Isolation Song

Joss Barton's poetic mural. Photo courtesy of

My quarantine began on the afternoon of January 4, 2020, when my boyfriend told me we needed to separate, that things weren’t working, and that his feelings for me, for us, weren’t what they were when his eyes used to soak into mine and the world became something bright and blue and beautiful. 

My isolation began soon after. My body rotating solo between couch or bedroom or work or in cars crying, screaming at the sky, or at his feet begging him not to leave me. Sobbing into pillows or melting into puddles of anger and grief in the arms of friends or numbing myself with white lines and bitter bottles. 

I drop acid and write a poem. I tell him how I cheated, and he tells me how his chronic sadness wasn’t getting better.

Two months later, a plague begins and the world around us freezes like a rusted clock. The streets are hollow and the fascists tell us they will kill us to make us stronger. 

I snort pills until the sun rises and tell a friend that there are days I want to kill myself. 

I move into a new apartment and listen to the birds birthing outside my windows as sirens trumpet an ominous chorus line of ambulances down Kingshighway from sunup to sundown and the news tickers count the rising dead and the rising rents don’t stop and I keep rising out of bed, walking from room to room, staring at bare walls and posing naked and reflected in silver smudged mirrors.

No one gets off this planet without hurting someone they love even when we’re doing the best we can with the information and resources we’re given.

A Facebook post asking for therapy referrals yields eleven months of exploring somatic and talk tele-therapy for the first time in my life. My therapist and I log on to our computers each week, and I begin to talk about my life. I recount to them stories of my ex, stories of my family, stories of my transition and stories of my drug use. We explore how pain is settled in our bodies and how we develop coping mechanisms to survive trauma. I begin to understand that no one gets off this planet without hurting someone they love even when we’re doing the best we can with the information and the resources we’re given. I begin to learn that I don’t need to numb and dissociate from my pain in order to understand it. 

And I begin to sort through the tough and uncomfortable inventory of how I’ve learned to survive this journey of life in the face of oppression and silence and self-erasure.  

Summer begins and I begin to create again. My acid breakup poem becomes a zine. My journey of self-reflection and reconciliation becomes a public art text mural on the south side of St. Louis. My soul soundtrack of healing becomes a playlist of dancing and restoration and a short film praising the name of disco glory revival. I begin to reconnect to my work as a writer and poet through Zoom readings and livestream performances. 

I witness communities come together to provide mutual aid to Black and brown trans women, to feed each other and offer tips and support for applying for food stamps and unemployment benefits, to demand an end to racist policing and institutions of white supremacy, and to vote a fascist out of office. 

And whatever happens next, I know she’ll be here, holding my hand.

I also witness the same pain and despair inside my own heart reflected in the lives of so many people struggling to survive the horrors of America. The systems of the world are not built to hold our expansive and kaleidoscopic souls. These systems of racism and poverty and misogyny and trauma and capitalism and homophobia and transphobia and ableism and cruelty and profit—they all work together to ensure we never have all the tools in front of us to heal the millions of tiny cuts life inflicts on us. 

I don’t know if I truly have any deep reflections or insights to offer on our pandemic reality because the pandemics of pain and injustice and oppression have been here all along.

I do know that going forward I will hold my chosen family closer, I won’t shy away from my pains no matter how ugly or honest they may be, and I won’t pretend as if the world has yet to replace the ultimate vaccine of human empathy and connection and resilience in the face of fear and loathing.

But the most important moment the past year has given me came from reconnecting with the little trans girl inside me locked away and protected from the world by my web of emotional scar tissue. She finally heard me say the words “I’m so so sorry” to her and she wept and she forgave me. 

And whatever happens next, I know she’ll be here, holding my hand.  


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