Steps by Diane Hicks

Diane Hicks lives and quarantines in Ashfield with her husband, two children and their mixed-up chihuahua. She has worked as a writer, teacher, activist and currently is a therapist. In lockdown she has felt the call of her pen and the stir of storytelling.



When my children were young, the idea of being “a step ahead” fueled many a sibling squabble. The saying likely trickled in from a preschool teacher’s acknowledgement, but it took root in our house. My children are two and a half years apart. The doctor performing the ultrasound for number two, my daughter, informed me that this was a terrible age difference and warned that these early years wouldn’t be easy. My daughter was a force, and like many younger siblings, was always trying to catch up to if not surpass her older brother, who was mostly kind and adjusting to his new role in the family as well as could be expected. One of his delights, however, was setting off a sense of panic or distress in his sister by playing on her fear of being left behind. Right around Kindergarten he latched onto the declaration, “I’m a step ahead,” which rang out like a gunshot at the starting line. My daughter was invariably caught off guard. Unfortunately, there is a lot of effort and elbowing that takes place when starting from a place of panic. There is a lack of trust in one’s own ability to traverse the course and come out ahead. 

As this pandemic hit, and folks scrambled to adjust, I found myself a step ahead. Married to a former raft guide who was accustomed to looking down river, and being myself good in a crisis, we beat the order to work from home. I found strange comfort in lockdown, even as an extrovert. What’s my superpower? My origin story begins ten years pre-pandemic. Exposed to toxic chemicals as my dilapidated classroom trailer broke down in the Texas heat, I suffered a slew of symptoms. In recent years, intensifying reactions have cut me off from friends, concerts, indoor gatherings, theatres, travel, and many other beloved activities. 

So, as lockdown began, I experienced the soft cocoon of it.  I felt into the familiarity. A step ahead in keeping my distance, especially indoors. A step ahead at fearing others, strangers and friends alike. I was ahead in watching for symptoms, evaluating my environment, considering precautions and a self-extraction plan, vetting those I have contact with and asking for accommodations. These have been steep challenges for the go-with-the flow, don’t-make-waves person I used to be. 

As calamity ensued in the outside world, I nestled into the coziness of waiting, dipping my toes into cold currents of uncertainty, and allowing myself to imagine a metamorphosis. A recent trip to the grocery store—my first since mid-March–revealed a frightening reality, the infiltration of an invisible enemy, not COVID-19, but Lysol—my kryptonite. One step forward, two steps back. This cocoon may be home for a good long time as the world transforms beyond its edges. I hear the starter gun again and ensuing scurry. How many steps till the end?