Day one of quarantine: My husband comes home from his first day of work at a new job to dinner on the table, for us and for the baby. This is unusual, as I make no claim to domesticism and rebel against it to ensure it never pins me down. My hair was done and I had makeup on. What a wife, I am! Even during a global pandemic, you see.
Day two of quarantine: Husband comes home to me sobbing. I hate laundry and cooking and cleaning. I can’t believe you can leave me here ALONE! I can’t go out and I need to take care of the baby, so I can’t be productive, either! What am I worth if I am not producing, husband?! I. Am. Dying. Actually, you are killing me. Eight hours of uninterrupted work time? Must be nice, bob. Let’s fight.
The trajectory has been similar since, except now my husband is home all day every day. Some days are good. Great, even. And some are dark. It’s hard to explain why, since these days are all the same. It’s almost impossible to distinguish one from the next from the next from the next from the next. What is a Thursday? All I know is that I’ve been able to triple my carb intake with little or no effort. I’m eating bagels like it’s the 90s. Next thing you know, I’ll be putting back nutrigrain bars and beating bosses on Super Mario.
Seeing People in Person (!)
I have been okay, mostly. I was okay until I saw, for the first time in months, friends in person. In human. I was okay until I saw Brittany and Sean, standing in their doorway. The doorway that is usually so welcoming to me, normally a sign of warmth and noise and laughter. Now that doorway claimed a sense of foreboding. It was an obstacle not to be overcome, an invisible barrier that separated us from each other. A force that screamed at us that things are not normal. Things are not fine, even if you feel like they are. The door that could not would not open.
Seeing their small faces in a computer, voices stuttery with the lag of in-ter-net is not the same. Standing in their entryway I can feel the distance closing and widening simultaneously. They are all my friends, all my family, all at once. I can truly see their faces — gap closing. Remy sits in Brittany’s arms and I can’t squeeze her — widening. Finn runs up the stairs and peers between Sean’s legs — closing. I can’t pick him up and dangle him upside down — widening. My heart feels the pressure of the push and pull. It’s a muscle, I tell myself, it’s made for this. But it doesn’t feel like it’s made for this. Adrenaline courses through my blood and so does sadness. Joy and heart-stopping madness.
I was okay. Until I left their home. When I put my car in reverse and widen the gap unmeasurably, tears fill my eyes. Not slowly, the way I’m accustomed to feeling during this time of numbing. They come tumbling out with heavy sobs that tighten my chest and jump in my throat. This is an unravelling. Not a slow and methodical unwinding of the soul. A jerky, rapid-paced unravelling. The kind that happens when you don’t realize how tightly a spool is wound. When you hold the end of the thread and what’s left jerks and bounces toward the ground, the strength of gravity so much more powerful than your grasp.
Thinking of everything hanging in the balance, I sob. The tears that run down my face are the hugs I can’t give and the words I will never write. This sadness isn’t only my own, because I know I am one of the lucky ones. One of the people who is lucky to be bored and not deprived of anything but her people. These tears surprise me, for I hadn’t known I was so full of water. But, I remember, that’s what we’re made of. Our bodies are more than 60% water. More than half of us never sits still and lives in a state of constant movement. We hold on so tightly to things that we claim are static and gasp when they uproot us. We’re surprised when we look down and see that the stake we are holding onto with white knuckles and clenched fists is no longer in the ground, but floating beside us.
Every day I replay news clips, sound bites, my own thoughts. This is a screenplay. An interesting one, likely written by the types of Margaret Atwood (that creative, brilliant scoundrel!), but surely it isn’t real life.
But it is. This is real life.
What might be most alarming about “these unprecedented times,” is that some of us feel fine (I’m only going to briefly mention the disclaimer that of course many people are not fine. Losing jobs and loved ones and lives, living with violence, put back into the closet, pushed into a deeper bout of depression, etc. Not fine at all.). We’re learning that the world will go on without us. Without our hectic way of doing and going at all times. It’s patiently waiting for us to just be.
Exist, she says. Just be.
The sun still warms the empty streets
Trees stretch toward the clouds
Stars illuminate our one sky
Waves crash down on empty beaches
Some things are the same
But we are forever changed
The world that we knew is gone. It’s changing. Our world is in the state of movement we can feel inside ourselves. The tide has gone out with the hands of the clock in one position, and when the water comes rushing back in, the hands will be somewhere else. People will have learned new ways of grieving and celebrating and being together and being apart. Some will be afraid to take each others’ hands and others won’t be able to let go.
We’re going through something together. Something big. Let’s document it, so when we look back on this time, it won’t be only the stories of men. This time can be painted, brightly and darkly, by the hands of women. By our hands.
Writing Prompts to Tell Your Story, Document Your Unravelling
Journaling or any form of writing creates an intense form of release for me. Grab a pen and paper. Grab a few backup pens, too. Set a timer for each of these, anywhere from two to ten minutes, depending on your ambition and the question. Try not to let your pen stop moving. If you’re not a writer, there are other things you can do to stay grounded during COVID-19.
- Observe right now. Write ten things you see or feel right now. They can be as basic as “My coffee is too hot to drink” or as dramatic as “I need to leave my husband.” They just have to be true in this moment.
- Begin with “I remember.” Each time you get stuck, start again at “I remember.”
- Begin with “I’m afraid…”
- Begin with “I’m excited…”
- Write a letter to someone. Your mom, a friend, future you, anyone.
- What hurts right now? Don’t use any disclaimers — just because your pain isn’t the same or as bad as someone else’s, doesn’t mean it’s not relevant.
- What is the best thing about today?
- Who are you lately?
- What have I been sensitive to lately? What hurts?
- Six word memoir. Write your life, or a facet of it, in six words. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” If that doesn’t give you chills… Check out other examples here.