Originally published on CBC Arts
I refresh the John Hopkins website. Drag the map. Zoom. Click. Drag. Click. A window pops up with updated numbers. I stare at the screen as though I am trying to analyze something. Who am I kidding? A hushed sense of dread washes over me. I turn my computer off and make a coffee. As people fight for their lives inside the walls of a hospital, birds continue to chirp, the streetcar runs on schedule and Jane Fonda brings back her 80s workout routines on TikTok. Am I in the most anticlimactic sci-fi film of all time? I continually oscillate between feeling fine and not fine. My friend from Berlin laughs about how she’s emotionally two weeks ahead of me. While I have lost control over the amount of information flowing in and out, I find her realization truly comforting. We joke that we will probably come out of this with some sort of phobia. I tell her that mundane objects and activities, like grocery shopping, people jogging and plastic bags, have already become a source of anxiety.
I discover the pleasure of ordering groceries online. It’s soothing, therapeutic and above all distracting. Oh, they have Lysol disinfectant…oh no, sold out. I spend an hour putting my cart together only to realize that it won’t arrive for another ten days. The day of the delivery, a shopper confirms substitutions for sold-out items. An hour later she buzzes up, knocks and loudly says that she’s walking away. I open my door and one by one bring each bag inside. I carefully disinfect, wash and disinfect each item again. I have been washing my hands constantly with dish soap while continually wiping down my fridge, the floor and door knobs. I hear my mother’s voice say, “Don’t touch your face, go wash your hands.” I look down at them. Dry, burning, red. Again I feel that wave of dread wash over me and realize: I have no idea when I will physically touch another person.
Two days later, some non-essential items arrive. I can’t go through that disinfecting frenzy again and I am running low on wipes. So I lean the packages against the wall beside my front door — this area has become the “contaminated” zone. I ask, “Siri, how long does the virus live on cardboard?” I am skeptical of her response. I’ll wait another two days…that was seven days ago…
A friend who lives 300 meters away and I have resorted to FaceTiming. She tells me about going to the grocery store and describes watching a woman touch six avocados. Wide-eyed and shocked, she says, “Can you believe it, Julia?!” I giggle.
When we get off the phone, I lay on my floor and look up at the ceiling. CNN plays in the background. I make a mental note to cut down on watching the news. Time is moving in a very odd way — moments take forever but hours fly by. The news isn’t helping. The pressure to be productive and see this time as a gift makes my eyes roll. Making art in this context seems…pointless? important? necessary? I can’t be sure. All I know is that living in uncertainty is more crippling than I thought it would be.
I slowly turn my coffee table into a makeshift studio, but the crammed space becomes distracting coupled with my existential thoughts. I think of my grandmother and start reminiscing. Every Thursday she would take my sister and I to the park with a knife in her pocket. When we finished playing, we would meet my grandfather and go grocery shopping. In the 90s, grocery stores had coin-operated horses — every time, without fail, my grandfather would prop me up and we would laugh as this machine jerked me back and forth. When we got home, my grandmother would make us Nutella sandwiches and let us watch cartoons before her Italian soap opera came on. I would sneak away and play with an espresso set that was perfectly placed on a tray in the living room I wasn’t allowed in. She always added a pinch of sugar to her sauce and let us eat figs off the tree from the greenhouse. I quickly snap back to reality. Smash. Shatter. My coffee cup breaks. I look up — shit, is that plant dying?
It seems like most of everything pre-pandemic is breaking or wilting away. I fell for this guy who enchanted me with his unintentional charm and cute sentences. Even in his silence, I knew how he felt. We are so far away from this now. By day 18, longer periods of time go by without a word. The silence is now deafening and slowly he disappears. I know this can’t consume me — there’s no room left. I buy myself flowers and download Bumble. Opening line will be easy: “How’s isolation going?” Time ticks on.
Brands stop selling me demographically specific products and instead advertise protective medical gear and disinfecting sprays. I discover that domestic activities like baking numb everything outside the task at hand. My phone now autofills words starting with q to quarantine. What day is it? Monday. It’s quiet for 8am. I look out my window and notice the tree starting to bud. It’s spring.