When I work, I don’t think of anything else. Except, of course, when I’m reading a story of how a Chinese American expat survives life in Shanghai in 2013, the time of the avian flu epidemic. Fiction once again predicts the future. The events in “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration,” written by Su-Yee Lin in 2017 seem like a dress rehearsal for The Age of Corona.
“Man, she really nails it,” I tell my husband. “The masks, the closed train stations, the empty public squares, it’s all there on the page. It’s like I’m living in her character’s head.”
Rick asks if such a story is inspirational to me.
“Sort of a combination of inspirational and why am I doing this?” I say.
Still I persist. I might as well put this isolation to some use, right?
Online I keep seeing posts about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the time of the plague. An impossible goal but motivation nonetheless. At least he was doing something other than watching episodes of The Tiger King.
I found my ideal work time – as soon as I wake up, as soon as I can before my left ear gets blocked and both ears start ringing, before the nausea starts roiling my stomach. Vestibular migraine? Fibromyalgia? Write through my pain, write through my fear. Not fear for me, but for Rick, and my daughter who lives in NYC, ground zero for Covid19. Rick is only four years older than I but, for a while, he was all over the place – it seemed like he went to every store in Sarasota. And this was before we started to lay in supplies for the months ahead. He even bought me two tablecloths.
“Weird colors,” I remarked.
“Cheap,” he said. “Hey, I can return them.”
I told him not to bother and now he can’t. No stores for us. Everything by mail.
The doorbell rings and Rick calls out, “Don’t answer that! Look out the window!”
I see the delivery guy scurry into his truck. We’re as much a danger to him as he is to us. Has Margaret Atwood written our new lives?
In a way, my migraine saved me because even before isolation, I didn’t feel like going anywhere. Then my chest started getting tight and I developed a nervous cough. Anxiety, I told myself, not Corona. When I write, I stop noticing my discomfort. In the end, as in the beginning, the writing is for me.
Because there is no guarantee. I was thinking no guarantee that what I write will get published but then it got bigger and became no guarantee. Period. The playwright Terrence McNally died of complications from Covid-19 in The Sarasota Memorial Hospital, mere miles from here. Granted, he was 81 and had lung issues. But still. No guarantee.
Smart if you can get to where you want to be, can realize your ambitions, when you’re young. I’d like to tell my daughter that. I’d like to tell her something other than make sure you wipe down all the grocery bags. Better yet, throw them away. And then wash your hands. Fifty times. Don’t go near your face.
My daughter turned twenty-six in social isolation – other than the one roommate of three who stayed in NYC. We tried convincing her over a month ago to come to FL but she said she thought it was socially irresponsible to go to a place with an elderly population. The truth is, she is afraid to travel. Staying put, even in NY, seems safer. As things get worse, I blame myself for not being able to convince her. Irrationally I feel we’d be able to protect her. I wish I could give her more than the magazine subscriptions, cosmetics and coffee we’ve been sending. Her friends are mailing her handmade masks.
She’s living through this country’s worst presidency and a global pandemic. No word yet on when she’ll get all the possibilities of her life back. Those who say that the young are not affected as much by this virus are not telling the whole story.
Weeks ago, my friend Joanne’s daughter gave birth to a grandchild Joanne hasn’t even seen yet – except on Zoom. And what is it like to give birth now? Hospitals a place of fear, even more than they ever were. Bringing a child into this world. This crazy crazy contagious world. I read that people are calling this crop of children Generation C.
What doesn’t kill you… does it though? Make you stronger? Or does it weaken you to the point of breakdown? Over and over, I break my promise that I will stop watching the news.
A shadow covers my doorway: Rick with phone in hand.
The shopper from Shipt just called. Will we take Morton’s Coarse Kosher salt instead of fine? No. Which bay leaves do we want? Survivalist times and we’re talking condiments. Because we have that luxury Rick and I.
Billy B ordered an elliptical machine delivered to his home. His problem now is to put it together.
Hospitals are reusing masks. Atwoodian choices of who gets to live. Are you young? Do you have kids? Are you Generation C?
I see the neighbors out walking together. We keep our distance. We always did but now it’s physical. Six feet apart they say. Why six feet? Why not seven? Ten?
That’s how far we have – the length of a tall man. And I who have never been good with numbers might be ten yards away minimum from anyone except Rick, for all I know. How wide is the street of our development? Wide enough for two cars if no one is double parked.
And how many is 87,028? The number of cases in NYC the last time I checked. Deaths in five figures. How many in the country? In the world? You can find that out on your phone now. Hell, there are apps that will tell you when your food, your toilet paper, will run out.
I’m going to go call my 93-year-old neighbor Mildred now. Normally, I would just walk across the street to check on her. She’s had a stroke and a number of falls. If she were one of the ones in the ER, which line would she go on? The left one that lives or the right that dies?