I stepped outside two nights ago to take out the recycling. At forty-some degrees, it was still as brisk as many of the mild winter days we had back in February. It caused something in me to unravel, I think. Just a little.
It was the 23rd consecutive day that I had been staying home due to COVID-19. Today is the 25th, which feels paradoxically like both a long and short time. Since I don’t have plans to go to the office or visit friends any time soon, that number will hit 36 on Easter Sunday. Honestly, it hasn’t been too bad for me. I am fortunate and grateful to have a happy family, a comfortable home, and job security. I also have the latest Animal Crossing game! However, this is the first pandemic for many of us in this part of the globe. It is understandable that we would be uncertain and anxious.
The unknowns are awful in their breadth and depth. People have hypotheses and assumptions, but no one has any answers. Will my number of days at home reach 50? 75? 100? When will the spread of the coronavirus get under control? When will a safe and effective vaccine be available? When can we go back to work, send our kids back to school or daycare, and resume our regular lives? Can we can ever truly trust anyone’s handshake again?
But what aggravates all the uncertainty, at least for me, is this surreal sense of time being frozen. Being outdoors this week has felt the same as it did last week, and the week before. Sure, there were a couple warm, springy days here and there—but we had those last month, too. As far as my day-to-day life is concerned, any progress is indiscernible. News channels and social media discussions recycle the same material through variations in verbiage: people still not doing enough social distancing, stores still out of toilet paper, people arguing over whether the reports from other countries are hoaxes or whether the President is handling the situation appropriately, hospital staff and resources in alarmingly scarce supply, the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths climbing ever higher and closer to home.
At home: more constant cycles. I cook; we eat; we clean. The laundry basket fills up; we do the laundry; slowly, the dirty clothes pile up again. We try to work as much as we can while making sure our baby stays content and alive, and then we go to sleep so we can wake up and do it again. When I see it all written out, I realize life without a pandemic is pretty much the same. But without work and social lives to distract us, the cycles intensify. Add a pandemic to the mix, and now we find ourselves trying to keep our spirits up while fighting back insecurities about being unproductive and fears that we might be getting sick, too.
My only real indicator of time’s passage is the baby’s development. Our first week of sheltering in place, he figured out how to sit up. The second, he started army-crawling, scooting around on his belly. Now this week, he learned how to do a proper crawl. Everything else feels suspended, yet the progression of his gross motor skills feels bewilderingly fast. He even grew a ninth tooth. He is like the lone plant sprouting on the trashed and abandoned Earth in Wall-E.
It’s only been 25 days, after all.
Yesterday, I finished the novel Severance, by Ling Ma. It is about a young Chinese-American woman living in New York City when a deadly fungal infection emerges from China. There is no cure. In a matter of months, all of New York is empty and shuttered. The protagonist and eight other survivors are resigned to the likelihood that there is no one else out there in the rest of the United States, maybe even the world.
This book really spoke to me. Not only does it contain eerie echos of real-life current events, but it is also a story about being an immigrant, the bittersweet life of a millennial in New York, and losing familial bonds. A lot of it hit a little too close to home, such as the description of New York as:
… the city, New York fucking City, tedious and boring, its charms as illusory as its facade of authenticity. Its lines were too long. Everything was a status symbol and everything cost too much. There were so many on-trend consumers, standing in lines for blocks to experience a fad dessert, gimmicky art exhibits, a new retail concept store.
I just hope the quasi–zombie apocalypse stuff doesn’t manifest.
The protagonist’s most useful survival skill is the ability to draw strength from routine, even if she doesn’t particularly enjoy it. That is one lesson I am taking from the novel. We get up. We try to work. We handle issues as they arise. What else can we do? One by one, the days go by. I can’t let myself think too much about how much time has passed or has yet to pass. At least I am getting more time to spend with my child and watch him grow.