The below was written the first week or so of being housebound, so almost two months ago now. It’s interesting to see what expectations were at that time; what was accurate or not. Names have been changed. I am posting this as a sort of time-capsule of these strange times.
The Coronavirus—in time it surely would take away our savings, our livelihoods, our very humanity—but first, first it would take away our bananas. Our two daughters were fighting over the last one while some Netflix cartoon blazed in the background.
“I called it,” Sarah (age seven) said;
“No, I did,” replied Corrine (age four).
“Just split it in half and share, you’re giving me a headache!” I said. My better half, Stephanie, gave me a subtle glare, telling me without words that she agreed with my message but not its delivery.
“Turn down the volume,” she said softly, and then went back to her remote work. Stephanie almost always strikes the right tone, always in contrast with my imperiousness.
It had been nearly a week of “shelter in place,” from the virus and we were already going stir-crazy but I was sure Stephanie would maintain her composure, no matter what. Me—I’m just trying to adjust from a lifetime of existential dread shifting into a reality of actual dread.
Some interesting facts about the ‘Apocalypse,’ (as I called the current situation in our home): you can order Evian Water but not Rice-A-Roni; you can purchase Caviar but not canned tuna. You can watch Frozen 2 on permanent repeat, but you cannot go out into public.
“How come Corrine doesn’t have to do home school?” Sarah asks.
“Because she’s not in school yet—she’s four.”
“Is her job playing?”
“Yes, that is her job.”
“Well, I guess she’s good at it.”
Corrine is handling it the best so far, too young to fully understand what is happening, too young to be afraid, happy to have her family around all the time. Likewise the dog has never been happier. We’re big on honesty in our house so our children have not been caught off-guard by the Coronavirus as I’m sure many children were when the schools suddenly closed last week. It’s just a matter of personal philosophy.
“Can I have another snack?” Corrine asks.
“Can you wait,” I say, worried about the supply lines and not wanting to go into public to buy groceries if I can help it. “You just had a snack.”
“But this time I want a yogurt snack.” Her deep, too-big blue eyes shine up at me and it’s hard to say no.
“Sure, one more snack,” I find myself saying, “but remember we need to preserve food in the apocalypse.”
“Yeah”—Sarah agrees, “did you forget we’re in the apocalypse?” And then, “Daddy, can I have a cookie?”
That night we have scrambled eggs for dinner. I’m trying to go through everything in the fridge first in case we can’t get more groceries. Then onto the freezer and finally the pantry. I ask myself a million unanswerable questions, such as: ‘what if the power goes out?’ ‘what if one of them gets pink eye’ (again)?, ‘what if Stephanie gets laid off?’ ‘how much longer before I have to close my business for good?’… Oh to be reminded that although we live in a seemingly logical universe, we all constantly flirt with chaos.
The lights flick on and off briefly and I worry about the grid, especially if this lasts into the summer and everyone is home all day with four hundred devices and central air blazing.
I used to worry about simple things such as:
- My blood pressure;
- Wrinkles on my face;
- Spelling grades for a first grader;
- Quarterly estimated taxes;
- Whether or not Costco is worth the membership cost;
- Baseball scores; and
- Whether or not it was time to get my car washed.
Now I worry about death rates, morbidity rates, and whether or not we can feed our family for another week. I worry constantly about the most efficient way to obtain food without risking exposure. People are apparently hoarding toilet paper of all things—what do they know that I don’t? Strange times.
This past Christmas—inexplicably only three months ago, things couldn’t have been running smoother. I mean, I’m always the kind of guy just waiting for an anvil to fall, but even I was feeling pretty optimistic (aside from the state of national politics). The economy was doing well, my business was doing very well, and even my sciatica wasn’t bothering me much. I should have known the seventh seal was just waiting to be blown to gum things up for everybody.
Sometimes I feel like Stephanie is disappointed in how I’m handling this whole thing. But for God’s sakes—I’m a lawyer by training—it’s not like I’m Rick Grimes or something. The closest I get to being a wartime consigliere is arguing with words.
“Can I have some chocolate milk?” Sarah crows.
“Yeah and I’d like some orange juice,” Corrine chimes in.
“We need to ration it,” I say. They don’t even look to their mother as they know we’re a united front on parenting.
“Please, please,” they say. I finally relent because I feel bad for them being so young and so cooped up. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to live through and in my thirties. Hell, in a week every dad in the world will probably be sitting around writing ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ while all the world’s moms somehow keep their shit together. I sneak a glance at Stephanie as she smiles while working remotely. How does she do it?
Frozen 2 comes on again and I start to feel nostalgic for the original.
“You guys want to watch something else? Maybe the first Frozen?”
“No—Frozen 2! Frozen 2.” It’s time for coffee or an Advil, maybe both. I glance around our spacious kitchen and regret selling our ‘starter house’ earlier in the year. Why are we so desperate to impress others? It’s obvious now, so entirely obvious that outside your immediate family few people really care about you, at least in any meaningful way.
We ordered a Keurig Coffee machine and a few hundred pods so we could still have coffee during the apocalypse. When we unopened the Keurig we were horrified to discover it didn’t work. We ordered another machine but would have to wait a week to receive it and going that long without coffee right now felt like too much to bear.
Stephanie is industrious and with the help of YouTube discovered a way to make coffee from K-Cups without the machine.
Here is the process, and I submit it is a fitting method for these times: first she boiled water and then she turned her attention to the K-Cup itself. She cut a hole in the bottom preserving the tiny filter hidden in the bottom of every K-Cup. She then removed the foil around the top of the K-Cup bringing visible the actual coffee rinds. She placed the K-Cup in a strainer over a mug. Then, for a few minutes she slowly poured the boiling water over the coffee and let it filter into the cup below. I was impressed by her ingenuity but not surprised, us addicts will always find a way.
How will the world be different after this? How can we suck it up and go back to pretending that any of the outside world matters? That our jobs matter? That our social events and school board meetings and saving up for a summer at the beach…
But also the realization that I will not change. Take away half my retirement account, my profession, my business, and who am I? About the same. What does that mean? ‘If you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you.’
There used to be a lot of plane and other air traffic above us but I’ve noticed much less lately. What will things look like a week from now? A month? A year? Will there be armed guards patrolling our suburban street? The Frozen 2 credits roll again and it’s time for bed.
“But I’m not tired,” Corrine says with a frown.
“We have to stick to our routines,” I say. “Especially in the apocalypse.” In my mind I can already envision the daily routine forming, each day blurring into the next in an endless parade of drudgery and despair. Just one family of many, an entire world under house arrest. Not to mention the unthinkable suffering of those sickened, lost; the front-line workers from the working class to the doctors. I grew up in sufficient poverty to know how blessed we are to be insulated, at least for now, from many of the more instant and onerous burdens of such a time.
The children are now (finally) in bed and Stephanie sits next to me watching an episode of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. Halfway through the episode she suddenly hits pause and when I turn to her I see tears in her eyes.
“Everything ok?” I ask. She wipes away the tears and burrows her head under my neck.
“I’m scared,” she admits. I’m surprised by this confession. I think a bit less of myself for not suspecting as much before. Of course she’s nervous, how could she not be? “The kids,” she is saying, “I feel so bad for them spending their childhood like this.”
“We’ll get through it,” I say.
“What if things get worse? The food—we’re already starting to run low–”
“Everything will be fine.”
I’m not sure if even I believe my own comforting words, but they sound right and honest in that moment. Isn’t this what a partnership is, being strong for one another? We’re all just taking the hands we’re dealt and making the most of this life, as it’s likely our only shot at consciousness. I see her now, more clearly—sometimes it’s easy to forget between the long hours at work, the shuttling back and forth to travel soccer, the hurried meals and general exhaustion. I’m not happy that she’s scared and I take no delight in these vulnerable times, but I’m glad to see she’s letting me in to her true emotions, even the negative ones. I shut off the television and we go to bed. We know that tomorrow will be the same but it’s ok for now to be prostrate.
The next morning we microwave the last of our frozen pancakes for the girls. The older one gets her chocolate milk and the younger one the last of the orange juice. Stephanie and I eat the last English muffins served with a conservative amount of butter. The sun’s already high in the sky and it’s almost the official first day of spring. The house begins to feel less like a jail and more like a castle. I know there is no moat large enough to fortify our position forever, but in this moment we’re all together and we’re all ok.
Corrine knocks over her orange juice and it cascades off the table and onto the floor.
“I’m sorry,” she says. Before I can say anything consoling her older sister steps in.
“Corrine,” she screeches in mock anger. “Don’t you know you don’t waste orange juice in the apocalypse!”