in Ukrainian hands. On Sunday (Feb. 27), the NY Post, being the NY Post, put the Ukrainian president on its cover–with the headline “Fight like Zel,” and a subheader about how Zelensky “drives Vlad mad.”

This past weekend was surreal, even hallucinatory, as I felt two realities pass before me. We follow the war via the internet. We live our lives here in NY, quiet and ordinary, but nothing is quite the same. Everything is tinged with sorrow, and anger, and also guilt, for being safe and warm, for having creature comforts like showers and soft beds.

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I try to hold these two different realities in my mind.

In one: I practice drawing exercises in a sun-lit room. I drink coffee. I eat a danish filed with pastry cream and strawberries. I receive a package containing a new dress. We eat sushi, and drink some sparkling wine, and play Scrabble. On Sunday, I make a complicated birria recipe. We go for a walk. I play with the dog. We pass Veselka, where there is a line around the block, and a news crew arrives to interview diners. I do the laundry, clean my kitchen.

In another: I watch a woman cry when a reporter praises her as ‘brave” for taking up arms to fight for Ukraine. “I am afraid.” I watch rockets explode in the sky over Kyiv. My heart swells–and breaks–listening to ordinary people talk about how they plan to resist the Russians. I look at pictures of women and children sleeping in the metro, or weaving camouflage tents, or making Molotov cocktails. Men dig trenches. They sit all night, in the cold, on watch. While we sleep in New York, the fight goes on.

In our minds, we toggle back and forth between our lives in New York, unreal because it remains unchanged—so comfortable and steady and ordinary, and the horrible reality of war in Ukraine.

All weekend, I cannot quite believe how quickly the world can change, or how life continues here, even as lives fall apart elsewhere.

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