“Let go of the idea of perfecting that massive epic about three generations of ship-builders and—instead—perfect single lines.” 

–Courtney Maum, “Writing Down the Panic: Tips for Writers to Stay Focused During Covid

 

MARCH

My husband and I celebrate our anniversary over brunch in a French Quarter courtyard, a few blocks from the historic home where we said our vows, while my parents babysit for our four-year-old son. 

*

In the hospital parking garage, I read a tweet from the director of the writing conference I’d planned to attend as a freelancer before hearing about a state of emergency in San Antonio. An evacuee left quarantine early to sit alone in a mall food court before testing positive for a virus that’s been circulating elsewhere—one that, three days after Mardi Gras, the president called a hoax. 

The conference is still on. It will be a handshake-free, hug-free affair.

*

At therapy, I talk about how bummed I am to skip the conference, how badly I still want to go, but how I don’t want to jeopardize my early-April trip to Denver to meet my niece, who’s due any day now. 

After lunchtime yoga, a friend treats me to hibiscus tea at a hotel in a deconsecrated church, and we talk books for an hour. 

My husband comes home with a card and a gift—a bar of soap with a ceramic bird inside. Good incentive to wash our hands, he says.

*

I cancel my hotel reservation, accepting the penalty of one night’s stay plus tax, and turn my flight back into frequent-flyer miles. 

How awful to see newly blank days on the calendar, these vast expanses of unplanned hours. More time to job-search, I suppose.

*

Over Skype, the agent I’d planned to meet at the conference requests the full manuscript of my novel. 

*

Having emailed the agent, I meet my husband for lunch at a deli where my cauliflower sandwich is served on a plastic McDonald’s plate I’m certain I once owned. 

I drop off library books, pick up a print from the frame shop, and drive home to take a nap. For some reason, I’m exhausted.

*

Three naps under my weighted blanket with a low-grade fever—100.4°—but I’m freezing. 

I binge-read Topics of Conversation while my husband and son play with Legos in another room. 

City officials suggest that people wash their hands like you just ate crawfish and you have to put your contacts in.

*

After testing negative for flu and strep, I ask the nurse at urgent care whether my fever, cough, body aches, and chills could be The Virus. Because I haven’t traveled anywhere, she tells me it’s not possible, and anyway, no tests are available. Rest and fluids, she says. I am not swabbed, not instructed to self-isolate, not told to behave as though I have it anyway. 

*

Feeling better after two naps—well enough to pick up my son from preschool, then to order a burrito bowl that tastes like glue. When I get home, I’m so tired I regret having left the house.

The state reports the first presumptive case of The Virus, a veteran who lives in a nearby parish.

*

Curled up under my weighted blanket, I feel like a sponge absorbing the world’s panic. I write a newsletter post that, after sending, I wish I’d saved as draft. The last thing anxious people want to read about is anxiety.

*

She’s in a great headspace, my sister says, on her wife’s fourth and last day of labor. I wish I could say the same. 

Items I throw in my grocery cart: a 10-pound bag of rice, canned chickpeas, tins of anchovies, frozen strawberries, pineapple rings, dry beans of every shape and color. 

I don’t know what I’m preparing for.

*

Our couples therapist always brews hot tea, which is especially nice today, given my lingering cough.

I stop by Target to stock up on cleaning supplies. They’re out of toilet paper.

*

Morning email from the school: COVID-19 Update. Cancelled events: parent/teacher conferences, City Park Night, some pizza fundraiser I hadn’t known about. 

Afternoon email: School Closure. Thirty days, per the governor’s announcement.

My husband and I round up our son’s belongings; half the cubbies are already empty. When I look at his teachers, I want to cry. We eat burgers at a restaurant that would otherwise be packed, and it feels like the end of something.

*

We visit Lowe’s for all the house projects we plan to complete while hunkering down. 

At Sal’s, we sit on the farthest log, trying to observe new social-distancing rules while sipping our sno-balls, and spot a tall man who my husband says plays for the Pelicans. A woman approaches him, flanked by four pre-teen boys. Can we take a picture? she asks. They huddle for a photo.

*

We’ve been attending a laid-back church long enough to get added to its mailing list; its email about Sunday services suggests sitting six feet apart in the pews. There will be no passed offertory, no wine, no childcare. We stay home.

*

My therapist fits me in for an earlier appointment than planned. This is a blip in time, she says. Your mission is to take care of your son, she says. Good enough is good enough, she says, as I unwrap another cherry cough drop. On my way out, she Lysols the door handle that only she ever touches.

*

I suggest a Hangout for my writing group. I haven’t sent anything, nor have I read what they’ve sent. But I love seeing their faces and talking about words—never mind that I can’t string together a sentence.

*

My kid and I walk at City Park, where the Café du Monde to-go window is open, but I don’t want to get powdered sugar all over the stroller. 

I pick up a curbside order from Octavia Books, then takeout from Pizza Domenica, two places on my mental list of businesses I don’t want to disappear. In the absence of a job, repelled by my work in progress, only spending makes me feel less helpless. That, and decorating objects we find in the yard.

*

At the Audubon jogging path, runners give my stroller a wide berth, and a group exercise class seems adequately distanced, though nearby, two men practice kickboxing, beads of sweat flying. The playground is sparse, but not empty, and my son wails when we pass without stopping.

Ways this is like postpartum: social isolation, nocturnal dread, a noticeable uptick in domestic labor, neighborhood walks as entertainment, frustration and despair despite my staggering privilege, my mother marveling over FaceTime that my son is doing so well.

*

With my husband working from home, I can leave the house while roasting a chicken to make a second trip to Octavia. It’s their last day open to the public.

My son falls asleep in his car seat, so I detour through the Quarter. Bourbon Street’s bars and strip clubs are boarded with plywood, like they’re bracing for a hurricane.  

*

Today is Saturday; despite the stay-at-home order, it actually feels like a weekend. My parents stop by to stand in our yard. My mother, who just arrived from Denver on a plane with six passengers, says a family friend is in the hospital with pneumonia. 

*

Items I have glittered: a leaf, seashells, a lichened twig, tree bark, a juice box, a pinecone, a toilet paper roll, small rocks, a plastic button discovered in the driveway.

*

While painting with watercolors on the porch, I get an idea for a new creative project, which scares me. The return of that part of my brain means I’m adapting. 

*

I Zoom in to a job interview. They’d invited me to come in person, but I’d had to reschedule, due to illness. 

For the first time since his school closed, my son naps. For the first time since I got sick, I don’t. 

Because tests are scarce, my recovery means I’ll never know for certain if I had it. I’ll never know whether I passed it on.

During our after-dinner walk, I open Instagram. A member of my writing group has it, as does her husband. They’re okay, she says. The Z-Pak knocked out her pneumonia.

*

Aggressively ovulating, my body demands another baby, oblivious to the circumstances.

*

My son’s brand of distance learning: playing outside in the hose; chalking the sidewalk a.k.a. doing graffiti; shrieking with glee upon triggering the error message on his cash-register calculator; jumping on the trampoline while watching Netflix; looking at our house’s architectural plans.

He’s started shouting Hug! whenever he wants one. This happens several times a day, to my delight.

Another new term: step-down facility, a hop-skip between hospital and home. They’re building one at the Convention Center, which figured prominently in a disaster of a different kind.

*

It’s Friday, apparently. 

Our fish-fry pickup order from the fancy restaurant near City Park comes with a tiny bottle of Tabasco.

*

Having arrived at Trader Joe’s before it opens to shoppers under sixty, I take my place in line behind the store, wearing my urgent-care mask so I won’t touch my face. The employees cheerfully explain the new protocol, and say they’re fully stocked, except for toilet paper. It is all very calm and orderly, but the chill of the produce section raises goosebumps on my forearms.

I remember everything bagels but forget cream cheese.

*

An instructor at my yoga studio had it weeks ago, I learn from an untimely email; in fairness, it took two weeks to get the results. The owner adds: Anyone who would have been in contact with this teacher is now outside of the incubation period and safe.

Our neighbors drink Michelob on the neutral ground with their horses, Sonny and Cher.

My sleep hallucinations have returned, probably because of the single glass of wine I’ve started having with dinner again. Right after falling asleep, I think I see a shadowy figure standing in my bedroom. I was supposed to do a sleep study last week.

*

Nola.com: Orleans Parish has the highest per-capita death rate from COVID-19 in the country.

On an informational webinar for a local writers’ residency, the program director says the staff didn’t want to delay the application deadline. She says it’s good to think about the future.

I think about what it will be like on the other side. We’ve been lucky—my husband’s still employed, and I didn’t have a job to lose. We’re healthy. We’re surviving. 

It’s still hard.

My niece’s cheeks have filled out, I can see via FaceTime. Her moms have stockpiled milk in their freezer. They’re planning a big party for her first birthday, and we’re all invited. 

*

My son’s hair is shaggy, and he can now chalk a mean letter D. He digs a Mickey Mouse clock out of his closet, newly fascinated by the concept of time.

During today’s car nap, I drive down Decatur. A family rides their bikes through the patio at Café du Monde.

I mail an April tuition check to a school that won’t be open.

 


 

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