When The World Left Us Behind
We had just had a memorial gathering for his late mother. Early in February Steve started feeling uncomfortable. It just wasn’t right. Things were not going well in China, and eventually in Italy. Steve had been the medical director for his company's pandemic response back in 2005, when SARS and MERS came on the scene and this coronavirus was looking to be a bad spreader. But we didn’t talk about it so much then. He just convinced me on March 1 we needed to shop for food that we might need in case we couldn’t go to the grocery store for a while. It didn’t initially scare me. Mostly because Steve’s the kind of guy who hates to not have enough. Or to run out of something he expects to be there when he wants it. So I literally indulged him in a shopping spree to Costco, where because I could not wrap my brain around what was to come, we bought emergency rations of frozen individual lasagna, instead of a 50 lb. bag of beans and rice. Thankfully, we also bought toilet paper... Needless to say, here in Cal, with fire season approaching, and the threats of roving blackouts turn the lights on and off with the wind and heat dangers, having anything in the freezer is an issue.
Last year during fire season, we lost 2 full fridge’s full of food when the lights went out during the summer months. One time, we were able to transfer food into the RV fridge, but that is unsustainable. So now, months into having freezers full, we need to start to talk about generator backup or a battery for our solar panels. One potentially solvable issue turns into another. Anyway, the stores are still open, and while there is a meat shortage, there isn’t particularly a food shortage. But going to the grocery store is the scariest thing I’ve done since we went snorkeling down near Belize and I couldn’t let go of the boat. Yea, well, not a great analogy but it’s what I got for ya.
So I built some raised beds and started a garden. Yup. A garden. Been some time since the last one— I’m thinking 1989? Steve admittedly has never grown vegetables ever… and I have never grown more than flowers here in California and so I’ve been watching the tomato plants with awe and great wonderment, all the while my mouth can almost taste that right off the vine sensation of that first summer cherry tomato! However, the premise of this garden is one of fear, it is my fear garden. Fear of the food supply chain completely breaking— as if my one broccoli plant will save us— but somehow, it’s a band aid on the idea we might not be able to get groceries. And it feels better. Feels empowering somehow.
With the garden in the ground, and the spring making it’s way to summer, I'm realizing it is mid May. What the heck happened to February? As the art shows got cancelled, and as my entire business model came crashing to the ground, our lives seemed suspended in a constant state of Steve’s recent retirement. He had spent months up until February, creating a routine to his day of not working anymore. And it turns out that this has been the only routine “we” have, although none of his routine has an impact on my days. We are both still busy. Living in our home, eating at home, cooking at home all day every day, makes a mess. It is a constant rotation of preparation and cleanup. And some days I walk into the studio, look around, get overwhelmed and walk back out.
My life has closed in on me. I live in some kind of impenetrable circle. Many friends are still working, many as essential employees. Some are just waiting to go back to work as our country reopens softly, pretending it’s safe to do so. My kids live in far away places like Colorado and NYC, and we have no idea when we will ever get to see them again. I know I have family I will never see again. Babies are being born, on both sides of our family. Children are growing up. And life is seemingly going on around us everywhere. But at our house, time stands still. The overwhelming sense of grief and sadness has not lessened in time, it has grown. Everyone is trying to forecast when we can next attend a live music concert, or attend a class… I wonder when i can just shop for a recipe i have in mind to cook, without fearing for my life, but instead i have been taking what i can get, not realizing how very much I miss avocados... and cooking what is in the fridge so it won't go bad.
But we will be left behind. We are being left behind. As friends gather for social distanced happy hours and walks on the beach together, and neighbors think it’s a good idea to have a social distanced block party, I have not left my home in MANY weeks, and only to grab some vegetables at the only place I can shop, an open air farmers market. I am trying to get used to this new reality. I used to be active. I used to get together with girlfriends, i used to go to the beach for sunsets. I was active in my arts community. I used to do Zumba a few days a week, and I had taken up some floor pilates classes, so I was doing group exercise a lot. I was designing a new show at the Food Lounge, with an April First Friday opening, and a backstage night installation at a music festival in June. I had received an Art grant from the Arts Council, to take a professional week long class in Santa Fe, in May, which of course was cancelled, and the real axe that dropped was Open Studios being cancelled. There were other disappointments like the trip to Italy we had planned— I’ve never been to Europe—but those are more manageable emotionally. I know we are not alone. Many many folks have lost their livelihoods, and have those kinds of struggles. But while I see many people trying to get back up on their virtual feet, I don’t see my future anymore. What used to be dreaming big, and going for it, what used to be the big picture, my bucket list career stuff— all gone.
I fear we will be left behind. I’m incredibly lonely. And it feels dense. Not a veneer, not a wispy sensation that comes and goes, and is terribly difficult to talk about. No one likes a downer. No one wants to hang out with someone who is lonely. It's in itself almost off limits conversation. And I’m not clearly sure how to even account for my loneliness. I mean, Steve is a wonderful companion, and he is home with me every day. Things have been good with us. We have a peaceful home, and a peaceful life together. We enjoy each others company a great deal. But there is a loneliness that persists that comes from outside my relationship. It transcends all things normal. My friends now, as they gather without me, as I am not thought of and not included, overlooked as to if we would need anything, as they all freely go to the grocery store and pick up the things they need, as the world turns without me, us, I am further isolated… calling strangers for help who willingly jump at a chance to oblige and help a neighbor. Trusting people who are out there helping people, to help me, and not the people I thought would or could be there for us. I always thought that our community would come together, I did. But that is not what I see from where I sit. Not all share my sense of altruism. The facade of strength is cracking. And what is leaking out is hard to look at and would rather go unseen.
Sadness persists. Depression comes in waves. Learning to accept the great injustices in the world seems unacceptable. Learning to accept my own limitations becomes unbearable. For anyone who has an autoimmune disease, the world becomes a place to navigate through. A dangerous, infected, unclean place, that leaves us defenseless against that which would see us die. In my case, an extraordinarily rare disorder whose end is pretty ugly. And I am one of the lucky ones who has found remission—for the time being anyway. I know I can pretend life is normal, put on a happy face, be productive, work on my marriage, be altruistic, help others, count my lucky stars… But it never has been and never will be. The same. Or normal.
There will be no soft opening for me. It is abundantly clear at this point, that society has no intention of waiting for me. There is no evidence we will have a vaccine… albeit all the hopefulness... and in the timeline we need it. Even then, persuading half these folks to get one—so that there is some kind of herd immunity where the world will be safe for me again? Will this, can this really happen? We WILL be left behind. We ARE being left behind. This is not to diminish my gratefulness. Because I have, we have, so much to be grateful for. Yet, I cannot seem to divest my soul from it’s intrinsic fear. That while in the midst of seeking the connectedness I so desire, is the acceptance of my isolation.