Pandemic Ponderings — Collateral Damage
Covid-19 has been kind to me so far. I suffered a bit from the usual wishing to be out in the world with friends, the ordinary desire to be back in the routines, to return to exploring the city I love. Still, no one close to me died, was displaced by unemployment or afflicted with hunger. I managed to teach online, and my income, while diminished by falling enrollment, has been sufficient. I can pay my rent. I can buy food. I am whole. As are my family and closest friends. I am grateful for my great good fortune.
There have been, however, some collateral damages.
Such as the reliable soundness of sleep.
An alarm in the abode above me sounds at 2 AM. My overhead neighbor has made his presence more audible of late. He bounces balls and hammers nails at the oddest hours. A personal trainer, he seems to have clients who suffer from pandemic time dissociation. His doorbell rings. Dumbbells crash to his floor and shake my ceiling. A torrent of new-age violins accompanies the scuffling of feet and then the singsong squeak of sneakers running in place.
By 2:30 AM, the outside world comes screaming through my open window. The pandemic has turned deep night, when police are less likely to be vigilant, into a time for blatant socializing. It’s too early in the morning or too late at night to be woke about the disturbances from the street.
My open window admits the uninhibited voices of day laborers out in the predawn cold hoping against hope for some kind of work to fall off a truck. Rapped repetitions and heavy bass runs blast from angry speakers. Salsa and reggaeton bleed from whining car radios. Scurrying feet of squealing kids, who should be tucked in at home, scrape the streets.
Once awake, I lie in bed fighting fears I was can no longer keep at bay, the ones I used to control with ease. I stuff my ears with earbuds, listen to podcasts, novels, short stories that distract me. And then I drift into a semi-sleep from which I wake feeling tired all over again.
There’s also the loss of hugging.
We all hug less than we ever did. Even post-vaccination, I find it hard to trust that touching, holding onto human flesh is safe for those around me. My closest and dearest friends, once demonstrative to a fault, now withhold their affection.
I wear a mask in the presence of my grandchildren, and though I long to return to cuddly sleepovers, to lying in bed telling stories and listening to theirs, they remain a threat to the unvaccinated around me. So I curtail my contact. It’s a painful abstinence that seems a small price to pay.
At times the absence of love’s simplest physical ministration has led to more permanent deprivation. By losing physical contact, I lost touch altogether. I truly believed what I said whenever I promised, “When this is over, we’ll catch up.” Then I went about my business and made do with what was in my reach, and I began to repel intimacy with anyone outside my purview.
In the earliest days of the virus, I would call to invite an old friend, who lives just beyond a two-mile walk from me, to meet for a *socially distanced visit in the park. She inevitably responded, “I don’t want to interrupt your work,” or “I know you’re busy, and I won’t distract you.” At first, I protested, but then I heard her implication: “I have closer people to see today. I won’t extend beyond my pale.” I understood. I accepted the rejection and honored the choice that she’d made. We spoke regularly by phone, sharing our individual experiences with the quarantine. Then we spoke less often, and finally came a day when we said we’d catch up the next week but did not. I failed to make that call.
Though either of us could have been the one to follow through, I embraced her recrimination for not having stepped up. “Your apology sounds insincere,” she scolded when I did call.”I must consider whether I want to be your friend.” Honestly, I understood her rebuff. I was remiss. In fact, I was thinking what I clearly heard in the substance of her subtext.
“It’s too hard now. It’s been too long, and I’ve filled all the gaps where our friendship used to be. I’ll be moving on.”
The losses are incalculable, but they are losses I will live with. Like everyone else, I make adjustments to a life that will never be normal again. Each of us shapes and reshapes a new way of being that won’t necessarily embrace what was. Those relationships that can be born anew will prevail, but some will scatter.
We’ll never be the same, but we must count our lucky stars.