Author’s Note: “In his late thirties, my youngest brother, a big guy who owned a bar in a southern college town, decided to study nursing. Eventually, he became a nurse practitioner in Cleveland, Ohio. He loved the work, especially with veterans and seniors. We were both crazy-busy with our careers and families and only checked in with one another for a birthday, on the fly between bringing our kids from one event to another, and then, the pandemic hit. He was, and is, on the medical front lines. Our phone calls changed from quick and superficial to something else. These calls made me think about what was essential in life. Sometimes little brothers are useful.”
Desideratum: Something Desired as Essential
I suppose I should start with the basics: water, food, shelter. My youngest brother would say oxygen. He has been positioning patients who must be lain prone—on their stomachs, so they can breathe. This is before they are put on ventilators, which is a last option. He explains this all as the night hums around me. His break is over. He has to hang up, yet he says: Stay on the phone with me for one more moment. Don’t leave.
To long for, desiderare, is the Italian or Latin. I inch toward his side of the bed, toward his back, a salt lick. Now ill, he wishes only for the gods to intervene, for a deus ex machina in our queen- sized bed, and begs off any touch. I desire only desire.
If there wasn’t her clarinet playing, we’d live in a house of silence. She insists on practicing, willing the music from her lips. She stomps around the house. Swings her clarinet. My daughter is fifteen and has had one season of high school marching band. The football team lost every game, but the band roared, filled the stands—the crowds were there as much for the halftime as for the sport. Off and on, for hours, she plays. I don’t know if it’s good or bad; I can’t even carry a tune. Notes collide, a cacophony, a crescendo, a concert of one. She wants to march for the rest of her life. She wants to be first chair. She wants to be surrounded by music and, even more, leading the music—a drum major, a conductor—the music should follow her, not the other way around. The notes cut the last of the umbilical cord.
I often imagine what it would be like if I could have only one book to read for the rest of my life. I would choose The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes bound in red leather. When I was sixteen, it was given to me by one of my best friends. Before her, no one had ever given me a book as a gift—owning books wasn’t practical, certainly not essential, not in my family. Now, she’s a video artist in San Francisco—I deduce this from my sleuthing on social media. She’s adopted a name different from the one I knew her by when we were sixteen, when we would coax one another down the sidewalks of street players, guitarists, and saxophonists; of marijuana whiffs; of the baby-baby-baby of Saturday night crowds on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Let’s be honest, what I am desiring is my sixteen-year-old self.
I desire this for others as much as for myself. A just world. Just that: Justice.
I am not an essential worker—what writer is? I teach, so that helps someone, me, more than the students, on some days. I could be more essential. I could be a nurse like my youngest brother. He came to nursing late in life. One day, he announced he was going to nursing school. I asked, Why? He replied, ’Cause I’m tired of corporate. I thought for a moment he said ‘corporeal,’ implying, in some leap of poetics, he was tired of being who he was. At his core, he’s a sensitive, motherless boy who was shuttled between relatives for years. He should have been given a lot more love growing up, but then, maybe that could be said of most of us. As a nurse, he got what he wanted—to be needed, to have purpose, to be essential, which sometimes is as good as love.
Gravid clouds crowd the night sky. It’s a cold night in March. I desire spring, but it is long in coming this year. I’m still on the phone with my youngest brother. I tell him: I’m staying here with you.
Oxygen. Sex. Music. Books. Justice. Work. Family. I desire nothing else.
Caroline Bock is the author of CARRY HER HOME, winner of the 2018 Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and the young adult novels: LIE and BEFORE MY EYES from St. Martin’s Press. In 2021, she co-edited THIS IS WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE: Poetry and Fiction from DC, Maryland, and Virginia She earned an MFA in fiction from the City College of New York. Find her often on Twitter @cabockwrites.
Delmarva Review publishes evocative new prose and poetry selected from thousands of submissions annually. Designed to encourage outstanding writing, the literary journal is nonprofit and independent. It welcomes submissions in English from all writers.