Meredith C. Carroll: The day(s) the music died

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off
Meredith Carroll
Courtesy photo

My dad revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis to my sister and me when he drove in from the suburbs to fetch us at our New York City apartments on Mother’s Day 1999. Cancer was something that only ever happened to other people, and just like that — poof! — we were other people. Sitting in the backseat looking out the window, I watched as the sky changed color.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I went running in Central Park and then to vote before work when I heard a few whispers that a plane had just flown into the Twin Towers. As I crossed the street to the polling center, I looked up and imagined a single-engine Cessna clipping a rooftop antenna. By the time I emerged again a few minutes later and started walking crosstown to the subway, an entirely novel stain blanketed the sky.

I woke up in a pitch-dark Las Vegas hotel room on Jan. 18, 2013, to a phone call that the 17-month-old son of one of my best friends had been found dead in his crib. Three-hundred and fifty-four days later, I fumbled with the straps on my 2-year-old’s car seat when a radiology nurse from Denver called my cellphone to confirm the biopsied cells from my right breast were, in fact, malignant. I don’t remember the sky on either of those days, although I suppose it was still up there anyway.

Each occasion shared a distinctive before and after: Before bearing the anguish of an actual nightmare coming to life, and then trying to move on after, even while knowing better, and bitterly, what is possible.

What may make the COVID-19 pandemic more sinister than alarming is how the before and after has been unraveling in slow-motion, and while we have control over ourselves, what we can’t control is one another. A clear path has been drawn that exactly illustrates best healthy practices. Unfortunately, though, it’s a narrow road with room for little else: If you choose to stay alive and also not infect others, your route may necessarily include going hungry, broke, bored, blue or bonkers (or all of the above).

Instead of the here and now being mercifully stolen from us without warning, we’re watching it disintegrate, even being forced to hand it off or flush it down ourselves. The hemorrhaging of happiness is palpable as the hours tick by and the cancellations keep pouring in. Paychecks, travel plans, ceremonies, reunions, appointments, errands, meetings, surgeries, milestones, celebrations, camps, school plays, dream vacations, memorials, gatherings, recitals, performances, graduations, conferences and life are all coming to a screeching halt in slow motion. And like staring at fresh, unopened food laying in a trash can, it all feels like a perfectly good waste.

It has become easy enough to feel hardened or involuntarily indifferent to the terror of drunk drivers, terminal illnesses, mass shootings, suicide bombers and even romaine lettuce poisonings. They’re so frequent, so far out of our control and often so random that when you’ve lived through enough of them, the news is less a surprise and more an inevitability.

This, on the other hand, feels like fighting against quicksand all while watching the surrounding solid ground get doused with poison. We are living and breathing the before as the after unfolds mysteriously and malevolently in front of our own eyes. Just like that — poof! — normal is gone, again.

We can spend sleepless nights sounding the alarms and shedding tears of worry about the falling skies. Or we can see that the sky is still intact; it just doesn’t look the same way as before. It never does.

More at and on Twitter @MCCarroll.