The Quarantine Diaries
reflecting on two years of pandemic living
It has been almost two years that we have been living under pandemic conditions. I don’t need to spell out for you what that means. You remember, all too well. You may still be living it, even now, depending on the age of your children or the status of your health.
I began to write for the first time during the pandemic. I collected some of these thoughts in what I call The Quarantine Diaries. These are not journal entries. There is no pulling my hair out at managing Zoom school or frantic frustration with my husband. These are reflections on what this time meant for all of us, examining the big picture. They are philosophical musings of all that we lost. Pleas for what to tell my children about how long it will last. Reflections on how much I missed seeing people, touching people, the intimacy of sharing air.
It starts May 29, 2020. It ends February 22, 2021. It is not expressly about motherhood. But it is about our humanity. I hope it allows you to take a moment and reflect on this time. We’ve tried to adjust and go about business as normal once it became clear this was not a three-week pause. But nothing has been normal about these last two years.
We are just starting to go out in California without masks. I can’t tell you how much I missed seeing people’s faces. The other night, I was sitting in a crowded restaurant, and I just looked around with shock and joy, that I could see all these beautiful faces. We are all so beautiful. Even this devout introvert has missed everyone, so much.
Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash
May 29, 2020
Sometimes I forget how not normal this is. That what should have been happening, right now, is that I would be picking my two kids up from school. My oldest would be dripping with stories from the day, the excitement of telling her friends about her birthday, the anticipation of a party probably planned for the weekend. My youngest would be tired and quiet, spent from a day of holding herself together, following the rules, compromising with friends, the work of a kindergartener. Instead, they are here, with me, at home. It’s been a long day of trying to get one of them to do any work, the other diligently attending her zooms and doing her best to keep up with third grade.
It has become normal, and yet it isn’t. But our minds adjust to this new normal, because to resist it seems futile.
And yet, shouldn’t we resist? Just a little? I’m not saying we should go about our lives as normal, and not wear a mask. I just mean, every day, as we accept our new normal, there must be room to mourn what was, what should have been, and no longer is. The joy of summer around the corner, with vacations and summer camps and a change of pace beckoning.
Instead, we look ahead, and can see nothing but days of uncertainty. We look ahead and see nothing but the same.
June 10, 2020
A hug. It seems so simple. It was something we all took for granted. We did it with friends and family, sometimes even strangers. “I’m a hugger,” we’d say, instead of the perfunctory handshake.
If you think about it, a hug is simply the act of putting your arms around someone. But there are so many variations of it. The “nice to meet you” hug, quick and unobtrusive. The hug for someone you haven’t seen in a long time, where you embrace each other fully, hold on for a long time, and it feels like home. The romantic hug, that lingers, and within one simple grasp, there lies dormant the possibility of more. The sad hug, when you need comfort, and you slump into someone, letting them hold some of your weight, as they take a bit of your burden, just for a little, and you walk away, restored, lighter, somehow.
As we begin to re-enter society, as things are “opening up,” for better or worse, we are called to still keep distance. So, we are no longer able to hug. And it feels so strange. That something we took for granted, something that was always available to us, is no longer an option.
I know we’ve lost a lot of things in the aftermath of this disease. But today, I’m mourning the hugs. I’m mourning the closeness. I’m missing the moment when I see you and can embrace you to show you how much I care, how much you are a part of me, how much we are one.
TO SHARE AIR To share air is the ultimate trust. To put my hand on your shoulder, or envelop you in a hug, a confirmation of closeness, the definition of vulnerability. We did it with strangers in the subway packed together like sardines. In bars and on dance floors shouting to be heard above the din. To trade air is to confirm our shared humanity, that we together are not so different. Two beings who both need oxygen to exist. We didn't used to be territorial over the molecules we inhaled and exhaled. What was mine was yours, no matter. Instead now we are caged animals, our airways hidden from view, shielding each other from our very humanity.
August 13, 2020
As if things weren’t bad enough, California has now been hit with wildfires. Over 500 blazing around Northern California after a strange lightning storm last Sunday. It is record breaking.
Which means the air quality is awful. Which means we can’t go outside. The only thing keeping us sane around here, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, was being outside. Runs, hikes, or just breathing fresh air. Now, there is no fresh air.
And of course all the restaurants, the only way they can serve people is outside. And now people don’t even feel safe doing that.
And the kids can’t even see anyone now because the only safe way to socialize was socially distanced front porch play dates.
It is just almost laughable, 2020. Except I’m not laughing.
October 12, 2020
That is how many days it has been since my kids were on a school campus. Today, my youngest went back. First grade. With just ten kids in her classroom. Masks on. She had to switch teachers, which she is not happy about. But at last, she is with other kids. She is learning in person, two to three days a week instead of over a screen, alone in her bedroom. It feels like progress. How long will it last? I don’t know. But I will celebrate what feels like a small step back towards normal.
October 20, 2020
I was watching a show I had recorded back in March. At first, all the commercials I fast-forwarded through were normal and it was strange to be like: oh yeah, this was before. But then the commercials became the early shelter in place commercials. Where they showed the empty streets and implored people to stay home, filled with we’ll all get through this together messaging. None of us knew that it would be so long. That we’d be here in November, and still in the thick of it.
Remember the phase where we all put rainbows in our windows? Or teddy bears a kind of shelter-in-place scavenger hunt? Remember when 7 pm was when people went out on the balconies and porches to thank the essential workers keeping us alive?
Remember when they closed playgrounds? For seven months? Caution tape surrounding what used to be safe spaces of exploration for our children.
There are so many phases of this pandemic. The initial shock. The thought that it would be a few weeks. The shifting of realities so quickly. No school for three weeks. No school for the rest of the year. No summer camps. No back to school in August. I remember in probably May when I thought “Oh my gosh, what if it is still like this in October and there is no trick-or-treating! Can you imagine?” and yet, that is exactly what happened.
I saw a quote from Marie Andrew on Instagram that said: “It was the year I didn’t feel at home in my own life.” It is so true. Your life is not your own right now. You cannot do what you want. You feel trapped in your own home, in your own reality, which is so different from what you want.
How many marriages will erode under this pressure? While yes, I think the pandemic brings to light issues that were already present, I also think that this situation is untenable for families. To always be under each other’s feet. To have no other social outlet. It is not healthy for any of us.
Even now, in thinking about how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving, I realized that two of the things that I usually treasure about the holiday, the Macy’s Day parade and football, will certainly not be the same this year, might not even be happening. This is the stark reality of this year. That all the things we take for granted about life are no longer steadily there beneath our feet, so we constantly feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us and we are falling, no idea when exactly we’ll hit the ground.
November 30, 2020
Remember dropping by to say hi, and being ushered into someone’s home?
Remember stopping for drinks after work?
Remember going to work?
Remember colleagues? Annoying coworkers who disrupt your train of thought? Bosses who pull you into last minute meetings in the conference room?
Remember work travel?
Remember last minute flights?
Remember dinner parties? And nights out at restaurants?
Remember birthday parties, and bounce houses?
Remember when we caught colds all fall, because we actually saw people?
Remember church services? Prayers said in unison, the voices of the body of Christ singing hymns sung for hundreds of years, joined together in worship?
Remember sports arenas filled with cheering fans?
Remember concerts and after parties?
Remember crowded bars, shouting over the noise of the music?
We started out with cozy dinners in, puzzles, and game nights. Okay, we thought. This will be a reset. A respite. A time to hunker down with family and maybe realign our priorities.
And then it kept going. Then it just became…the abnormal normal. Though this current state is our new normal, nothing about it feels right. Every part of us cries out for the end, every soul in the world wants to feel safe again. We want to go back to seeing each other, and the world.
But for now, we look back and we remember the things we’ve lost during this time, and that we vow not to take for granted again. We know we won’t come out of this unchanged. But how can we keep the good, and leave behind the bad? I don’t want to raise children who are afraid to touch their peers. I don’t want to become a society that would rather stay isolated than risk illness. Yes, I want us to reevaluate what can be left behind. But I want us to remember the good and return to what makes us human. I want us to hold those things that were taken from us this year so dearly that we recognize them for what they truly are. To look and see how good we had it. How rich our lives were. In choices. In relationships. In recreation.
So rich. Every single day. When we can return to “normal,” let’s see normal for what it truly is.
December 10, 2020
There is a line in Chanel Miller’s Know My Name: “How long can humans live in suspended states?”
She was speaking of the space in time between her sexual assault and the trial that ultimately convicted her assailant. A period in her life when she couldn’t move forward; she felt like her life was on hold until she could put this trauma squarely in the past.
Reading this line in the final days of 2020, I realized how much COVID feels like a suspended state. We cannot go back to life as normal. We are waiting for things to get better. For the ability to hit “resume” on our lives.
It will be nine months on Sunday that our world stopped its normal operations and ground to a halt. Yes, we have tried to restart, with little success and sometimes, grave failure. But really, things are no different from March 13. We still have to follow orders about what we can and cannot do; who we can and cannot see. We still cannot safely enter another’s house without a mask; we cannot give a hug without guilt and fear. We are all still standing, literally, at arms length from each other.
In a suspended state.
It is exhausting, all that uncertainty. It is unnerving, the inability to not know what comes next.
We feel like we have vertigo as we desperately seek firm ground. Nothing is as it should be. And while we could tolerate it for a few weeks, a few months, tolerating it for this long seems impossible.
In February, I’ll celebrate my birthday, and yet it feels surreal, wrong, how could a year have gone by when so little actually happened? This year feels like it doesn’t count. It’s the year that never was. We didn’t have all of the usual things to mark it by – birthday parties, softball seasons, end of year concerts, summer camps, back to school. Instead, we look back on an endless sea of days that began and ended the same. So little variety. So little choice.
Zadie Smith called COVID “the global humbling.”
We have been brought to our knees. This is not a comfortable state.
We will not get up unchanged. We know the other side will be different.
How can we help each other survive this never-ending pause?
December 31, 2020 9:23 PM
We just “celebrated” with the East Coast but I somehow felt the need to write one more time, in this dreaded year. Last night I was trying to fall asleep, and I just felt yet again, so tired of this. That we are starting another year, but still not much has changed. Yes, we have the hope of the vaccine, but the headlines say it is delayed and not being administered as quickly as needed. I hope to get together with my mom and sister this weekend briefly but I feel conflicted. We haven’t been going anywhere, but then you read headlines of people taking precautions and still invariably passing it to their loved ones and their loved ones dying.
I’m tired of having to factor in the COVID calculus.
It has been a year of loss. A year of losing all our plans. A year of losing our faith in the world, our faith in our power, our faith in our ability to overcome. This virus felled us to our knees, every single one of us. No matter your income or country or race. It took so much from us. It is hard for me to type that, because I know there are so many others who have had so much more taken from them. Loved ones. Jobs. Homes. But though my loss may be smaller, it is no less a loss.
I say goodbye to you, this year that was unimaginable. I don’t want to count my blessings tonight. I don’t want to remember all the good things that came from this year. I want to acknowledge that this was the year that never was. The year that somehow got erased even as we had to keep living through it.
Quarantined. Marooned. Alone.
February 22, 2021
I have nothing to tell her. I cannot tell her when it will end, when it will get better, when normal will come. I cannot tell her when she can go back to school five days a week, when she will once again see her friends’ full faces, when she’ll finally have her first sleepover, which we were weeks away from planning when the world shut down a year ago.
I am used to being able to tell her how things go, how long things take, the why, when, who. But there are no answers right now for my nine year old.
I try and tell her that we are lucky. That I’m glad this isn’t her senior year of high school or, God forbid, a year of college. That while she is yes, missing some stuff, she isn’t missing everything.
But to her, it is everything.
Yesterday she collapsed in tears. “Why? Why did this have to happen to us? While we are alive? Why couldn’t it happen to someone else, some other time?”
I sat at her feet, in supplication for a response that would heal her heart. “I don’t know,” I said, forlorn. “I’m so sorry.”
We don’t have the words to soothe right now. We don’t have answers. I used to always have the answers, or at least the questions I didn’t have the answers to were far off, philosophical. But these questions aren’t remote; they are urgent. They stem from all of our hearts.
It is February 22. It has almost been a year.
A MOMENT TO REFLECT: What is one thing that you’ve missed, more than anything, during the last two years? Hugs? Nights at the movies? Spur of the moment plans with friends? Dancing in clubs? Travel? Time with family? I’d love to hear.
How Covid Stole Our Time and How We Can Get it Back, Tim Urban, The New York Times.