Dispatches from a Pandemic: Long Distancing

The last time I saw my mother, she was alive.

I feel like this should be the first line of the winning entry in a pandemic essay contest.  

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Who’s to say an unintended consequence of this pandemic will be long-term care residents, unvisited and forgotten, unable to feel the love and touch and energy of loved ones? Who’s to say they don’t just give up and die sooner?

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What if this is all meant to happen? What if this virus takes my mother down its swirling tornado of doom? Dad still fighting it in his endless quest to disprove everything: aging, medicine, his own fragile state, driving, independent living, outliving threat after threat, like Methuselah.

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And now in this pandemic, the bland sameness of days, tedious passage of moments and days and weeks and months where the groundhog sees his shadow day in and day out, the painful lesson of being in the now, just as my mother has lived every day for the past five years. Life measured in moments. The passage of time different here.

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I send my parents care packages and cards as if they were kids away at summer camp. Their delight as satisfying as my own upon receiving letters airmailed from home when I lived abroad.

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After they divorced, both parents lived on separate islands. Now, nestled in their respective care homes, they share opposing views of the Bay. Even if I lived down the street it would still be a world away, lockdown or not, for mom. Even in my childhood she was distant.

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I am faced with the growing possibility of a double funeral. Or maybe triple. Who would plan them if I die? Will anyone be left to attend, virtually or not?

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Pandemic Obituary: A time for remembrance will be found in the future.

Pandemic Memorial: The Celebration of Life service has been postponed until it is safe to congregate again.

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Dispatches from a Pandemic: Nonsensical

This monochromatic sameness of days. Life feels colorless. Dull.

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I hate this edgy restlessness. The dogs constantly scratching at the door.

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Lack of focus. I’ll be making scrambled eggs, then zone off, thinking about the island, thinking about where I bought my spatula, wondering if Cindy’s okay. Then return to the eggs like, what the fuck am I doing right now? What was I just thinking about again?

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My world is unbalanced, teetering on a one-legged yoga pose.

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The tentative “you okay?” texts to friends I haven’t connected with in months. The random memories that pop into my mind.

“Remember that time we were so hungover I puked in the ficas tree at Denny’s?” I text Cindy.

“Nope,” she responds.

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Run the dogs. Walk the dogs. Walk the neighborhood under the stars. A neighbor smoking a cigar, smoke curling in the moonlight. Someone doing laundry.

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On the kitchen counter, two recipes: Rice Krispy treats and my cousin’s Cape Cod chicken. Comfort food I’ll never make.

Note: I made both.

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I can’t explain why I find Wednesday morning trash pick-up soothing. Because it’s a routine carried over from The Before? Or the marking of midweek gives us a forward push as we move closer to The After? Does it matter?

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Dreamy sunshine. The thoughtless tease of an endless summer.

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At what exact moment did showering become a major life event?

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The pandemic: An entire season of snowdays. With power.

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None of this makes sense. “They opened the beach at Coronado yesterday, but no boating allowed,” my husband reports. “I don’t get it.

Bartlett Lake allowing boats, but no swimming.

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Nothing makes sense and nothing makes sense.

Dispatches from A Pandemic: When Time Runs Out

It’s as if the world has all been given a year or less to live. And we can’t even live out our days as if they were our last. Stay home. Don’t travel. Hawaii’s been closed for months, no Tahitian getaways on the schedule. No vacation planning or airline miles redeemed. Solitary confinement. “The only thing worse than Solitary,” texts my dad, who’s been on quarantine lockdown at his senior living community for six weeks, “is going back to Solitary.”

Like death row prisoners, we enjoy our last meals on earth.

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March 16: Our health club closed its doors for the first time ever in their 40 year history. My last gym workout: hard and heavy in a near empty weight room, then a 20 minute swim. My friend Marcie swam for hours. Gliding through the silky blue water. The only one left in the pool. We both knew it was over.

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“Everything I use to calm my fear and anxiety and stay sober—gyms, meetings, even grocery shopping at Whole Foods—has been stripped away,” moans Caroline B in the empty cyberspace of a virtual AA meeting.

Also: “Alcoholics will always find a way to drink, quarantined or not.”

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Life has taken on the timeless quality of a casino; a memory care ward; mile 37 of an ultramarathon. Seconds pass like hours. We have all this time on our hands, but are crippled by inertia. The numbness this futureless state, living with no end in sight, not unlike my mother’s daily life in Alzheimer’s World..

The spaces between moments grow deeper. Time knows no hour. And now that we have an unlimited supply, time has become a commodity.