The days run, one into the other, and it’s hard to pinpoint when change really set in. When was the last day that felt pretty normal? For a long stretch, the Coronavirus was a challenge for the people of China and Italy, but not for us. Hasn’t that been the way for so many things? Wildfires in Australia, mudslides in Thailand, drought in the west, blizzards, tornadoes, and earthquakes – all devastating and tragic, but mostly devastating and tragic for others. We are learning that we were kidding ourselves; those never were losses just for others. Always, we have been in this together, but if the planet’s protests were distant, it was easy to see them as separate from us.
Now, distance, even of the social kind, is required. When most we want to meet up at Old Post Tavern or Molto, hug each other like crazy, devour some hot pasta, and share a bottle of wine, we can’t. Our comfort and answer to hard times has always been long-lasting hugs, beloved faces as close as we can get them, and eyes soft with empathy holding ours. What kept us afloat in the past is now dangerous.
A week ago, I made my first stock-up-for-real trip to the grocery store. There was not a roll of toilet paper to be had, but oddly, I, like others, had laid in a supply a few days before, so no worries. There was plenty of food on the shelves, and the usual number of shoppers. Everyone was cheerful and friendly as we strove to maintain maximum space between us while navigating the aisles with full shopping carts.
I ran into Cathy, Mary Ellen, and Linda, friends I don’t see often. Shelter-in-place had not yet been urged, dinner plans with others had not been cancelled, restaurants and gyms were still open, and yet, somehow we must have sensed what was coming, for my heart filled upon seeing them. We opened our arms wide, miming an embrace from six feet apart, and said, “It’s sooo good to see you! This is my hug!” Each encounter was similar, and the faux-hugs were funny; we hadn’t missed out on too many real ones yet.
Last Sunday night, Dave and I took pasta, spinach, and a saucepan of (meatless) sausages and peppers to Casey and PJ’s for dinner. When PJ met us at the door, Tallulah, the dog, scrabbled at the stoop striving to escape, and Eleanor gazed out at the driveway from PJ’s arms. When she spotted us, her face lighted, her mouth opened wide, and she clapped and said, “Yayyyyyy!” a greeting I will treasure forever. I handed PJ the grocery bag in trade for the baby. She put her arms around me, her head on my shoulder, and kick, kick, kicked those chubby little legs. Ah, hugs! That one was a ten!
Casey was on her computer, processing the news that Lululemon had just announced the closure of all stores. For her, this was sobering, as she’d opened her new, twice-the-square-footage, store three days before. Given the situation, I was relieved, not wanting my daughter exposed to the virus in the course of a day selling yoga-wear. We had a tasty dinner while watching “Outbreak,” Casey’s choice. I consider myself lucky she hadn’t selected “Night of the Living Dead,” although that, too, was among the “Masochists’ Delight” listed in the Boston Sunday Globe.
Did we hug PJ and Casey good-bye when we parted that night? I think we did. How long will the sense of those hugs have to last?
Tucker, Lisa, Paul, and Lexi came to visit two weeks ago, so we had snuggles in abundance then. We’ve chatted via FaceTime twice in the interim as they work from home with the kids buzzing about.
Four-year-old Paul is newly captivated by the word “poopy” and is generous in its application. Lexi, at 17 months, wants to hold the phone. So, the phone spins in its travels as Tucker strives to right it, and Lexi makes her moves. We see the ceiling, Lexi’s grin, Tucker’s thumb, and Paul’s sparkling eyes as he answers our questions about his day with a jubilant, “Poopy!”
Several times, Dave has participated in staff meetings on ZOOM, like Google-Hangouts, an extraordinary tool that will be the saving grace of businesses and relationships during our Coronavirus isolation. During his first practice session, I snuck a peek at his computer to see the beloved faces of my former colleagues ranged in tiny boxes around the screen, each waving at me from the security of their homes. Again, my heart surged to see them. “Look at you! It’s so good to see you!” I crowed, and oh, how I felt it. Hugs are out of the question, but even visuals are a boost.
For a few weeks, Casey has been texting me, “Mom. I’m worried about you and Dad. You have to take this seriously. You are in the vulnerable age range.” Her concern is dear, and I’ve assured her, “Dad and I are great. We’re healthier than a lot of people younger than us. Don’t worry.” When dire reports of danger to the elderly emerged, my mind went to Dave’s 95-year-old mother. Certainly they don’t mean us…
But, they do. Two nights ago on CNN, anchor Jake Tapper seemed almost teary as he spoke of his forty-year-old friend who has the virus, as well as his concern for his 80-year-old father. Tapper shed his role as a newsman for a moment as he made an emotional plea for social distancing. He was critical of youthful revelers in Florida who were still packing beaches and bars, and said something like, “Who the hell do you think you are? You might think you’re safe because of your youth, but think of older members of your family.”
Dave was solemn when he turned off the TV. “That was unnerving,” he said. “I think I’ll skip the news for a while.”
So, we’re hunkered down at home and choosing movies over news. Have you seen “Knives Out”? So fun! Watch it on Netflix!
We live in the woods, so we can go for walks, and wave at our neighbors. Dave loves to cook and we’ve been eating well: asparagus and mushrooms in a lemon-wine sauce over pasta; roasted salmon, mashed potatoes, and spinach, with plenty of leftovers for lunch. Dave’s baking his bread, so our breakfast routine is unchanged: Dave’s toast, butter, jelly, and coffee. This afternoon, I might make a chocolate chip yogurt cake.
Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed a lot of phone visits. I have projects to do, an attic and basement to clean, essays to write, and that cake to bake, but given the uncertainty and suppressed worry, connection has been my comfort. Long chats, emails, and texts have filled the days: with my mother-stand-in, Mom’s friend, Beverly; my sisters, aunts, cousins, and in-laws; my friends from work and friends I’ve loved from kindergarten through college. Many I haven’t hugged in years, but it’s important now to make contact.
Next to my senior year picture in the 1971 Farmington yearbook, reflective young girl that I was, I chose Joni Mitchell’s lyric as my quote, “Don’t it always seem to go you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” At the time, my nostalgia was about friends and the school; never would I have imagined what we’re currently facing, that hugs would be denied me.
Virtual hugs to you all! Stay safe!