As my family and I enter our 4th month of quarantine, I have to say we’re doing well. When I say well, I mean that we’re all relatively healthy and we have not murdered each other in our sleep. It’s a small house, but each person has their office/hangout/project space clearly demarcated. We check in with one another briefly throughout the day and then we go back to talking to our friends, work, teachers. The last few weeks have been the longest period of stability our family has had in a great while. No medical emergencies, no dying pets, no late nights dealing with chemo drug side effects, no urgency whatsoever.
I’ve been letting myself unravel. The house is messier and I’ve don’t flip out when two minutes after doing all the dishes, dirty dishes mysteriously appear on the counter tops. Projects lay undisturbed for days. I’ve built myself a fortress of books, all carefully piled off-screen. I’ve spent hours in the yard taking 4,523 pictures of plants and birds and bugs. I’ve taken to manically humming King George’s “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton when I work. Da da da dat daaaaa dat da da da da ya da.
Writing is a desert. Tumbleweeds blow through where my creative urges used to roam. A swarm of anxieties have stripped the bones clean.
Oddities spring up. I gave myself a buzz cut for the hell of it. I’ve always wanted to try it. I look like a lumpy, silver cantaloupe. It’s unflattering, but feels wonderful.
I’ve gotten back to working out regularly. I have a lot of workout equipment from my taekwondo days. Last week, I dragged out the heavy bag and hung it in the garage. I wrapped my hands, put on gloves, and went to town on the bag. My anxiety levels are much lower this week.
In the middle of all this, unexpected joys lighten the day. My local library finally opened for curbside pickup of requested books. I always have long list of hold requests and due to the pandemic, many of the books requested were from the early part of the year.
I was notified that my first hold had come in: Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney. Argh. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read one more damned thing about pandemics. The book has been oddly reassuring. All this nuttiness, with the politicization of even the most basic public health measures has happened before.
In 1918, there was a revolt about vaccines, people ignored social distancing, refused to wear masks. It didn’t turn out particularly well for many of them. I feel like somewhere down the line, in the history books that follow, the present day yahoos will be immortalized as idiots and gaslighters. And that is my bittersweet pill to anticipate.
A sense of time has been lost. Days and weeks go by, barely acknowledged. I am reminded of a TV sci-fi episode where the crew is stuck in a time dilation field in space or Groundhog Day with Bill Murray – every day is the same, with only slight variations as we gradually learn to expand our world in this bubble.
One of my anxieties was that my daughter would be going back to school in the fall. While she is not immunocompromised, she is definitely immuno-curious. With a chemo drug used for rare tumors, there are a lot of unknown factors and she’s picked up two viruses in the last six months. She attends a public high school with 1600 students. Fortunately, she was accepted into a state university program for her junior year and all of the fall courses will be online. I can breathe a little easier.
It is this kind of thing that alternately makes me feel happy and guilty. I know that this pandemic is having an unequal effect on people. I know that the choices we’ve been able to make for our family are not choices that everyone is able to make. I also know that risk assessment is different for everyone. This is, of course, the problem. This pandemic will last longer, the economic impact will be greater, and the enmity we have towards each other will be exacerbated, because it seems like we’re working towards diametrically opposed ends.
I’ve taken to napping in the early afternoon. I lower the shades in the study, put on an audiobook or podcast, lean back in my chair, prop up my feet, and snort myself awake 20 minutes later. It’s lovely. I always said I wasn’t a napper. Now I’m a fully committed one. On my way to these siestas, I listen to David Sedaris read Calypso or the podcast The Stacks (if you’re a book lover, this podcast is fantastic). It amazes me how little it takes to feel those moments of joy. It’s as if you’ve told the world, have yourself a seat, I’ll get back to you in 20. It seems to make life just a little more manageable.