430 am. I’m up. Its inexplicable, since I went to sleep at 11:30. I do my best to toss and turn myself into even a light sleep, but no good. I’m up and that’s simply how it has to be. I walk to my Bialetei peculator, trusty as always and fire it up, having loaded it the night before. I turn heel and wearily make my way back to bed, sleepless, yet comfortable. I try to resist the urge to look at my phone, but the siren song of Instagram posts, dead of night texts messages and the status of my bank account wins out and I get the damn thing. Picture 1. Friend of mine. Wearing a medical mask. Gazing wearily from an airport, with the caption “wash your hands”. Noted. Picture 2. Other friend, in a home made workout studio captioned with “Gotta start those at home workouts- #social distancing.” Again, noted. Picture three, a famous celebrity I follow, with a picture of her and her son from some mountaintop, no doubt in California. ” Honoring social distancing by spending time in Mother Nature”. Noted, dear God. The reality of my new normal sets in and I’m not yet caffinated.
I hear my coffee peculator going and rise to the occasion. Pouring it into my white cup, I’m already vaguely annoyed, so much so I don’t notice I’m spilling onto my black counter top. After cleaning it off with some paper towel, careful, they’re scarce, I sip my coffee in bed, throw my phone aside and proceed to wonder if this is really all even happening. The sad fact was, yes. I will admit, when the coronavirus scare was in its inception, somewhere between when it had already ravaged Wuhan and was en route to Europe, I brushed it off with the hubris of a jaded aristocrat. “Its a disease. It awful. However, there’s always diseases that are awful. People live and die- and so life goes on”. In a few days the disease had closed in on Italy, a place I hold dear, and I began to worry for the well being of my friends abroad. I began to hear things that worked their way down the communication channels. Word of mouth spread.
Stories of people being plucked out of arrival gates and placed in quarantine for a simple cough or that the virus was wind born and could live in ones hair for days at a time. I deliberately tried to ignore the news. Call it willful ignorance.but I simply didn’t want to accept that something of this severity could be closing in on the world, causing people to empty store shelves, hoard resources and turn humanity on its head.
It was inescapable. Everyone spoke at length on their fears about the virus. Still, I lived my life. I had recently decided to dedicate myself to fitness and began exercising regularly. As I lifted weight, peddled or ran, all I had to do was look up. There it was, in no uncertain terms. “Coronavirus-Death Count Rises”. It had closed in on Italy, the Mediterranean , and people where placed under mandatory quarantine . The Italians, such hot blooded, vivacious passionate people, being sealed off, seemed so tragic and unnatural. Little by little, the cracks in my armor began to develop. The situation gathered more gravity, and as I tried to sweat myself into sanity, I began to feel that this was far deeper than I could gather, a revelation that began to make me loose sleep. Yet, it didn’t stop. Soon truths were being distorted into twisted falsehoods. Carriers of false information as rampant as the disease itself.
While most people right away took to their social media to spread the alarm like the town crier, ingested hours of news to be informed to the eighth degree, or talked endlessly on the phone with friends about what to do, I scoffed. For better or worse, such situations of collective mania have always evoked a petulant, haughty resistance in me. I raise my hackles on my own- and don’t like to be told when to do so. Confinement was fine- on my own terms. The very idea of being forced into it outside my own will sickened me, in spite of the perceived social betterment. Such bedlam was for the the pages of an Orwell novel. To my way of thinking at the time, it was just another example of how easily swayed humanity is. How the media can turn seemingly sensible humans into panic stricken flocks sheep. Everyone, from the friends to family, of all ranks high and lo. The bus driver, the lawyer, the fitness instructor, the teacher, the churchgoing mother, the hiking enthusiast, the roulette dealer, the burger flipper , the garbage collector and the dog walker- making every loving fools of themselves. To this I observed from the distance with an inborn hubris and disdain that would soon be duly challenged.
Then I went to the store. People were crowding the place, the line was lengthy and there were more masks than Mardi Gras- but it was the furthest things from revelry. The shelves where the toilet paper and paper towels were not sparse but bare. I’ve never lived in a hurricane zone. Never lived in an area prone to natural disaster. I have vague childhood memories of earthquakes drill as a first grader growing up in Southern California, but little more. A neighbor sees me in the checkout line and offers me a ride home. Sitting on my patio, I pour a glass of red wine. Its a grey, overcast afternoon. Perhaps due for some rain. Normally I’d feel happy- I love rain, but my mind is still playing out the chaos of the market. Combined with the deluge of news and he persistent fears of my friends, I catch my breath, nearly dropping the glass. The gravity of this situation was like a rebellious, torch wielding peasant army, beating down the fortress of my mind. I felt mentally I wasn’t made for such things. I filled it with art and poetry and travel and family and things I felt passionate about. I had no room for this. But there is was, trickling in through some unseen chink in my armor, penetrating and invading like cyanide.
The gravity of the situation deepened. In Europe, quarantine was not an option, but a rule. Any person’s affected were to haul up in their homes for a minimum of two weeks, nevermind if they had family. All across the continent, people where shutting themselves up, being only allowed to leave if it was to a pharmacy or one of the sparsely stocked markets. Any divination from that was a guaranteed trip to jail. Things began to feel twisted and archaic. I began to envision wagons of the dead. In my mind, the medical mask began to parallel the antiquated plague doctor mask with its grotesque beak. The virus moved past Italy, then into Schengen area. France. Germany. Poland. Sweden. Austria. One after another, people were shuttered up, sealed off, and should they deviate- locked away.
The great rues of Paris, which I had only seen a few months ago, which had resisted the strikes, now had a greater menace- and this couldn’t be negotiated with. Meanwhile, an ocean and thousand miles away, I intook this all. Then, it happened. A case was discovered in my city. Soon, the businesses I frequented were announcing closure. The 50’s style barbershop I fancied which gave complimentary coca cola- gutted and shuttered. The resale store where I found so many of favorite threads- boarded. The Mexican restaurant that had the impressive Frida Kahlo decor-sealed off. The theater house I had preformed in- painted over and boarded. My favorite coffeehouse, boarded. “Closed indefinitely” was the message. “Wash your hands” the mantra. People all about me were laid off, fired or put out of work for a time yet to be determined. Within the beauty of Spring, the dark days had come.
One morning, I awoke angry. It was an anger that seemed to be sudden, but had culminated for sometime. I had some coffee. Still angry. Read, but couldn’t get into. So I got dressed and walked aimlessly. It was a pristine day out. The birds caroled sweetly as though to thank us from giving them the sky back. The clouds resembled cotton candy parting, and the pathway I walked shimmered from the previous night’s rainfall. In any other time, I would celebrate this, but I was struck with a heaviness. I felt as though a sack of razors and bricks had been placed on my back. I walked past the famous hotels of Old Las Vegas, all sealed shut. I felt like a fringe character from the film “The Stand”. Normally I would savor the poetic irony in such a situation, but the heaviness only deepened. So I walked. Past storefronts and broken neon. Past graffitied showgirls and weathered signage. I turn a corner past the old schoolhouse and suddenly the chasm fell from under me. I broke down. A feeling of immeasurable isolation gripped me to the core of my being, so much so that my knees buckled and I doppled over as though I’d been socked in the gut. I grabbed a nearby fence to support myself, but the tears kept coming profusely. It was the culmination of everything. The feelings of isolation I had had before , coupled with everybody’s ambivalence about it. It was a feeling of desolation. A feeling of loneliness even among the lonely. It was every infernal sign plastered on a building announcing that damnable virus. I was so filled with anguish and hatred I felt heat rise on my neck. If Covid 19 was a person, I wanted to grab the sharpest knife in the room and gut it like a freshly caught fish.
I thought I was going insane. This was far more than ” social distancing” and widespread fear. This was a wound being ripped opened years old, and this dark angel in the form of disease demanded I acknowledge it. Right now. Something had welled up, and an internalized levie had ruptured. It was society demanding I care. It was the condescending pats on the head. It was isolation even among the islolate. It was the pain of uncertiany. It was everybody telling me what I should do. It was doors shut that once signaled welcome. It was enforced feelings of panic. It was my petulant haughty brat staging his last stand. It was numbing world of vapid social media, on demand subscriptions and empty wine bottles and journals void of meaningful words. Of realizing I had no control. I had NO control. It was like an old dead skin being burned off. Emotional purges that were a long time coming.
Through my clawed hands and tears I began to breath. I marveled how hermits and mountain men in the old west could maintain themselves being so cut off. Or monks in faraway Nepal. How they did not give in to the sweet seduction of insanity. Even in a healthy body, far away from everyone, mask free- I writhed. Something in the fabric of all of this ruptured and caused me to feel in a way I wasn’t ready for. It felt like I was going mad. I breath. I stop. Then I get down and breath. Perhaps I was simply channeling the uncertainty permeating the air around me. Perhaps I was taking on more than I was aware. Or perhaps it was a feeling of helplessness. Of not being able to control a situation far beyond myself or understanding. I felt like I was being buffeted back and forth by a world I had no prior comprehension of. The animalistic, tribal behavior of those around me. Where were all my free thinkers and questioners? I felt alone, bereft and confused.
I realized that a person dosent simply become insane. You ease into it. You grow weary of the battle with no victories. Of the constant fight with no end. Because simply waving the white flag and yielding is a hell of a lot easier. There, on this March day, I stood feeling more hollow than I had in years. I stood on the verge of a chasm, and looked down and saw all the other souls- surrounded by emptied take out containers, eyes mutely glowing in front of news casts, ever bloodshot, heaps of tissue and emptied bottles of sanitizer and canned goods, surrounding them like a makeshift fort, beckoning me to join them in a yawning stretch of comfortable numbness with no end yet in sight.
A dark night of the soul- and it was barely 11 am.