Conversation In Isolation XI
It’s morning. Whipped egg white clouds bunch up on the horizon under an aluminum sky. The days fold into weeks and weeks into months. I hear children outside laughing. Schools are closed. In-class learning is moved online. With mixed results. Despite the propensity of youth to gaze at screens and smartphones incessantly students aren’t learning well online. They’re bored. They’re lonely. For their friends. For someone other than their exhausted parents to hang with.
They are standing outside my living room window, happy to get outside. The gloomy slate grey skies and naked trees aren’t affecting them the way it does me.
We’re in yet another shutdown. Though nothing really seems to have changed despite stay-at-home orders. “Stay at home” our elected officials plead, while at the same time telling businesses they can stay open, essential or not, for curbside pickup or delivery. We’re all confused.
Hospitals are at capacity we are told. Heaven help you if you have a heart attack or get into a car accident or need cancer surgery. There is no room. No ICU beds. No beds period.
“What if I fall on the ice and break my hip?” I ask myself.
“Just make sure you don’t.” I respond.
“How? Never get out of bed?” I laugh at the absurdity. It lifts my spirits.
A storm is blowing through the area. I hear it whistle through the leafless trees, branches drumming against each other. It howls through the gap in the front door of my city apartment ushering in cold air.
Last year was the hottest on record. It’s January and there is no snow. The city looks like a black and white line drawing, lifeless. Bleak. Depressing.
Rain is predicted. The ground is hard and dry, dried yellowed stalks cling to roots below the surface. Anchored against driving winds.
It’s we humans who have become unmoored. We who boasted our ability to control and manage our environment now stand in awe and terror of a tiny rapidly mutating virus whose adaptability surpasses anything we humans are capable of.
And now, ten months later, it is still here, mutating, spreading, finding millions of new hosts, mutating again and leaping from one being to another, while we, fearful of what we cannot see, have reached the limits of our patience. We want normal. Contact. We crave connection. To sit in a restaurant with another person outside our household bubble over a meal and glass of wine. To sit beside another in the theatre. To hug and kiss again.
I call you. It’s too much.
“You can’t stay away, can you?” you laugh.
I feel chastised. Weak. Female.
“What’s up?” you sound abrupt.
“Have I disturbed you?”
“Let me call you back.” And with that, the call is ended and I look outside again. The children have moved on.
I forget you have a life. That others have a life. All of us seniors are waiting for “life” to take hold again. Waiting out the ‘war’ behind windows and drapes.
I imagine what might be occupying you. A visitor? Not family. A neighbor or friend perhaps? What else is there to do except imagine. I don’t want to imagine, however, that you might love someone more than me and that someone is with you now. I resist calling back. I don’t want to sound possessive. Besides, I do know you are more social than I am.
I ponder going for a walk, to pass the time and get some exercise and see how many others are out in our new shutdown. And I think about food. My neighbor across the hall cooks all day long and often even at night. Sweet-smelling curries and stews. However, I know if I ventured into cooking as a pastime I’d gain twenty pounds overnight. Then none of my clothes would fit and I’d be forced to shop, try on bigger jeans, larger shirts, and then not be able to look at myself in the mirror without thinking ‘walrus.’
I go for a walk. I bundle up. I should be somewhere warm and sunny, walking in sandals, wearing a summer outfit, feeling the intense southern sun on my back. I hunker into my parka, pull my toque over my ears. Sunglasses and a dark mask. I’m rendered invisible.
I make a sudden decision to walk through the park behind me. Children laugh and play on swings and slides, their parents watching, stamping their feet to keep warm. A dog runs full tilt after a green ball, grabs it, and pauses when it spies a black squirrel rigid by a tree, wary of dogs but not children. The dog is about to drop the ball and go after the squirrel when the owner’s whistle brings the dog’s attention back to the rules of the game. Owner tosses the ball. Dog runs to get the ball and brings it back to the owner who tosses it again, until one has had enough. Usually the owner.
Pet ownership has skyrocketed along with housing prices in the country and the cost of purchasing a new automobile. Veterinarians are overwhelmed by demand from this surge in pets needing care. Those who can, and some who shouldn’t, are sinking money into vehicles to avoid public transit. Condo owners are uprooting themselves and moving to the country where they can get more space for the money.
I think of tides washing up on shore, depositing all that floats; plastic of all shapes and sizes, beer cans and liquor bottles, uprooted seaweed, and dead fish on a shoreline, returned gifts where bare feet tread. Burls form on the trunks of massive maples. Cancer or wood spirit?
The mind ticks like a clock, counting down the hours, days, weeks, months, years. A life.