I’ve seen people out in droves, hoarding all they can from grocery stores – their eyes nervously darting, hoping the customer next to them isn’t a carrier.
I’ve seen empty city streets, empty parking lots, and empty businesses – the modern day, self-imposed ghost town.
I’ve seen neighbors staring out their windows, locking eyes with me but for a moment, naked in their fear, desperate to connect.
And I’ve seen college students partying on crowded beaches, unaware or perhaps ambivalent about the danger, reveling in their unrivaled irresponsibility.
Much of this – with the exception of meeting eyes with neighbors – was seen through my new window, the television. I like TV, but I’m not really one to spend much time in front of it. I don’t particularly binge shows, I don’t flip through channels – but as the situation evolves, I find myself more or less glued to the television, enraptured in pure morbid curiosity.
The daily rise of infection and death numbers, state government announcements, presidential updates, and pandemic news from abroad have become my steady information diet. Hourly updates from the New York Times and NJ.com ping my phone, giving me the latest bad news. But strangely, I’m doing all right. Before the virus even arrived in America, I was paranoid about it, constantly convinced I had it. Once the virus arrived, each and every train ride was a nightmare. I felt as though everyone was suspect to everyone else – it felt wrong, it felt dark.
These are dark times, indeed. But for whatever reason, I’m doing all right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m scared. I’m scared for my mother and father, each 64-years-old. I’m paranoid of touching things anywhere outside of my home, and sometimes even there. I haven’t been outside in quite some time. So, why am I OK?
I keep asking myself this as though I don’t have the right to feel well during this time. I’m an anxious person, often prohibitively so. It’s unlike me to feel in control, especially during times like this. One of my secret weapons is that after decades of dealing with my anxiety and depression without medication, instead relying on therapy alone or worse still, drinking, I started an antidepressant, Lexapro, a week before the pandemic took hold of America and everything shut down. So, as the weeks go by and the medicine continues to take hold, I’m getting better. Hell, Lexapro should come in the mail like Tide detergent samples – we all need it.
Also, I had to stop drinking due to a stomach issue – gastritis – for six months to a year. Between starting Lexapro, stopping drinking, and the comfort of knowing that all my loved ones are safe in their homes where they should be, I’m making the best of this. I decided that this quarantine is the ideal time to start reading Thoreau’s Walden, an ode to solitude. That reading has inspired me to begin recording thoughts and observations which I’ve tentatively titled “Notes from Quarantine,” a somewhat abstract and poetic account of my experiences during the pandemic.
But, this isn’t to say that all is well in my world or our world. Though each day that we wake up well is a gift, the suffering near and far is omnipresent. It’s in the air, it’s in the silence, it’s in the empty streets.
I find myself baffled by the confident ignorance of Americans who don’t believe this pandemic applies to them. Whether it be college students filling up beaches, saying things to TV reporters like, “If I get it, I get it, I’m still going to party,” or adults claiming the pandemic to be some form of fake news; we seem to be spelling out our own doom. The aforementioned spring breakers are falling into the same pattern that all people that age seem to – social life and exercising their freedom is paramount. At that age, all I cared about was being with friends and getting high – anything that could potentially keep me from it was met with skepticism and bitter fought resistance. Even President Trump lacks a strong grip on the crisis, insisting that we’ll all be back out and about by Easter. Meanwhile, Italy is losing people by the hundreds.
But at the same time, I feel a pang of almost dark joy at reports of global warming slowing down due to the dramatic halt to industry and travel the world over. I don’t want a pandemic, but in our illness, nature begins to wrest back its hold. That much, I can appreciate. But still, I wonder how many of the deaths in America will have been because of malignant confidence born of stubborn ignorance – is this survival of the fittest? Are those too reckless, self-centered, privileged, or skeptical to protect themselves to be lost to the gaping maw of death and disease?
What does mean for all of us? Who are we now? Those of us listening to the guidelines, following the new rules, and reaching out to others in all ways possible without proximity, we seem to want this to go away. We believe it will end if we stay on top of it. But what of those who don’t seem to care? Will they foul it up for the rest of us? Can anything be done?
I don’t have an answer, though I search for it daily. What I do know is that for a homebody like myself, this quarantine is a piece of cake – especially with my new pal, Lexapro. It’s as though I’ve been training for it, and now I finally get to show off my skill: quiet introspection from afar.