It’s St. Patrick’s Day and snow is falling outside my window. Day #4 of social distancing. The four states where I have lived are on the top of the virus outbreak charts.
My husband and I start our isolation as a negotiation.
If you cancel our date with A&B, I say, I’ll cancel with C&D. Both couples are more social than we were, and the possibility that they might have contracted the virus was worrisome. In retirement, our conversations too often center on doctor’s visits, elective surgery, and physical therapy, but our friends emphasize their healthy lifestyles, their resilience. None of them accept the tagline “most vulnerable,” but the guidelines continue to lump us all in, so we cancel our social engagements.
If you don’t go to Planet Fitness, I say, I won’t go to yoga. These are bigger sacrifices. Both of us need to keep moving, or we get ragged at the edges.
The Chinese student my husband tutors cancels their meet up. Be well, Mr. Lew. She e-mails him in English he has yet to polish.
In a flurry of emails, my book club tries to figure out how we will discuss Faulkner, but the retired academicians are not familiar with social networking sites that will facilitate a live discussion of Absalom, Absalom so the e-mail trail goes cold.
My husband throws down the trump card: maybe we should go to Vermont and wait this out.
With a wisp of collusion, my son texts: you shouldn’t be around my kids. Why don’t you go up to Vermont?
What choice do I have? Everybody who knows me knows Vermont is my happy place. Our modest cabin with its pine planked walls and windows facing the Green Mountains is cozy and comfortable. The wood stove heats the house to a cozy 70 degrees and the cats love to stretch out on the stove rug, baking themselves in the heat.
So here I am and now Phil Scott, the VT governor, laments the second homeowners who have flocked to Vermont to escape the pandemic, one half of the positive tests administered in the state. A drain on our resources, he says.
Blindsided, Trumps says. We knew this would happen; the scientists reply. You’ll wake up one morning, our president says, and it will be over.
We aren’t quibbling yet, but it’s inevitable. My husband and I agree on a schedule. One week at a time, we say. We’ll stay seven days, two weeks at most. Now the governors say it could be months. The schools have closed.
Social distancing comes easily to me, I told an acquaintance at the outset. A lie I begin to see through.
In front of the fire, we cling to our devices, quoting outbreak statistics. I share sites with my son that might entertain his children. Even Trump seems scared now, and the cities where I have lived are locking down one by one. Looking at the outbreak map, I see a map my life in gray circles.
Seattle, my birthplace, is the first to skid to a stop. Every summer of my childhood I visited my grandparents, first at the summer home on Bainbridge Island, and later in an over-55 apartment building in the shadow of the newly erected space needle. Now the elderly there are dying, locked into nursing homes and hospices, their families waving through outside windows.
San Francisco and Santa Clara county, where I was raised, the next to go. Locked down, everyone working from home. (WFH, my son texts.) The streets are empty, a former student of my husband e-mails. I image the nouveau riche tapping away, their children pulling at their sleeves. Daddy, I’m bored. Mommy, she hit me. All the restless energy threatening to go ballistic.
New York City follows, the magnet that drew me in my twenties, where standing elbow to elbow is a basic survival tool. The streets slowly empty, and the subways slow. The national news shows a high school orchestra playing its cancelled concert in Times Square, and I think, why aren’t these children five feet apart? The outbreak there starts in the suburbs, a lawyer in the bridge and tunnel crowd from Westchester infecting half a dozen people before he ends up in critical care.
New Jersey, the bedroom communities where we raised our son, follows, always in the shadow of New York. Teaneck residents are instructed not to leave their homes as the outbreak spreads exponentially. The pandemic cannot be stopped now; they are trying to smooth the curve.
Next on the list, Massachusetts, where my husband and I retired, lured by the open spaces and dynamic academic communities. Here, a scientific meeting at a Boston hotel seeds the spread, the attendees returning to their communities infected, communicable, and coughing. So far, no one has died, but we know that will be next.
So, what choice to I have but to watch the snowflakes fall? Phil Scott will have to understand. We’ve paid property taxes here for over 15 years, so in the, hopefully unlikely, event that I tap into the state’s resources, he’ll have toforgive me. In the meantime, I have a treadmill, a stack of books, and the Kripalu cookbook.
Unprecedented, the reporters chime. Wall Street panics and churches go online. I’m afraid when my husband kisses me after a trip to the post office. I ask him not to go to the dump.
Massachusetts Governor Baker warns: If everybody treats this like an extended spring break, we all will suffer.
We arrived when skiers were still sliding down Mt. Snow. Now the resorts have closed, giving visitors less than 24 hours to head home. We take our daily walk; the dirt roads are quiet. Only the chickadees sing. And even when we see a lone walker, we keep our distance.
I don’t want Vermont high on that list. But we’re all in this together. Already, I miss welcoming hugs from my neighbors, the warmth of a community that rallied after storm Irene and gathers at Town Hall for intimate concerts. The partnership between locals and flatlanders in Vermont is as much a staple as cheddar cheese or maple syrup.
Next weekend the sugar houses hold their annual open houses. I suppose these too will be cancelled.
Hopefully, we will inhale the sweet aroma, even from a distance.