I just got my copy of “The Covid Monologues,” a local anthology edited by Jennifer Knight and Moira Silva. The stories are a powerful glimpse into an era we all lived, and are living through still. They are poignant and beautifully written, and like life, have so many different dimensions and perspectives.
I started thinking about what I would have written … if I had written one. And the more I thought about it, the more I understood why I hadn’t submitted anything in the first place.
When people were dying in the thousands, when kids were being homeschooled by harried parents, trying to teach, cook, work from home, when people were terrified of going to the grocery store, when folks couldn’t visit their loved ones in nursing homes and were suddenly isolated, coupled with unprecedented levels of anxiety, how could I say I had just found the most stunning Sheriff’s Meadow walk on the Vineyard? That each day my husband, who normally commutes, and I only get him long weekends, was now here full-time, and that we had slipped into the most satisfying simple contentment we had ever known. That we started baking the best almond biscotti and pizza with our own homemade crust and our favorite Indian dish, mattar paneer. That we watched all those television series like “The Queen’s Gambit” that everyone else was watching, and sat by a cozy fire reading silently for hours, knowing no one was going to show up, no one was going to call, and no one was going to need anything from us. The freedom was intoxicating.
And that got me thinking how many different pieces I would have written if the virus had come at different points in my life.
Like 1975. I’m 34. I have a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. I am home all the time. I had no outdoor life walking, running, wandering among the trees. I hadn’t touched a paintbrush or a piano key. I didn’t knit, I didn’t crochet. And even though I did write the occasional rant, calling it bad poetry, I didn’t honor it or respect it or myself enough to actually do it. So being home with babies 24/7 felt like a prison of sorts.
I had pushed my husband into business. It had become successful. We went to England on theater tours, we took the kids and my mom to Bermuda and rode mopeds to the beach. We went to Italy and Greece, and there were many days I’d grab my man from work and we’d take off for some cute little town with little shops that sold Dansk dishes and teak breadboards, and we’d call the babysitter and ask if we could come home later than we had promised because we found this charming health food bistro that served tofu burgers on whole wheat buns, and we simply had to stay.
The oil crisis hit at the same time crack cocaine came into the neighborhood. And we started losing a lot of our best guys, workers who were family men. To death. At the same time, about 10 competitors cropped up, and started manufacturing in China. As we were paying $11.50 an hour, they were paying 30 cents an hour, and copying our designs. We started to lose customers; first Bloomingdale’s cut its orders in half, then we lost all the Lord & Taylors, I. Magnins, and Bendels. So now let’s pretend that’s when COVID hits.
We have no jobs, kids to feed, and mounting debt.
Fast-forward to 1986. We are at the bank mortgaging our house trying to pay down our creditors, and closing our 20-year-old business. The kids need money for college. Dan is going to Bard, the most expensive school in the country, and Josh has a lacrosse scholarship to a small school in Wisconsin. And COVID hits. Schools close and they don’t leave home. And we are totally broke.
Crawl forward to 1992. My son Dan, who was diagnosed with diabetes at 9 months old, is diagnosed with MS. His journey involves hospitals and doctors and operations and rehabs. If this were COVID time, those emergencies wouldn’t have been considered emergencies. There wouldn’t have been a bed, an available nurse, or an ambulance.
So I can’t call the timing of COVID lucky for us exactly, but I also couldn’t have written about what an exquisite experience being in lockdown was for me without feeling guilty and thoughtless. My heart hurt for everyone who was suffering.
Let’s just say, Maybe I didn’t have a typical response to the pandemic, the way so many people experienced it. But I am the beneficiary of some of the lessons it is teaching. And that is to remember to have gratitude when things are easy, really remember, not fake remember, and to have sorrow, to feel deeply, to feel broken heart sorrow when things are tough.
And maybe the biggest one is to remember: Nothing is permanent.