Day 41 of my captivity and it’s about to get ugly. And I’m not just referring to my hair which still hasn’t been cut because it took me an hour to chop my husband back from an overgrown hedge to something resembling a man I might marry and I was too exhausted to take on my own mess.
So here I am with a haystack on my head, in the same sweatshirt I pulled on 41 days ago because for some reason it’s the only thing I can bear wearing. And now I’m about to make the same chicken dish I’ve made seven times in the past seven weeks and yes it’s delicious but it’s enough already. I’m in a world that’s changing so fast I can’t keep up and yet somehow everything’s the same. I can’t tell one day from the next or if it’s April or November. Seriously, look at those gray skies - snow or rain?
And I know how lucky I am. When I pull on a mask and gloves it’s to go to Stop & Shop, not an ER. But it feels like life has stopped. And it has. Life as we know it has stopped. And it’s very disconcerting.
First there are the physical constraints. “Stay at home.” And home is lovely but once you’ve cleaned it and organized it and sat in every room three times and it’s still only 11 a.m., it begins to feel like a life sentence. “Wear masks and gloves in public.” And yes this is the responsible thing to do but it’s hot and clumsy and I hate it. “Stay six feet away from people.” And yes I’m a loner and a writer and an introvert most of the time but then there are the moments every day when I want to hug a friend or have dinner with a neighbor and it’s very lonely not to be able to be with people. I’m not even allowed to pet a dog for god’s sake. And I understand – COVID-19 may infect animals, too. Plus it’s a handy way to pass the virus. But it’s awful not to pat a dog who’s looking up at you with his tail waving.
Then there are the boundaries we have to draw just to stay sane. I turn off the news when I start going down the rabbit hole of the economy collapsing and the government imploding and the refugees flooding the streets. I hang up the phone when unemployment and the IRS put us on hold for more than four hours. I put away the calculator when the checks don’t arrive and the jobs disappear and any idea of what to do falters on the fact that I have no idea where we’re headed.
And then there are the limits that are being transgressed every day. The single parent who comes off an overnight shift at a hospital who has to homeschool her kids all day. The adult children who have to stand outside nursing homes to wave at dying parents. The families that have to stand in line to pick up school breakfasts and school lunches just to feed their kids.
And finally there’s the fact that there’s no end in sight. This is a marathon, folks, not a sprint. We don’t know when this virus will be tamed sufficiently to allow us to be with each other. And sure, the pols talk about “opening back up” but I think we all know that we are heading into the unknown.
And the unknown is scary. We are sailing into uncharted waters, something most of us have never experienced. After all, didn’t Francis Fukuyama tell us history was over? At the very least, we know how our lives are supposed to go. Any Eastside mother worth her salt will tell you that barring any unforeseen tragedy, the pre-school your child achieves will determine the grad school, profession and socio-economic tier he reaches. This is of course nonsense on one level but on another it tells us that deep down, we think it’s all worked out. Except apparently not. We are bound for parts unknown.
At moments like this I like to think about Vasco da Gama. He was always my favorite explorer. Partly because I liked saying his name. Much more fun on the tongue than Christopher Columbus or Ferdinand Magellan. But also because he was going somewhere I’ve never been. Confession — never been to India. Always wanted to go. And Vasco set sail for India without a map. And yes, Europeans had been to India by way of the Mediterranean and the Arabian peninsula. But not by way of the fearsome Atlantic. And off he went into the deep blue yonder.
Which is where we’re headed. Off into the unknown. Which means that at the same moment that we’re more trapped than we’ve ever been, at the moment when life as we know it has ground to a halt for so many of us, when all we want is for things to go “back” to normal, we have to push off to a future we can’t even imagine.
Hollywood has started issuing some guidelines going forward that’ll give you an idea of how impossible it’s going to be to go “back.” First everyone will have to sign a waiver exonerating the studio of any responsibility should they become infected. Because there is no insurance company that’ll touch this, not anymore. Then everyone on set — and there are usually 30-70 plus people on set — will have to be tested EVERY SINGLE DAY. Everyone on set — with the exception of actors and actresses and more on them later —will have to wear masks and gloves at all times. No one can touch a piece of equipment used by anyone else. Which is impossible on the face of it because several people touch the camera before every shot and multiple people touch props or settings. Finally actors and actresses will have to be quarantined until their scenes, with anyone helping them – hair, makeup, costumes – basically in hazmat suits because if an actor or actress gets sick? It’s game over.
Except it’s already game over. Production as we know it is over. What comes next is anyone’s guess. Would you sign on to the above?
We are going to have to imagine ourselves into a brand new future. And it’s a rare opportunity. We’re being given a chance to remake our world. Climate change? A failing healthcare system? Crumbling schools? All of these situations are directly challenged by COVID-19 and necessity is inventing solutions. See what happens to the sky when we stop burning fossil fuels? It turns blue! And when we rally the whole country to provide PPE and additional hospital beds? And go online to “See Spot Run?”
And I’m not just talking about the world at large. Each and every one of us is being handed a “get out of jail free card” if only we’re willing to play it. Deep down were you sick of your job? Or your bad habits? Or your house or your neighborhood or even your husband? Divorces in Wuhan after a month or two of quarantine blew through the roof. Apparently being imprisoned with the one you love is forcing the issue. I’ve also heard tales of partners who can’t stand each other suddenly falling head over heels - with each other! So anything’s possible. And that’s the point.
And the challenge. To reimagine your future. Are you up to it?