“Dispatch from a Pandemic: Michigan to Massachusetts” by Sara Afshar

afshar art
“Autumn in Osgood,” Fabien Tepper

It’s not advisable, but I am driving from Michigan to Massachusetts. The condo I spent a year renovating in Boston has sold. I have to collect the things in the condo designated as mine on the Excel sheet I created and shared with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. Half-jokingly titled “Chattels,” the sheet lists every item we owned together, next to a space to leave our name next to the item in order to claim it for sole ownership. If we disagree over a claimed item, we can plead our case in columns I titled “Counter-argument” and “Rebuttal.” The reference to property law and civil procedure is an effort at lightheartedness in the face of this depressing process. Despite my joke, divorce doesn’t fall under property law. It’s a part of family law and while family law courses are not typically required in law school, I took one in my second year with a wonderful professor. That same professor wrote me a recommendation for my first law school internship with a celebrated local nonprofit, Veteran Legal Services. Often, I share rambling anecdotes as an avoidance technique.

The man I am divorcing is in Boston. Another man whom I had been seeing for a few months, I broke up with on my thirty-second birthday, four days ago, ten weeks into social isolation. He has just completed the writing program where we met and is looking for work during a global pandemic. He is still in Ann Arbor and is, coincidentally, a veteran. That’s not really a coincidence. That is merely an unremarkable fact that my sorrow would like to link to another unremarkable fact I previously mentioned. It would be ideal if the pandemic ended and he found a job out-of-state before I return to Michigan.

I started seeing a psychoanalyst over Skype a few weeks ago. I want to understand why I can’t seem to function in the context of romantic relationships even while I am a high functioning person in almost every other area of my life. Thanks to the health crisis, I have time to Skype with her twice a week. It is the most intensive therapy I’ve had in my life. She tells me that am incredibly strict with myself in some ways and incredibly indulgent with myself in others. While driving on I-90 in Ohio, I try to state what I am feeling with reticent self-compassion. I say aloud, My heart hurts. I want to love. I want to feel loved.  I get pulled over for speeding. The amount I have to pay isn’t listed on the ticket that the police officer (who isn’t wearing a mask) hands me (from less than six feet away). We’ll assign you a fine. Just look it up later.

While I am in Cincinnati, a message pops up on my phone. I hope it’s from the veteran. It isn’t. I am at my brother’s house where he lives with his wife and my toddler nephew. I figure it is the safest place to eat and use the bathroom, but nothing about traveling right now makes much sense. The message is from Jeanette. It must be fucking weird to divorce someone and break-up with someone during a pandemic while you move out-of-state. Hope you’re still writing! I don’t want to read or write any new poems even though those are the only two things that are expected of me by my fully-funded writing program. I turn to the poetic equivalent of an overplayed break up song. Not really, I respond, the art of losing isn’t hard to master. She sends me an eye-roll emoji which, for some reason, stings. My nephew wants to play a game where he pretends to sleep while I sing a lullaby. When I say treetop, he rolls out of my arms and onto the carpet and waits for me to shout, goodbye, baby!  Then he runs back into my arms to do it again. Goodbye, baby!

Findlay Market is already open in Cincinnati. I decide to brave the crowd to get a smoothie. I bring a mask just in case everyone else is wearing one, not because I want to wear one. I approach much of my life in this way.

I timed my stop at my brother’s house to attend a Zoom baby shower for my very pregnant friend Roya, one of three friends I have who will give birth during the quarantine. During the Zoom shower, I am prompted to unmute my mic and give well wishes. I imagine a baby with my almost ex-husband. I imagine a baby with the veteran. I imagine a baby with a physics PhD I slept with once. I unmute my mic. I close Zoom and I pick up my phone to lie to the group chat. My connection just cut out, so, so sorry, trying to fix!  I add three crying faces.

I am traveling during a pandemic. I am not distraught over losing my life as a married, young professional. I don’t feel anything when I think of my ex-husband. Over Skype I tell the psychotherapist I can’t articulate why, on my birthday, I broke up with the man I was seeing. She tells me traumatized children often grow to be adults who constantly long for intimate connection, but don’t know how to acquire it. I already know this. How many more weeks?

I keep driving. Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, my solitary body on a belted highway. Excluding my smoothie purchase, I avoid public places. I cannot say I mind it, the loneliness. My eyes on the speedometer, I ignore the slew of calls and messages from friends and family who haven’t heard from me. I could live like this, I tell myself.

–May 22, 2020



Sara Afshar is an MFA candidate at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. Previously, she worked as an immigration attorney. Her work has appeared in Slice, McSweeney’s, Soundings East, and has been installed in Boston City Hall.


Fabien Tepper is a painter, writer, and dog walker living in Boston.