Quarantine Diary Day 2

The first weekend of quarantine went better than expected. After our initial panic in the wake of school shutting down and the run on the grocery stores, our first Sunday at home was surprisingly peaceful, even beautiful. We slept in, ate a late, leisurely breakfast, read the paper, streamed church services, played board games, baked challah, walked around the neighborhood, spent some quiet time reading and napping, straightened up, and shared a family dinner. We were just finishing dessert and about to head upstairs for an early bedtime, when my daughter reached around and rubbed her neck, and pulled her hand back, puzzled. “Hey mama,” she said quizzically. “I found a bug on my head.”

I jumped out of my chair, ran around to my daughter’s side of the table, and started picking through her long, curly hair. Sure enough, there they were: dozens, maybe more, of little white nits. 

LICE.

FUCK. 

After all our hard work to get our house in order so we could stay there, I found myself driving back to the same downtown Target where I’d had a panic attack a few days earlier with no mask, no gloves, and no practical experience or understanding of how to practice social distancing. This was still early on. We were still reluctant to purchase PPE that was in short supply. The idea of homemade masks had not occurred to us. We’d only heard of social distancing a few days ago, and had yet to see it implemented in essential businesses. I had no idea where the lice medicine would be. I lingered at the top of relevant-seeming aisles until they emptied out. I studied the shelves. Eventually I gave up and asked an employee for help. She looked it up on her handheld computer while I hung back, hoping I looked more apologetic than guilty and desperate. When she found thrust her computer toward me so I could verify that she had found the right product, I recoiled. This was when I was still more worried about getting the disease than spreading it.  

Back at home, we stayed up late into the night, treating my daughter’s hair, combing out nits, and washing laundry.

The next day, I was scheduled to do a bunch of back-to-back witness interviews for a case that was still in the investigation stage. We were supposed to meet on-site at the client’s office in the Chicago suburbs, but decided to do video interviews at the last minute. Before we started, I mentioned to my boss how relieved I was not to have had to wake up early to drive out to Schaumburg after my stressful night. The interviews went all day, and it was fascinating to see everybody working from home, in their whatever clothes. I felt grateful that I’d been working remotely for over a year, that I still had an office I could go into, that I was wearing a suit. It was only after the day was done, when my boss called and asked, with sympathy in her voice, “How’s the lice situation?” that I realized I’d been picking at my hair on camera the entire day. 

I ran into the bathroom, got close to the mirror, and started frantically examining my hair at the roots. Sure enough, there they were: nits. 

I HAD LICE.

FUCKING FUCK. 

Back at home, we had another late night, re-combing my daughter’s hair, treating my own, finishing the laundry.

The rest of that week passed in a blur. Every night stretched on for hours with no promise of rest, a whole day’s worth of responsibilities tacked onto the end of the regular day. More lice treatments, hours of combing, hours of blow drying and flat ironing, hours of laundry, hours of research. I made my scalp bleed, my daughter’s hair sizzle. We washed and re-washed every sheet and stuffed animal and towel in the house. 

I hit up every mom I know for advice. At some point, somebody suggested that the lice might be helping us cope with the pandemic by allowing us to focus on something within our control.

FUCKING FALSE. 

The lice were uncontrollable. Every night I found crawling bugs and fresh eggs. And still, every night I found crawling lice and fresh nits. The treatments didn’t work. The worst part was that with lice inside the house and coronavirus outside, nowhere was safe, not my home, not even my own body. I was already neurotic, a picker, and now I spent hours leaning over the sink pulling at my hair and obsessively eyed my daughter’s hair. Hugs became fraught. My daughter needed me to comfort probably more than any time since infancy but I was afraid of passing bugs back and forth and had to fight the urge to socially distance myself from my family. 

I looked forward to the day that the the only thing we had to worry about was COVID-19.  This was before I knew that a mild case could still mean serious illness. This was before I knew that not everybody I loved would take the threat seriously. This was before I knew about the economic impact. I was myopic in my misery.

On my phone, I toggled between reading the news and personal experiences with lice. In each case I was looking for good news but kept getting hit over the head with worst case scenarios. One night, I was sitting on my bed reading about a family who dealt with lice for months on end–every time they thought they had it beat the bugs came back stronger–when my husband came into our room with the latest coronavirus projection: up to 2.2 million Americans, dead. I clawed my head, fell into the fetal position, and sobbed. 

By the end of the week, we were ready to try anything, even the insecticide solution available by prescription only that Google told us was for gardens and animals. Given the public health crisis, it took days to get the doctor to call in the right prescription and even longer to track it down at a pharmacy. I was careful not to use too much on my daughter, but I soaked my hair and left it on for twice the recommended time. The next day my brain hurt. It worked, though. It would take me several more days and increasingly acute outburst from my daughter for me to stop picking at her hair, and a few more weeks to stop checking mine, but the lice are gone.  

A mom I know said, if it comes back, I should talk to her. Her kids had it a lot. You get used to it, she said. I shuddered, refusing to even wrap my mind around that. 

More recently, my boss, the one who watched me pick lice out of my hair for six hours of video calls, called to check in. “How’s the lice?” “Oh that! It feels like a million years ago.” My daughter and I laugh about it now, too. “Remember how freaked out we were? Remember how we cried? Remember I couldn’t stop combing your hair? Remember how all we needed was the right medicine and it went away? Remember how we thought you’d be going back to school in three weeks? Remember how we thought we were going on a spring break trip? Remember how we thought you would still get to have a birthday party? Remember when we could still go to playgrounds? Remember when we didn’t have to wear masks? Remember how we thought the doctors would find a vaccine within the year? Those were the good old days.”

Quarantine Diary Day 47

Earlier this year, I had a dream that my wedding band partially fused into my finger. When I looked down, I could see half the band glinting silver and the other half embedded under the skin. My engagement ring is unconventionally flashy, a large emerald solitaire, but the wedding ring is simple, just a thin platinum loop. In the dream, I fingered the silver ring with my other hand, twisting it round on round, watching with fascination and fear as it slid into and out of my body.

When I told my husband about the dream the next morning, I tried to spin it as a compliment instead of a horror show. “It means that our marriage is so fundamentally important and unshakable that it’s part of me.” He looked skeptical. “It sounds more like you feel trapped.”

We’re coming up on seven weeks of sheltering in place together with our school-aged daughter in a modestly-sized townhouse. I feel trapped at home, because I am a person who likes to be out, but I don’t feel trapped with him. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s homeschooling our daughter. He buys all of our food and essential supplies. He found toilet paper when there was none to be found and sanitizing wipes. He had reusable masks delivered before the Evanston’s face covering order went into effect. He makes lunch and dinner five nights per week. He wakes up and makes breakfast early on Sunday mornings so I can attend virtual church. He bakes sourdough. He washes the dishes cleans the bathrooms. He planned our daughter’s birthday top to bottom. He remembers to make things fun, with board games and video games and snacks and toys. He packs our go bags. He listens to play-by-play reports of my weekly therapy sessions, which has to be deeply boring, and he listen when I recount my dreams, which is even worse. He tells jokes, some bad and some good. He always has music playing. He is always a solid partner, but in a crisis he’s the best.

About a week into quarantine I woke up in the middle of the night, rubbing the fourth finger on my left hand. My wedding band felt itchy and tight. This happens with most jewelry I wear–I’m allergic to heavy metals and have sensitive skin–but rarely with my wedding band, which never leaves my hand. It was uncomfortable enough that I worked the tiny ring off over my knuckle. I slipped it into a jewelry box and went back to sleep.

When I woke up, I forgot all about it. In fact, I forgot about it for weeks, only noticing the other day that my finger was still bare. “Huh, that’s weird.” I’m still not wearing the ring. When I’m not seeing anybody but my family, there just doesn’t seem to be much point. Will wedding rings, I wonder, go the way of makeup and bras and pants and shoes in this new world where we know no one but the ones who already know everything about us?

Quarantine Diary Day 46

I commuted over an hour a day for the first nine years of my career. For the last half of that, I was in transit over two hours a day. For many years, my route to work included a long walk, a train, and a water taxi. When I changed jobs a few years ago and moved into an office a few miles north of downtown and closer to my home in the suburbs, I thought the trip would get better. Instead, I had to take two trains each away, and almost every day included multiple 20+ minute waits on the platform. I defended my commute to people balked at how much time I spent getting to and from work. Sitting on the train with a book, walking on the riverwalk with a podcast, cruising down the Chicago river with music in my ears, that was my me time, the only time in my long days that I wasn’t busy with work, or childcare, or chores. Still, more often than not I arrived at work already exhausted, and by the time I made it home for the night, I was done. It’s no wonder that I spent so many of those train rides home, especially after I got sober, thirsty and resentful, envious of the men in suits drinking Daisy Cutter from a can with another in a paper bag. I wondered if it was the beer or the suits or the fact that they weren’t going home to a second shift that made them able to cope with a life that was grinding me into the ground. 

Last summer, my employer allowed me to rent an office in my town. After that, I walked to work, about twenty minutes each way. It was still a commute, but it didn’t feel that way, except on the coldest days, and the rainy ones. I marveled at the pleasure of watching the seasons unfold in my own community, up close. More than the walking, I embraced the gift of time. Moving my office gave me 1.5 hours back on my clock every day. Before I got that time, I assumed I would use it to work. I’m an attorney; there are always more hours to bill. I thought I might spend the rest of it with my daughter. I’m a working mom; there is always more to do at home. So for the first few weeks, I rushed off to work early on days that I had client calls and walked my daughter to school on days that I didn’t. I raced home for family dinners. As the weeks wore on, and I adjusted to not having a train to catch, I started to wonder why I was rushing. I also started to wonder if I wasn’t still entitled to a little me time that didn’t consist solely of listening to podcasts while hauling my ass to and from my job. I decided to reclaim the time that I’d been so eager to return to my family and my job. I let my morning runs go longer, up to seven, eight, and nine miles from five or six. I let my husband get our daughter ready for school while I played the guitar before work. I did daily tarot pulls.   

When I realized that I’d be working from home last month, I knew it would be a challenge. Our home is small, with no dedicated home office, and I’d be sharing the space with my husband and newly homeschooled daughter. But I was excited about the prospect of another gift of time. My forty-minute walk commute was going down to zero! Imagine all the quality family time, all the productive work hours! Imagine all the writing! I could barely contain myself.

Of course, you know what happened next. The first few weeks of self-isolation were more about surviving than thriving. I stopped waking up at 5:00 a.m. to work out because what was the point. I stopped making my kid get dressed for the same reason. I woke up late, walked downstairs, and arrived at the futon that is now my office already exhausted. I spent the day trying to maintain a veneer of business as usual with my coworkers and clients and by the time I made it upstairs for the night, I was done. I powered through dinner and bedtime and then collapsed on the couch to eat ice cream and watch comfort TV.   

It was my therapist who suggested that I bring back the commute, on the theory that our pre-pandemic routines can offer much-needed stability in a time of crisis. So I started walking, first around the park, and then around the block, and then around the neighborhood. Sometimes I call a family member on the phone. Sometimes I listen to a podcast. Sometimes I do nothing but walk. After years of wishing my commute away, I’m finding that most days I cannot walk enough. Walking outside, when I can’t go anywhere else, is a pleasure. I like watching the trees bud and the flowers bloom. I like peering into my neighbors’ yards and waving at people walking their dogs. The thing that drained me is now giving me life.    

At the beginning, I invited my daughter with me every time I left the house. She needs to get outside as much as I do, and I like her company. In fact, our walks our glorious. We collect sticks and rocks. We photograph flowers. We race as fast as we can. At least once every walk, my daughter peels ahead of me or drops back, lost in thought or in the wonder of it all. When she remembers I exist, she sprints back to me shouting, “I love you mama!” 

Lately, though, it’s getting harder to get my daughter to leave the house. As much fun as she has when she’s out there, she is getting tired of walking. She is tired of our neighborhood, tired of me. She misses other kids, and playing on the playground. Feeling obligated to make the most of this time, I keep pushing her to join me, and the walks are turning into a battleground. I think, if it were up to me, I would be walking four or five times a day, but I can’t, because I am a working parent and my time belongs to my family and my job. I start to get bitter. 

Just in time, I remember that the gift of this season is the gift of time. This weekend, we finished dinner, and I asked my daughter to pick up her toys. The family room was a disaster and she was starting to fuss. Outside, it was a gorgeous spring evening. The sun was setting, and the neighborhood was all gold. I thought about how much I’d rather be out there than in here. I thought about how there was no reason to rush through the evening, from dinner to chores to bathtime to bed. I walked upstairs, told my husband I was going for a walk. “Supervise the clean-up,” I said. “I’ll be back in fifteen for dessert.” I came back in twenty minutes to a clean house and ice cream sundae ingredients lined up on the counter. 

I am entitled to time to myself. I am entitled to do something enjoyable without turning it into an opportunity for my child. I am entitled to a life that doesn’t feel like a grind, that doesn’t turn me into dust. If I want to go for a walk, I can go for a walk. I don’t have to have a reason. It doesn’t have to be a commute. 

Quarantine Diary Day 45

My daughter has always been a kid that preferred the company of adults, or at least the company of me, to that of other kids. Typical oldest daughter, maybe. Maybe a typical only child. Of course, nothing about our own children ever feels typical. Most days, our bond feels special. I love how clearly she prefers me when it looks the way I want love to feel: sweet and easy. I’m talking mama-daughter dates at the museum, sushi dinners, and endless walks around the neighborhood. I worry and chafe when her attachment demands what love actually requires, which is to say, patience and sacrifice. When the neighborhood kids graduated from their parents’ arms to side-by-side play to careening around outside in a big, bonded pack, I longed to send her off with them so I could talk freely with the other moms. All through preschool, my girl stayed glued to my side, whined when I paid more attention to other adults than her, and cried when other kids came too close, touched her toys, or asked me a question.

When she started kindergarten, her world exploded. I was still her sun, but now she was crossing paths with dozens of other little planets. The planets were other kids, and she resisted their pull. She puzzled over their varied atmospheres, their rings, their moons, always too many or too few, their very existence. By the time she realized she might actually like the other planets, they were all spinning in time and she didn’t know how to sync up. We spent a lot of time at parks, her surreptitiously watching other kids play, me gently encouraging her to join, and both of us pretending we didn’t care when it didn’t happen.

Last summer, in the grassy common area between our houses, one of my more brutally honest friends put me on the spot: “Why doesn’t D play with the other kids?” Inside, I jerked at the pain of being found out. Outside, I answered honestly, nonchalantly: “She has a hard time working up the courage to join them. She is waiting for them to invite her in.” My friend dropped her chin and looked at me in disbelief, like I was asking for the moon. “But…kids don’t do that. They just…play.” “I know,” I shrugged. “She’ll figure it out.”

In the fall, my daughter started first grade in a new classroom, at a new school, and her world blew open again, and this time the pieces landed just right. After just a few weeks of trepidation about being the new kid, she settled into her new orbit, and she thrived. She ran around with a pack of kids on the playground, led a friendly war against the boys in her classroom, and came home everyday bubbling over with stories about her day. When she told me her favorite subject at school was recess I about died with pride and relief at the normalcy of it all. Kids without friends never like recess.

By the time winter rolled around, she was planning her own playdates and I breathed another sigh of relief. My only child would not be lonely. The playdates did not go perfectly smoothly. She would have a terrific time for two, three, even four hour stretches, but when it was time to go home, she would break down, devastated that the fun had to end. It was like preschool social interactions in reverse: she cried when I came too close, touched her arm, or asked a question. If I tried to grab her hand, or nudge her toward the door, she’d go alternately boneless or stiff as a board. Eventually we’d make it out the front door, but she’d be inconsolable the whole way home.

After a few of these scenes, I figured out what was going on. Having friends was still so new to her, she didn’t know if she could count on it to last. On our way home from a classmates’ house one evening, I tried to reassure her: “Honey, this is just the beginning. You’re going to get to play with M again.” She wasn’t so sure. She sniffed and tearfully asked, “Do you promise?” I take promises seriously, so I took my time before responding. When I felt sure, I said, “Of course. You’re going to have lots of playdates with lots of friends. I cannot think of any reason in the world you wouldn’t play with M again. We’ll invite her over next week. I promise.”

That was Monday, March 9. By Thursday, school was cancelled through April 12. On March 31, the district announced that schools were closed through April 30. On April 17, we got notice that schools are closed through the end of the year.

We hung D’s class picture on the wall next to the kitchen table where she does her schoolwork now. The first week of quarantine, I’d catch her staring at it throughout the day. Sometimes she’d climb up on her knees in the middle of a meal and start reading her classmates names out loud. Sometimes she’d touch their faces. Six weeks in, she’s hardened. She’s still willing to admit that she misses school and church and choir and swim, but when I ask her who she misses, she says “No one.”

Quarantine Diary Day 41

Pre-pre-pre-quarantine, I lived in a prison of my own making. As is always the case with prisons of our own making, I had the keys, two sets in fact, to two different doors. One door had a sign on it that said “Keep drinking.” I really wanted to open that door. It was sleek and shiny and papered in notes that said, “Get it, girl!” and “You’ve got this!” and “Everybody else is doing it!” I knew exactly what was on the other side of that door. First a warm and fuzzy welcome home party, then a black tunnel, then death (“then prison/then the madhouse/then the grave“). The other door said “Stop now,” and looked like it would open into a house in the suburbs in the desert of my youth. It looked like my parents’ front door. In other words, worse than death. I wanted nothing to do with it. I had no idea what was on the other side.
Some four and a quarter years ago, I opened the boring door. Counterintuitively, I started counting days when I left the prison. I guess it took me a long time to realize I was free.
There are a lot of people to worry about right now: the dying, the grieving, the at-risk, the sick, the starving, the stretched, and the scared. Right up at the very top of my list are the people who are counting days. The people who were trying like hell to get sober when the rug of their lives was ripped out from under them. The people who are trying like hell to stay sober without support. The people who are bottoming out right now or who will in the coming months. The people for whom sobriety still looks like a black cloud on the horizon, a fate worse than death. These are my people–the ones who are now living in prisons inside of of prisons, who are isolated in isolation, who are trying to shelter inside the storm.
The good news: I’m pretty sure we still have all the keys. We just need some help finding them, and each other. You don’t have to leave your house or your prison to find a sober alcoholic who will help you. We’re everywhere.

Quarantine Diary: Day 40

Pastor Grace says 40 is no ordinary number. In the Bible, 40 is less a measure of time than it is a clue that God is up to something. 40 years in the wilderness before the Jews reached the promised land. Nothing but manna to eat. 40 days on Mount Sinai for Moses to come down with the Law. 40 days and 40 nights in the Judean desert before Jesus began his public ministry. Temptation under every rock. No food at all. 40 days with his disciples after throwing open the doors of death. 40 days before being restored to God.

40 days is a really long time. It is time enough to be lost and found, time enough to be tested and tried, time enough to come to an understanding, time enough to prepare and come out the other side.

When the men who wrote the Bible tell us something lasted 40 minutes, days, or years, they are telling us that God is behind whatever happened next.

And so it is that 40 days into quarantine, we are celebrating a birth. Seven years ago, I pulled my daughter into the world. Seven is a God number, too, it turns out. I didn’t learn that from Pastor Grace, or the Bible, but from Frank Black singing This monkey’s gone to heaven.

My daughter is my promised land but my waiting was not 40 years of wilderness. In the most literal of ways, I didn’t have to wait at all. I had her at 27. She was conceived the first month we tried. Still, her coming to us was not as easy as all that. The idea of a daughter was seven years in the making, conceived in New Orleans as her dad and I sheltered-in-place during a hurricane. “What if I get pregnant?” I whispered. We were children ourselves, only 20 years old. “We’ll have a baby and we’ll name her Dylan.” We did wander after that. We had to. We crossed religious differences that spread like a chasm to find a land hospitable to us both, to the believer and the skeptic alike, a place that would be safe for our interfaith family. Eventually, we found a way.
Dylan turns seven today.

The second wandering came after Dylan was born. We waited two years after she was born and then tried for four more to have another that never came. This makes people sad. “I’m so sorry,” they say. “I know you wanted another baby. At one point that might have been the case, but I am so far removed from that wanting it’s hard to know if it was really mine. What I know now: every passing month and year shined a light on the gold I already had. Dylan is everything I could ever want in a kid. Any heartbreak I have is for not being able to give her a sibling. Luckily for all of us, she never wanted one, and still doesn’t, even after a 40 days of being the only kid in quarantine.

Every year, but especially this year, I’ve been anticipating Dylan’s birthday like it was my own. The anticipation is ingrained. I didn’t wait to have Dylan but she made me wait to have her, through 30 hours of labor, eight days after she was due. That long week before she decided to join us on this plane of existence was its own kind of probationary period. We were prepared for an April 15 delivery. I’d had my hospital bag packed since Braxton Hicks kicked in around week 35. I’d taken the week off of work. My husband had checked our little dog into a very fancy overnight kennel. There was nothing left to do except wait and walk and wonder what life would be like on the other side.

I’m not waiting anymore, not for a miracle, not for a sign. For me, the miracle happened seven years ago, after 30 hours of labor, eight days after she was due. The miracle is every day I’ve spent with her since.

Quarantine Diary: Day 39

Like pretty much anybody lucky enough to still have a living grandparent, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandma lately. She’s 86. I keep deleting that, and writing instead that she will turn 87 next month, and then deleting that too because, well, I don’t know if she will. I want to add another year to her age, to reach for the quadruple rings of 88, for the power of infinity times two. I want the balance of eight, amplified into an angel number. I want more time.

I would be embarrassed to talk about numerology with my grandma. She is a practical person. She is also a staunch atheist. When I was a kid, I was certain my grandma was the smartest person in the world on account of the fact that she could finish a crossword puzzle, spot eight letter words in Boggle, and was never without a book. As my grandma told it, she didn’t get a date all through high school because she was too tall for all the boys and, in her opinion, too smart. At her first office job, she got in trouble for correcting the boss’s grammar. She graduated from Penn State in the fifties She worked as an English teacher before she had my uncle and my dad.

If my grandma turns 88–wait, no, 87–it will be the day before I turn 35, and we will talk on the phone, about the family, the books we are reading, and the news. We will almost certainly talk about Trump. Grandma is the only other reliable Democrat in my family, and I am the only other reliable Democrat in her life, a bond forged circa 2003 over a mutual delight in collecting and mocking Bushisms. Back then, Grandma used to get in arguments with my mom–her daughter-in-law, also a mother of sons–about the draft. The problem with America, my grandma said, was that we had lost all sense of duty and sacrifice. She was no flag-brandishing war hawk, though, and I never heard her peddle the myth of the good war. She just knew that the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq would not end unless we all had something to lose.

I don’t have much patience for the way things were, but this view of my grandma’s has weighed on me my entire adult life. I opposed those wars from the outset, too, but never did anything more than march. Nobody ever asked me to.

This new war is different. These last few weeks, each of my four siblings and I have retreated into our homes, along with virtually everyone we know. We’ve pulled ourselves and our kids out of every activity. We’re homeschooling on the fly. We’re not seeing our parents or neighbors or friends. We are standing in long lines for food and medicine. We are wearing masks. We aren’t doing this for ourselves. We are healthy. We are doing this for our country. We’re doing it because America asked us to.

My grandma is healthy, too, but she’s lived a long life and says she doesn’t care if COVID-19 takes her out. I care. I want to see her again. I want my daughter to see her again, to know her long enough to remember her. If we don’t see her again, I want my grandma to see us, to see my generation showing up and sitting down for this lesson in sacrifice. I want her to be proud of us.

Quarantine Diary: Day -1

I’m not the grocery shopper in my family, or the meal planner, or the cook, or a person who really cares to come down from the high drama in my head to pay much attention to what’s going on in such material realms as the kitchen cabinet or the produce drawer. So, when my husband dares to disrupt my reverie with impossible questions like “What we need?” and “What do you want?” because he’s “going to the store,” it is a Herculean task for me to rack my brain and come up with a list things people eat, much less things my particular people like to eat. Full minutes pass and when I offer up the fruits of my effort–bananas, baby carrots, cereal, oat milk, tea–my husband is, in a word, unimpressed. He tosses my contribution aside with a huffy, eye-rolling, “Nevermind.” He already has the basics covered, a skill I am still not even trying to learn.

On March 12, 2020, chatter about the supply chain and an impending shelter-in-place order and word from my husband that our fridge was empty, yanked me down to earth. Realizing I had to change my ways and take responsibility for feeding my family, I took an hour out of my work day to read up on how to shop for more than four meals at a time, and put together the best damn grocery list I’ve ever seen, just row after row of healthful, efficient, easy meals that we could take turns whipping up for the next few weeks, until this whole thing blew over. I sent the list off to my husband and went back to mainlining coronavirus updates work. A few hours later, I got a text back: “Sooo…grocery shopping not going so great.” My conversion to helpful homemaker was too little, too late.

shelves-1

I knew I wouldn’t be able to work until we had food, so I offered to check the stores near my office. “Should I see what I can find around here?” “Don’t worry about it. I’ll order groceries online.” Obviously, I ignored him. I work within walking distance of a Whole Foods, a downtown Target, and a CVS. I decided to hit them all.

And so it came to pass that I found myself wandering the aisles of a Target in miniature in the middle of the work day, marveling at how quickly the world had gone bleak. The rumors, it turned out, were true: no toilet paper, no sanitizer, no bleach. Also, the men and women to whom preparedness come naturally had already cleared the shelves of all the pantry staples on my beautiful shopping list. No pasta, no rice, no beans, no canned goods, no frozen meals, no flour, no yeast. I grabbed a jar of peanut butter and two bottles of Drano, because it seemed bleach-adjacent. I watched young couples move slowly through the aisles, huddled together, looking for food. I watched people shy away from each other. Everybody seemed lost.

With each empty aisle and averted gaze, I grew increasingly panicky and despondent. This is not a new sensation. I am a highly emotional person, prone to bouts of anxiety, depression, and drama. I have fallen apart in public more times than I can count. Usually, the collapse is internal, a crushing of the soul while my body goes through the motions of putting shampoo in the cart, holding onto my purse, running my card. Nobody knows I am barely keeping it together; I am just some lady shopping. Sometimes the system breaks down, the insides come spilling out, teary, bloody, scary, wet. I scream at the bank teller, tell off the cashier. I make demands. I cry and cry and cry. People see me for who I am.

So, no, there is nothing new about coming unglued in Target. What’s novel is this: this time, I know I am not alone. Every single person I see–stalled out staring at cleaning supplies, puzzling over dwindling options in the pantry, grasping their partner’s hand, frantically texting, all in the middle of a goddamn weekday–they’re all right there with me. We are all anxious and afraid of the exact same thing.

This is the most connected I have ever felt.

I still have no idea that in two days we will be cut off.

Quarantine Diary: Day 38


For over a month I’ve been planning to tackle my closets and drawers which are four years overdue for a spring cleaning but this weekend was the first of the pandemic that I hit upon the right combination of bored and not wholly drained and and not neck deep in imagination play with my six-year-old that is necessary for a home project. Last night I cleared out a deep drawer in my nightstand. I packed away for storage a fat binder jammed with sheets and sheets of hand-written twelve-step work and and my hefty, marked-up quadruple combination (Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith translation of the Bible). I tossed another thick volume–Taking Charge of Your Fertility–and a slim Narcotics Anonymous workbook into the giveaway box. I tossed a few printed PDFs on ritual and spellcraft in the trash. As I surveyed the space they left behind and the stack of books I chose to keep (on tarot, law, running, religion, myth) I wondered how many more identities I will take on and shed before this thing is over. How much of what I claim to be today will fall by the wayside as my life is stripped to the bare essentials? Writer? Runner? Lawyer? Christian? Mystic? Addict? Artist? Geek? Witch?

My nightstand still isn’t clean, by the way. It’s buried in a mountain of drawings and cards and gifts from my not-so-baby girl. Those aren’t going anywhere.