Coronavirus Chronicles will feature occasional essays or works of art by Islanders who want to share their experience during the pandemic. Please mail submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loneliness is a cruel master.
I’ve now been a widow almost 12 years, and I thought I understood all aspects of it. But for those who are alone during this pandemic, locked in homes where an occasional home delivery or very early visit to the grocery store or a phone call from a friend constitute social outings — it is a creature of its own kind. And it’s one that many people here on the Vineyard, and so many other places, are facing with both fear and trepidation — and bravery.
I have a friend who plays a Native American drum every morning while her daughter and her year-old granddaughter go about their day in a far away city. Another one who calls friends on a rotating schedule — just to make sure they’re okay, she says. Or is it making sure she’s okay? A third friend who has virtual cocktail hours with a few select friends.
And then there are the ones who are slipping away from us. The friend who had a manic episode and who is now in an assisted living facility trying to heal. Another who sleeps much of the day away, finding the night a much friendlier place. Another who declines all phone calls.
Alone is a world away from loneliness. When I returned to the Vineyard from Mexico, I went into some friends’ empty house to quarantine before going to a shared home on Chappy. I am a comfortable introvert, easy with silences. I’d already been mostly alone since the sudden death of my husband. I thought I was ready for 14 days alone.
The first eight days, I amused myself by doing blog-type postings on Facebook called Cooking with Jan! Making Almost Nothing Out of Almost Nothing. It was fun and silly and made me laugh — and a lot of others laughed with me and at me. (“Has someone taken over your body?” one friend asked playfully.) Then, on day nine, the fun stopped, and the silence took over.
I was finally, and completely, alone. My family couldn’t come visit. One friend did a “drive by” stop, standing in the cold rain while I stood inside the house. No one asked me to Zoom — I think that wasn’t yet part of our everyday lexicon. The house where I was staying was at the end of a long dirt road, so there weren’t even any sightings of random folks.
So the aloneness deserted me, and the loneliness took over.
I began to sense the same thing was happening to others. And I began to separate in my mind those who had partners or friends in their homes and were sharing this together, and me. Us. Those of us who are really, truly alone.
This is now week six of this new virus life. I’m lucky, since I came home to a house on Chappy where I can see my daughter, son-in-law, and 2-year-old granddaughter. I share occasional meals with them. I play with the little one. I look in my refrigerator at food my family has provided for me and sleep on sheets my daughter has washed for me. I am no longer alone.
And yet, for dozens of those I know, this just goes on, with really no easy end in sight. And I wonder if loneliness is not as vicious as this virus — if life without friends and family and even the most occasional sighting of other people will, in many ways, be an end to them. And I know, as surely as I know anything, that the culture of this new virus life will leave us wounded beyond all expectations.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” I hope all this passes before the stares become a way of life.
Jan Pogue was the cofounder, with her husband John Walter, of the publishing company Vineyard Stories. She lives on Chappaquiddick.