Stuck Inside With My Thoughts In A Latter-Day Plague

By Barbara Bonn

Splat. That’s the sound of the Sunday New York Times landing on the floor outside my apartment door. In normal times, I would reach my bathrobed arm out the door, haul in the paper and spread it out on the table, next to my coffee and a slice of Kirsch Bakery’s seeded sourdough bread, lightly toasted and well-buttered. Sunday morning bliss.

These, as we are all too aware, are not normal times. This is the era of Social Distancing. If you had asked me the definition of social distancing back around Christmas, I would have guessed that it referred to the prevailing habit of communicating with other human beings primarily via iPhones and Androids.  Substituting screen-to-screen for face-to-face.

But no. Now, with Covid-19 upon us, it means real physical distance, which can be accomplished the hard way, by trying to keep six feet between you and the guy with the cough coming toward you on CPW, or the toddler who waves its beslobbered lollipop in your face as you wait in line to enter Trader Joe’s. Or you can achieve it the prescribed way, by just staying at home – full time for those who are experiencing fever and coughing, somewhat more flexibly for the worried well and the most vulnerable.

After too many recent trips on the B train and too much unwise mingling in the cafes of Columbus Avenue, I woke up and stopped denying the cold hard fact that I am exactly what the pundits mean when they use the phrase “vulnerable older people with underlying conditions.” As penance, punishment and precaution, I am Social Distancing for a while. Isolating at home for the most part, except for an early morning walk and maybe a quick trip to the grocery for a quart of milk.

I have to confess that I am almost too comfortable self-sequestering. I work from home, so that part is business as usual. Without guests, without going to the movies or concerts or restaurants, and with most appointments cancelled, there is time to tackle projects that have been on hold for umpty months – books I’ve been meaning to read, half-finished knitting projects, little home improvements that I’ve been putting off, new recipes (homemade pad Thai is yummy!), phone calls to distant friends and families. Oh, and making my own hand sanitizer, since there’s none to be had in the stores. (Google the recipe: it’s just alcohol, aloe and an optional drop of your favorite essential oil.)  Washing the windows that look onto my terrace? Maybe. Nah.

The downside of this voluntary isolation is the anxiety that accompanies everything about this latter-day plague. Let’s, for instance, go back to that Sunday Times: where had it been before it reached my door; who handled it? How about the carpet in the hall outside my door? It was cleaned yesterday but is it clean today? Do I wash my hands after picking up the paper and before picking up my toast? Do I wash them again after I turn a page? I know I’m not supposed to touch my face but it’s hard not to when Spring allergies tickle my nose and eyes. If I scratch my cheek, must I then wash my face? And throw the washcloth into the laundry? Madness.

The thing is, we don’t know enough about this new virus to be secure about how to prevent it from catching us. Until we have adequate testing for all who need it, the Covid-19 world is full of ifs and maybes. If I go down to the lobby to get my mail, and if I press the elevator button with my knuckle or a tissue, I’m okay, right? But it’s a small elevator, just big enough for four people and one stroller. Will the lady who pets every dog on the street try to squeeze in with Sniffles, her own over-friendly bull terrier? Are we all trading virus particles simply by going down to street level?  And is the mail itself, sitting in the cubby with my apartment number, as innocent as it looks? Who has sneezed on it? Do I wash my hands before or after reading it? Let us not even speak of the packages from the UPS truck, or the dangers that may be lurking in the laundry room. Isolation breeds questions, and unanswered questions breed anxiety bordering on paranoia.

My plan for this next week is to stay at home, but to stay sane. To nest in peace as much as possible. To ignore the freakish anti-virus advice proliferating on the Internet. (No, you cannot kill Covid-19 viruses by drinking water to wash them down to where they will be zapped by stomach acid; nor will elderberry syrup do the job.) But I will take advantage of other online offerings.

The Met Museum is shuttered but I can tour an unfamiliar new museum online.  The Met Opera is dark, but it’s streaming a different opera every night at 7:30 on its Web site. Check www.metopera.org for the schedule.

And I will continue to be inspired by my dear friends in Italy, who are in complete and involuntary lockdown, with no stores, bars or restaurants open except for food markets and pharmacies.  They are singing in unison from their windows and balconies in defiance of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, their children are bombarding cities with artwork declaring “Andrá Tutto Bene” – All Will Be Well.

I believe that all will be well. Eventually. The big unknown is when. Until then, be safe, be well and keep your distance.

COLUMNS | 10 comments | permalink
    1. jS says:

      So sad, but true. Great article.

    2. Book Treks says:

      Well-written and highly relatable vignette. Humor and a great attitude help so much. Thanks!

    3. Jean Luke says:

      Great writing on the anxiety we are all feeling. I’ve been basically quarantined with my family but went to the store today and a man sneezed. I was in a panic after it happened. Also I was wondering about all the beverages I bought, were the bottles contaminated or the bags they were put in? I was also afraid of the girl at the register as she comes into contact with so many people a day.

      Once out of the store I lathered my hands with Purell and kept the items I bought in a separate area and will leave them there for a few days. Hopefully this Virus ends soon and we can get back to relatively normal living but I’m sure a lot of new Hermits are being created.

    4. Danielle Remp says:

      I hope that some of the measures that I take will helps others:
      –I wear disposable gloves when going shopping or when opening packages at home. This way the much-used alcohol or sanitizer does not crack or dry my skin, but only my latex gloves (which I use many times over).
      — As I shop, I place my grocery in my own cart, the handles of which I sanitize after exiting the store.
      — I wear a headband or hat. That way I don’t have to touch my face to push back hair.
      — If there are perishables in the packages that I receive, I spray the package with alcohol before opening, careful that I don’t breathe the sanitizer in.

    5. MB/UWSer says:

      I appreciate reading this article.

      I confess that “self-sequestering” has been my norm for a long while, and to continue is not a stretch for me. This practice was the last resort for me to bring a sense of calm and peace in my life here in the city. I admit this has been the only helpful choice, and a difficult road.

      For me the, new muscle for practice is social distancing – always standing back. I was recently in a store as a shopper and I needed help finding an item. I heard a voice ask me if I needed help. I turned around and walked toward the employee who then in turn firmly put both hands out forward stating her request to honor social distancing. There we stood with about 6′ of empty space between us. Suddenly I felt I violated someone’s personal boundary. I felt horrible, adding to my anxiety, for the rest of the day because I’m sensitive to the topic of boundaries.

      These last few days, I’ve begun to wonder if this period of “self-sequestering” is a rehearsal for truly how we will be living in very near future.

      As the climate continues to change and the national and global leadership continue to allow environmental conditions to erode, we will be sequestered – it will be a way of life. Right now so much of our external ways are showing immediate and drastic change to access from inside our homes.

      Is social distancing the gentle beginning of separation? Will our homes be the first layer of “the wall” we all will build individually to separate our selves from others and the outside world? And so then neighborhood walls, community, town, etc.

      I will not say these are interesting times. I will say, for me, I find these times deeply perplexing, especially when humanitarianism is spotlighted, and so much seems to be the antithesis to this focus. Maybe the collective “we” have to move through the dark opposite before the light shines through.

      “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” -Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

    6. Rodger Lodger says:

      I will be 79 in a couple of weeks and resent that every article must mention for the zillionth time the elderly are at great risk. It’s constantly being tapped on the shoulder. Anyone who is old or knows someone who is old and isn’t aware of heightened risk cannot profit from this endless reminder. Enough with the memento mouri!

    7. Randy says:

      Great article and many good ideas. I too have been wondering about the small elevators in my building and the spread of coronavirus germs. The porters have said they can’t clean them quickly or not. Other than wearing latex gloves or touching the buttons with your bare fingers, any thoughts about how to safely use the elevators?

    8. ELena Berriolo says:

      Thank you Barbara Bonn!

    9. Butter Campbell says:

      DOUBLE DAPPING ELBOWS!! Great read! Tough Times we have today! I work for InstaCart ahopoing for and tuen delivering groceries to customers. I’m constantly feeling physically & emotionally drained at the condition of the various supermarkets I shop in. The shelves are bare, the constant cart wiping, the silent look of panic on consumers’ faces and the dread of imagined or real threat the receiving customer could be a ‘carrier’ with or without symptoms! We are all going to need therapy to heal from this PTSD from COVID-19!!

      I live in Easton, PA with my youngest daughter who is 22. I fled here to get away from crowded NYC; to give my youngest an environmental change since she developed epilepsy while in 11th grade in HS; to help care for my ailing Mom; to flee a horrific home environment; to dare to live again!
      Now, my Mom passed away a month after I moved here; my brother passed two weeks ago; we had to cancel his funeral because of the coronavirus decree that restricted the number of attendees; my estranged husband was a kidney transplant recipient with a blackened big toe infection; who cannot leave the house with a compromised immune system; low white cell count and now mouth sores; he lives in the same apt as my son who is terrified of bringing home the virus because he works for MTA as a conductor!!!!! LIFE IS CRAZZZY TODAY!!! 2 Timothy 3:1-5!! It has been foretold!!