Thursday, October 15, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Cutting back the dead by Bailey Bridgewater

This morning, the New York Times sent me an email with headlines about new waves in Europe, outnumbering the U.S. (that's how awful it is). 

The pandemic continues, as does this series. 

Please welcome writer Bailey Bridgewater. She shares a piece that is meditation, plague diary, and gardening journal--all in one. Learn more about her and her work at the end of this piece.

~ E.P.


Cutting Back the Dead

by Bailey Bridgewater

I’ve been struggling with writing ever since Covid started.  It comes in fits and starts. For weeks I can’t write a word, then I’ll suddenly produce a flash piece that’s darker than anything that’s come before it.  For the past 3 weeks I haven’t been able to write, and yet I had committed to writing about the pandemic. So what I’ve done here is excerpt pieces of my pandemic journal and intermingle them with notes from my gardening journal.  The effect, for me, sums up what life has been like since March of 2020. 

The Plague Journal – March 19, 2020

Ok, so it’s not really a plague. Covid 19 is caused by a virus and not a bacteria, which is apparently the difference. Not that it’s comforting to know the medical definition for what we have here: a pandemic. It started traveling the world around January, and now it’s here, infecting about 15k people a day.  The end result for some of those people is having tubes shoved down their throats and then dying anyway. 

Thinking I’ll do something with the front garden. Last year when I had mono, the landscapers threw some basic plants in there that I wouldn’t have to maintain, but they’re spaced really far apart, and I’m pretty sure some of them are dead. Maybe dormant? Can they be brought back to life? For now, I’m going to assume they’re casualties.

We were sent home from work today, finally. Other people were sent home weeks ago. I ended up calling HR and the Mayor’s office. The mayor himself sent an email promising to address the issue and, tada! the same day we get an email telling us to go home. And then I got called insubordinate. I wonder if I’ll have a job to come back to. I’m a single person with a mortgage and student loans. I can’t afford to get fired. Other people are losing their jobs. Fuck. Did I just throw mine away like an idiot?

April 6, 2020

Indiana is under a stay-at-home order, but no one seems to be following it. We have 337,343 documented cases and 9,648 deaths.  

April 7, 2020 

It’s 1:25 PM and the US is at 18,834 new cases and 1,356 deaths just so far today. I know I shouldn’t look, but it’s impossible not to, and once I do, and it’s bad, I lose all my motivation.

I don’t know anything about gardening, honestly. No one in my family gardens – we always just rented houses that didn’t have flowers or anything. I guess I’m a first-generation gardener. Or I will be once I actually start planting things. My neighbors are all out cutting back and clearing. Hard to say if it’s because those things are necessary, or because they want to be out of their houses.

April 8, 2020

The world is at 1,478,439 cases and 86,748 deaths. The US has over 14,000 by itself. It’s unfortunate timing for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race, just as we’re staring right in the face of our crippling healthcare system and the fact that people are risking their lives to work at Walmart for $9 an hour when you can’t even rent an apartment on that. 

Casey’s got me into watching Monty Don, the British gardener. He’s got a show that tells you what to do in your garden every week. I’ve been catching up and learned that apparently you’re supposed to cut back long grasses in early Spring so they can start growing and not be hindered by their own dead members. So I cut it back. It’s nice to not be staring at those jagged brown corpses, but now the space just looks empty.

April 10, 2020 

We had a really severe storm with a lot of wind damage the other night. The neighbors are all in their gardens today, picking limbs out of plants that are turning green. My yard didn’t suffer too much, thankfully. 

Is it selfish to worry about not being able to get the biopsy my doctor told me I needed right before Covid started? The same day he called to tell me my pap was irregular was the day the hospital stopped doing all non-essential procedures. So now I have to wait, maybe for months, to know if there’s something wrong. 

I started researching what plants might be good in the front bed. There are already some startling yellow irises and aggressively flamboyant pink peonies that I inherited when I bought the house. They’re not really my style, but they seem happy here. Best leave them I guess. There are some drift roses that the landscapers put in. They look spindly and sick. Maybe they’re dead. I’ll have to watch them. Maybe some catmint would be good to grow around their stems if they’re still alive. I think I’ll try a hibiscus too. They look like vacation, and I won’t be hitting a tropical beach anytime soon…

Bailey's hibiscus

April 10, 2020

Watching the governor’s daily press conference, and a caller is trying to pressure Holcomb to bar all abortions during the pandemic.

Sometimes I feel guilty because honestly, I like staying home and not having to go out or see anyone.  I’ve been living in an extrovert’s world, doing an extrovert’s job for 38 years.  I want to enjoy everyone living in an introvert’s world for a little while. But without people dying.

Apparently plants with double blooms aren’t as good for pollinators. Maybe I’ll try some bee balm. And I’ll need some sort of ground cover to hide all those blank spaces that are driving me crazy….

April 13, 2020

It’s becoming more and more clear that the US is doing something terribly wrong in handling this. We now have more deaths than Italy. People are starting to go stir crazy and do stupid shit. Some of the women I know are bribing their manicurists to come to their houses and do their nails. 

It’s hard to concentrate on work, especially when all of our meetings are on Skype or Zoom or Teams or Yuja. It’s too easy to just stare out the window or obsessively refresh the Worldometers website and watch the numbers jump up.  

A friend mentioned that a mockingbird outside her window has started imitating Skype noises.

April 15, 2020

Today I made the mistake of watching a White House Press conference. Trump’s talking about starting to ‘re-open’ the economy even though we’re adding 25,000 or so cases a day. It seems very possible that our own elected officials will get 10s of 1000s of Americans killed on top of the 30,000 already dead just by sheer negligence. 

There are little buds forming in the Southeast corner of my garden.  

Bridgewater Butterfly

April 19, 2020

As if things couldn’t get weirder, Trump is now inciting protests by tweeting things like “Liberate Minnesota”-- encouraging people to defy stay-at-home orders.  

The irises are starting to bloom.

April 21, 2020

Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia’s governors decided to re-open the beaches today, prompting many a brilliant Jaws meme. Seems what’s really happening is that politicians are realizing our own “best economy in the word” is so fragile that it can’t take 1 month of people not indulging in non-essential services, and people are realizing they can’t live even a month without a paycheck.  The government strategy is clear – get people back to work so they’re distracted and placated again. 

The peonies are clearly going to be next to open, and it seems the roses aren’t dead after all! They’re starting to grow, though their new growth looks red and the leaves look scraggly. I didn’t know if that was normal, so I googled it and it sounds like maybe Rosette’s disease? It makes the growth bright red, like mine, and it causes a wild abundance of thorns, so that the stem is virtually covered in them.  The leaves become malformed into something known as "witch’s brooms" and the disease eventually kills the plant. You have to dig it out of the ground and destroy it before it infects everything around it.

The governor of Texas just justified re-opening by saying “There are more important things than living.”  
Bailey's roses

April 27, 2020

This weekend saw the US’s worst day yet, with 38,958 cases. Today, Indiana is having its worst day.  And yet the president, the governor, and my university’s president are all talking about opening back up. It’s clear what their priorities are.

Grub. Grubs! GRUBS!  Here a grub, there a grub, everywhere a fucking grub.  I cleared and tilled the raised beds today since I want to plant vegetables this year, and they’re everywhere, lying there curled up in the fetal position, looking all pale and sickly and innocent and just waiting to explode onto the scene as beetles decimate anything that has any chance of living. I’m not having it. I will not be deterred! I’m researching nematodes.  

May 7, 2020

The advice of the day for Indiana is “don’t hug your mom on mother’s day.” Thankfully mine is 11 hours away and I had no intention of doing so anyway. Still, this advice is issued as we’re opening back up. Why? Because the economy. Our cases are up. We’re #14 in the ranking of states with the most Covid. But money. Clearly we should all just think about the money.  

Governor Holcomb was asked in his press conference why we’re re-opening when we have the highest number of deaths per capita.  He said that’s just because Hoosiers have a lot of pre-existing conditions. Got it. So if you’re already a little sick, nobody cares if you die. 

Roses don’t have Rosette’s disease. I need to stop being paranoid and trying to micromanage them.  The red seems to just be new growth, which then turns green with a normal number of thorns.  But I think they do have white powdery mildew. 

May 15, 2020

I feel like all I do is stare at a computer screen, stress out over Covid data, and sleep.  When I’m asleep I dream about Covid data.  When I stare at a computer screen, I feel like I’m pretty much asleep. Why am I so exhausted? The most strenuous thing I do right now is a leisurely walk with the dog. But I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck filled with ACME anvils. Like Wile E. Coyote, I need to pop back up with a sign that says “Help!”  But everyone’s holding one, so no one’s going to notice.

Planted today: 
  • Japanese iris (near downspout) 
  • Persian Leaf Shield (SE corner full sun.) 
  • Endless Summer Hydrangea (NE corner)  
  • Russian sage x4, front amongst rose bushes 
  • Bronze Bugle Carpet x2. Ground cover. Front. 
  • Periwinkle x2. Ground cover. NE. 
  • Ivy Geranium x2. Front between roses.  
  • Dwarf Plumbago x2. SE groundcover.  
  • Biokovo Crankesbill. Front groundcover. SE front. 
  • Liriope x2. Tall structural.   
Still some empty spaces. There’s a gap between the peonies and the lilies.  Don’t know how many of the plants I just put in will survive. I don’t know what I’m doing with planting. They all have such specific instructions. I should have bought just one kind of ground cover. What if one kind just overtakes all the others? I don’t know what diseases and fungi they’re prone to. I should have done more research, but my eyes kept crossing while I was reading about plants at two in the morning. I shouldn’t have planted anything. I’m wasting money because I don’t know what else to do.

May 17, 2020

There’s rumors that the students will be back in August. I don’t know how. Nothing is getting better. Some days the numbers dip, like on Sundays, but then they rise even higher. All the scientific information about Covid conflicts. It seems like nobody really knows how it spreads or how to stop it. I feel like they’re just making things up.

Planted today: 
  • Hollyhock, NE corner. 
  • Balloon flowers x2, NE bed. 
  • Artemesia ground cover x2, NE corner
  • Luna White Hibiscus, South front. 
  • Monarda Blue Stocking. SE bed.  
I always underestimate how many plants I need. I keep feeling this overwhelming, compulsive urge to cover every single exposed piece of bare soil. I want the flowers piling on top of each other, but I can’t seem to get it right.

June 1, 2020

I’ve been trying to stop constantly looking at the numbers. I just feel tired. Doesn’t help that I talked to my dad the other day, and turns out he’s one of these fucking conspiracy nuts who’s convinced that Covid will ‘just go away’ after the election. And what? The people who died will just rise out of their graves? He honestly believes that it’s a “liberal hoax to make Trump look bad.”  How egocentric does anyone have to be to believe the whole entire world is so invested in America’s president that they would intentionally spread a deadly disease (or make up a deadly disease. I’m not sure which it’s supposed to be) just to try and defeat him in an election? Especially disconcerting is the fact that my dad’s a truck driver, and if he’s not taking precautions, he could literally spread it up and down the east coast.

The hollyhock doesn’t seem to be growing. I can’t tell if the Japanese irises are or not. The drift roses are in full bloom at least, and the periwinkle and some of the other ground covers seem to be establishing ok. I’m nervous about the hibiscus. Maybe I put it in too narrow a spot. I only bought one. I should have bought more so they repeat. The hydrangea is flowering blue, so that’s good at least. The hosta is growing rapidly. Did I plant other things too close to it? Will it choke everything out trying to find the sun from its shady corner?

Bailey's balloon flower

June 6, 2020

It’s back to work day. May the odds be ever in our favor. 

The vegetable garden is coming in, and I planted pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash in five mounds. They should be ready around late September or early October. I’m worried that they’ll try to grow over the neighbor’s fence. Maybe I should add vertical supports.

June 23, 2020

The numbers are rising a lot, especially in states with beaches. People here are refusing to wear masks. What is wrong with this country? How can we be so stupid and selfish? When I’ve traveled in the past, folks in other countries have always talked about the image of Americans as free-spirited independents. Now I guess they see that really we’re just selfish asses. 

Oh, and there are protests going on because police won’t quit killing Black people for no reason. Also, Covid disproportionately kills racial minorities, so not only are police killing Black people--now people have to go out in the streets to protest that shit, and a lot of the people out there are at higher risk of dying from the disease on top of the heightened risk of dying from violence. 

Planted today: 
  • 2 astilbe
  • violet phlox
  • cool water phlox
  • professor van der weilen  (mainly just because the name is great) 
I can’t stop buying plants. I ordered 3 blueberry bushes and 2 plum trees. I ordered a bunch of bare root columbines. I can’t even tell which side is supposed to go down. If you can’t control anything else, you might as well throw your money away. At least you’re in control of what you get with it. And it’s helping the economy maybe. 

Something like that. 

July 10, 2020

60k cases a day just in the US.  Hospitals in Florida are running out of ICU beds. Everything is pretty much opening back up like normal. This is fine. It’s fine. Everything’s just fine.

I can’t stop researching plants. As soon as I finish work that’s what I do. I research plants I want to buy next year, but I’m impatient and end up just buying them right then and there. I feel like if I don’t plant them now maybe I never will. 

July 17, 2020

Looks like it will be a day of over 70k cases. I can’t focus on work. My novel isn’t coming along well. I’m sleeping too much.

It’s so hot I don’t even want to go out in the garden. The pumpkins are getting big. I only go out after 8pm, and there are a lot of bugs and bees. I have to drag myself outside. Harley and I aren’t taking our long walks – she overheats.  I feel exhausted after 5 minutes.

Bailey's pumpkin

August 1, 2020

Got a Covid test because I feel so tired and terrible. It wasn’t bad. Results in a few days.  

Some of the plants look wilted and withered because of the heat. I’m trying to stay on top of watering. My tomatoes look good but the vegetable garden is overrun with weeds. The pumpkin vines are getting long. I keep having to move them. They’re spiky, which I didn’t anticipate. There are what looks like stink bugs on some of them. The bee balm has some fungus all around the bottom that looks like a frat boy threw up all over them. 

August 4, 2020

Test was negative. So why am I so tired? Maybe it’s mono again. I don’t want to go to the doctor’s, but what if it is? It was horrible last time and took 6 months to recover. I’m having more migraines.

A gardening blog says the stuff on the bee balm is “dog vomit slime.” Accurate naming, at least. I dug the fungus up and threw it away (not on the compost). We’ll see if the plant survives.

August 27, 2020

The students are back. The university has been hiding how many cases there are, but from what people who work in res life say, there are dozens of cases, especially among the athletes. One of my colleagues has it. I don’t see how we can stay open. 

The pumpkins are under attack by squash beetles. It’s disgusting. When I turn over one of the tiny squash so they don’t get misshapen, dozens of beetles scamper away. I’m trying neem oil.  

September 9, 2020

Another colleague has it. She got it singing with her choir. I talked to her on Zoom and she sounds awful. She said her elderly mother and her sister have it too. There are over a hundred students isolating or quarantining. All of my student workers are quarantined. They’re all roommates. Everything is a shit show.

I’m leaving the squash to ripen as long as I can, but the beetles are decimating the vines. I’ve already lost my spaghetti squash. It’s been so hot that the front garden looks sad, except for the Russian Sage, which is a champion.

Bailey's Russian Sage

September 19, 2020

My colleague’s mother died today.  I talked to a student who is severely immunocompromised because of having had cancer. He’s living in the residence halls, taking classes in person. I can’t tell him not to. In his eyes, the school wouldn’t have re-opened if it wasn’t safe, right?  How am I supposed to tell him that actually…..

I harvested the handful of butternut squash and 6 pumpkins. The squash beetles got the rest. I’ll cut the vines tomorrow and burn them. They’re not even fit for the compost.

September 27, 2020

We’ve passed 200,000 deaths.  A couple people posted about it, but not a lot. It doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore.

I’ve been trying to water the garden once a week. It hasn’t rained in about a month. The lawn is brown and brittle. Harley likes to roll on it to scratch her back. The roses need to be deadheaded. I doubt they’ll re-bloom. The hibiscus and passion flowers are wilting before they bloom. One daylily has made it attempt, but it’s sad. The bronze bugle carpet is doing well, but it’s about the only thing. All the master gardeners I know have admitted defeat. I’ll stop watering mine, too. No point in wasting water.  

But I’ve already got plans to tarp the whole backyard. In the Spring I’ll throw down some compost and plant Prairie meadow seeds in wide swaths of color that will cover the whole half acre with a grass path through it. I’m already researching what kinds of flowers and tall grasses I want. 

On Gardener’s World, Monty Don just said that planting a garden is to have faith in the future. 

Bailey's Astilbe


Bailey Bridgewater, photo by Azizi and Aaron

Bailey Bridgewater comes from a coastal state where blue crabs reign. She now resides in tenderloin-focused Terre Haute, Indiana. She is the author of numerous short stories and flash pieces that appear in publications like Crack the Spine, Molotov Cocktail, As You Were, Eunoia Review, Fiction on the Web, and Esthetic Apostle

Her first short story collection, A Map of Safe Places, is forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks this winter, and her new piece "In Silence, the Decision" will be published by Hoosier Noir in summer.

Find a selection of her writing at She is active on facebook and instagram.