Six Weeks Inside—a Memoir.
Updated: Apr 20
Do you remember it? Your old life, the one you had and took for granted, just a month ago?
So much of my old life is gone, vanished, poof, like a movie I used to love to watch that's no longer playing. And like that article in the Times, I do feel grief, a deep sense of longing around that loss of a sense of living. And the grief I feel for losing my social life—my life with hugs and air kisses and playground conversations, and cocktails and dinners with friends, and theater with my husband, and workouts, and bookstore meanderings, and manicures, pedicures, and retail therapy. I feel guilty for missing those things when so many people are missing so much more. They are sick, feverish and gasping for air, wondering if this is it. They are missing their loved ones who are in those ICUs, on ventilators, alone, perhaps taking their last breaths. The frontline healthcare workers, risking their lies every day they work, sitting for 12 hours with the sick and dying, to give comfort, to give and give and give, even when they have not slept or seen their own families.
How dare I miss my dinners and my strolls? I feel shallow. And yet, I feel those things. I feel all of it. And I think we have to. We have to feel the big, brutal, suffocating grief of people dying who should not be dying, and the fear that it may be us next. And the grief of small losses. The coffee dates, the cocktails, the walks, the talks, the trip to the hair salon! It's all part of our experience. Our world is dying before us (and so much was clearly preventable), young and old, pre-existing conditions and perfectly healthy, and more black and brown lives getting taken, showing us once again how racism robs the marginalized of opportunity — in this case the opportunity to live.
And yet, in this space between, we get through the days. They pass, don't they? We don't know what day it is, but we get through.
Not that we are rested. I don't know about you, but I didn't sleep much in the beginning. The beginning being what, a month or so ago? It was all too much. The fear, the anxiety, the stress, the worrying — about my mom, my dad, about my kids, about the world, about the election, about work. Assignments were going to dry up, then what would I do? All of this would come to me around 1am, a gift, neatly packaged by nighttime. The swirl of thoughts—unknowns and what ifs—gradually becoming a tsunami by 3am, and then dying down to a forceful wind by 4am, and then finally simmering down again just before dawn.
In just a few days of home confinement, I was worn out. I fought with my husband. We both work full-time and our kids need to be supervised somewhat during this homeschool situation. "You do more!" "I do more!" "We can't do enough!" We could not get along. I fought with my kids. They were making me nuts. They were making each other nuts. Screams and punches and horrible words. We were all fighting all the time.
I saw so many Facebook posts (a source of alternative realities that can't help but make me green with envy). "So glad I am isolated with my husband!" "My family is making isolation so wonderful!" presented with photos of their communal mask making and knitting and jarring artisanal pickles. There was no cozy artisanal pickle making happening here. I was angry, angry at the state of the world but also angry that we were fighting. We should be joyful, cuddling, grateful for being alive and well, not petty and bickering. But we were beating each other up in some ways, lashing out at the people in our orbit. It's understandable, though, isn't it? We are but human. And so we fought. And then we fought less. The weeks went by and the bizarre world of social distancing and mask wearing and Zoom educating started to feel like normal. We still fight. And we still cuddle. And we can't stand each other and we love each other. It's all in there. It's life, isn't it? And things got a bit better. And I started to sleep a little more.
After the fear and the fighting and the sleeplessness came the doing. The fourth stage on the road to the new normal of social isolation it seems. We must be productive! And so, we examined the mysterious contents of our basement. We painted a wall in our living room—an accent wall! Who knew? We did the bathroom, too. We reorganized the toys. We made a reading nook, which occasionally is actually used for reading but more often is used as a repository for disregarded cat toys. Oh yes, the cat. Penny. She doesn't understand why we are all here. She is slightly resentful. She is a cat who prefers social distancing.
I try and do the things I can still do to keep some semblance of my old life. Little things: I continue to make the bed! I like an organized bed. It makes me feel calm. I like a clean sink. My husband is good at keeping it that way. I cook. I cook a lot. Sometimes I hate cooking, the continuous absurd round the clock feeding of my family. How can children eat this much? "I'm hungry!!!!" is a cry heard every half hour in this house. I have come to respond: "It's okay to be hungry."
Other times, I find I can enjoy the cooking, the creating, the recipe searching, the way canned chickpeas really just keep on giving. The cooking can bring joy. Baking with my kids, sure the house looks like some sort of Tasmanian Devil toured through the kitchen afterwards, but I think (I'm pretty sure) it's worth it. We have made so many banana breads who's even counting. Cookies and cakes. Gougeres!
And then yesterday Emily and I cooked for our friend who lost her husband. We made a big pot of Moroccan lentil and chickpea stew, a Spanish Tortilla, a banana bread (of course), and added a couple of bottles of wine. That's a certain kind of cooking, right? Cooking for those in mourning. To nourish those who are grieving. It is solemn, careful, and with purpose. Might this food bring her comfort? Make her feel loved? Help her in some small way? All of that, I hope.
Emily marvels at the food. "Mom! I want to eat this, it looks so good." "I know," I say. "It does." That's why we are giving it away.