Saturday, April 4, 2020
It’s not all bad, these coronavirus days.
There are times I really like having nowhere to go. This rush we always live in, this must-get-here and have-to-get there — vanished. I had no idea that was possible. I’d assumed I’d be metaphorically out of breath until the day I died.
I have friends and family who despise sitting still. For them, this time is a trial. Take my mother. My whole life, she’s been on the move. Even in her 80s she keeps up a hectic schedule of gym workouts and competitive bridge and art classes and UCLA basketball games and dinner out on Saturdays and travel around the world.
No more. Now she and her longtime partner stay at home while my 21-year-old son and 17-year-old niece go to the market for her. “I just don’t know how much longer we can all do this,” she says to me on the phone, nearly every day.
This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I could do this for a bit longer. Quite a bit longer.
When I was a child, all I ever wanted to do was stay in my room with the door closed. There I had my stack of library books, which usually included something by Louisa May Alcott, a volume from the Narnia series, a biography of somebody famous I wanted to grow up to be, and a couple of new novels about girls, or magic, or both. I had a chest of drawers, wherein I kept a diary with a real lock that could be opened with a real key (or jimmied in about two seconds with a twisted paperclip). I could lug from my closet suitcase-style boxes covered in patent leather and filled with Barbies and their wardrobes. Eventually, I got my Barbies a three-story house with a pink plastic elevator that went up and down on a pulley.
Short of a bathroom (down the hall) and food (produced on the regular by my busy, efficient mother), there was nothing else I needed. My younger brother, more like my mother than me, would have loved a playmate. But I drifted in the happy haze of my alone time, which seemed to stretch out before and behind me as far as I could see, mine for the taking. Every once in a while, my parents would drag me out for a bike ride, or to participate in a soccer game with other kids my age. But every day, as soon as they let me, I found my way back to my room, and my particular world.
Eventually, homework intruded. Then outings with friends. Boys. When I was 17, we moved from the house in Encino, where my room had wallpaper in a Wedgewood pattern of strawberries and pink flowers, an apple green carpet, a pink-and-white checked comforter and white eyelet trimmed curtains framing a view of a tree that burst into blossom every spring. Our new house in Calabasas was twice the size and, we all thought, twice as nice. But my room was painted an off-white. It lay over the garage, so every time someone came home, it vibrated like a minor earthquake. And it faced west, which meant that every afternoon from June to October, there wasn’t enough air conditioning in the world to cool it down.
Plus, by then I was busy. A calendar was no longer merely an indicator of the week or month, but a page to fill with plans. Time to myself had become what happened when every other plan fell through.
My life since then has followed a textbook path: college, then grad school, then career. Husband, then one kid, then two, then three. Playdates and birthday parties, dance practice and soccer games. A dog who needs walks. Freelance work and carpools. SAT tutoring and college counseling. Slipped into the cracks, little treats for me like a book club, a subscription to the theater with my husband and neighbors, writing groups, weekday dinners out with friends.
And always errands, errands, errands.
Then this spring a virus hit, and it all stopped. I usually worry I will miss out on something by staying home. But my friends zoom into my computer on video chats almost every evening. My parents and brother, no longer darting from here to there, pick up by the second ring. And my three kids, now 21, 19 and 16, are around. Not around like little children, in my face, demanding this, requiring that. Rather, they drift about the house, colliding softly here and there, mostly leaving me alone but generally available if I want to talk or watch a show.
I feel bad saying this, because my husband’s life is as busy as ever. His stress has multiplied many times over. But this temporary life — this life brought to me by a deadly virus that is ripping through our society like a knife through a body –feels like something once lost, now found.
It feels like time, rolling out around me, mine again for the taking.