This is how it is now. Our entire world is our home. We rise each day with an alarm, shower and dress to give ourselves the air of normalcy, of routine. We eat breakfast and head to “work” or to “class.” Each of us off to our claimed space – basement office, dining room table, bedroom desk — we set about our tasks, careful to not hog the WIFI during the two-hour Shakespeare class or the weekly staff meeting – both of which rely on Zoom to happen. Things are always freezing or glitchy and during one meeting a message pops up “Your Internet Connection is Unstable,” and I think, “So am I.”
Our entire life is different now
March has lasted forever. The calendar mocks me, stubbornly refusing to advance to April as much as I will it to – as if a new month will magically bring a difference. It snowed this week, of course it did. Even with Spring so far from reach we walk every day, yet only on the weekends do we walk together as a family.
Our ‘work days’ bring enough togetherness, and my daughter reminds us that “I’m supposed to be moving away from you at this time in my life, not back home!” She takes her walk first– bursting from the house, earbuds in, as if she can recreate the miles she was used to logging each day on her hilly campus. I walk at 5pm, part of my new routine to make myself create a break between ‘work’ and ‘home’ – since my commute no longer does that for me.
I pass the same neighbor at the same point in our walks every day. We laugh from opposite sides of the street at our new tradition. I stop at the end of a friend’s steep hilly driveway when I see her in her garage and have a socially-distanced conversation. The new human connection feels like what water must feel like to a parched traveler in the desert.
The reality of this life crashes in on us
Each day one of us crashes into the reality of our new situation. My daughter, a theater major, rants in the kitchen about the difficulty of taking an acting class on line, and mourns the community she has been ripped so cruelly from. I try to tell her I understand. I fail. My wife, a mental health professional, races to curbside pickup at a local Best Buy to hastily purchase a new laptop so she has the right technology to dial into her office and care for her clients remotely –which in and of itself seems an oxymoron.
I have a nightmare about not being able to get into the theater where I work, finally making my way in, only to find the theater lobby turned into a makeshift hospital. I wake up shaking and worried for the future of the beloved performing arts venues I’ve worked so hard for.
We find our community on our screens now. Late at night I hear my daughter laughing with friends on Google hangouts or FaceTime, they have ‘lunch dates’ and study sessions and I say a prayer of thanks they can hold on to each other this way. I see my colleagues faces fill my screen during a Zoom-ed staff meeting and blink away unexpected tears at how much I miss our day-to-day interactions.
We plan virtual meetings that provide some comfort
I plan a weekly virtual coffee date with a co-worker which comforts me more than I anticipated. Yet at the same time, I grow impatient with all the noise trying to push its way into my day, the palpable worry, the news updates and the endless stream of people who insist on singing at me on my Facebook feed. I retreat more and more to my books.
The Governor issues a stay-at-home order for the next six weeks. We make nervous jokes about what our hair and eyebrows will look like on the other side of the salon-less stretch of time. We set up online grocery ordering accounts and keep an inventory of our supplies. We cancel a trip that took us two years to save for.
Our travel book that I had loved reading and re-reading mocks me until I hide it away in a basket under the Scrabble game. My anxiety peaks every night and I’m restless and unsettled. I’ve never been good with the unknown and my coping skills are sorely challenged. On the worst night, a half an Ativan helps me sleep. This is how it is now.
The bird feeder behind our deck has been overlooked by the local birds in favor of my neighbor’s larger, fancier one. This morning a lone chickadee appears out of nowhere to land on the feeder for a lengthy snack. Chickadees were my father’s favorite bird and I am comforted by the thought he might be visiting me thirty years after his death, to give me a sign that things will be alright. I watch the chickadee and breathe deeply in a way I might not have ‘before.’ I have nothing but time to watch this bird. This is how it is now.
We do what we can. We take the classes, we write the papers, we meet through Zoom, we make the phone calls, we take the walks. We plan for spring, of putting out the deck furniture and gaining another space from which we can work, study, or read. We miss our friends, our colleagues, our routines, our lives. But we pause, we breathe, we read, we notice the small things, we connect. We make each other laugh. We dream of summer. We dream of this being over. This is how it is now.
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Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 30 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college junior. Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.