“…Each morning comes along and you assume it will be similar enough to the previous one—that you will be safe, that your family will be alive, that you will be together, that life will remain mostly as it was. Then a moment arrives and everything changes…”

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

 

Some fun facts:

On March 11, 2020, New Mexico reported its first four Covid cases. The state began shutting down on March 13.

On March 11, 2021, I received my first vaccine shot. The world seemed to be coming out of hibernation, exploding open joyfully.

On March 11, 2022, Matt and I are locked in our house in quarantine. From each other. Matt has Covid.

Writing these fun facts makes my head spin. Or, to quote one of my precocious six-year-old kids who answers all my requests with the sassy: “Are you kidding me?” (I never am kidding, actually.) I’d like to scream to the universe, to whoever might be listening:

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

It seems inevitable now that the plague would eventually make its way into our home. After 22 months of ZERO Covid cases in any studio household, over half of the families have had the virus since we’ve returned to lessons after the holidays. How arrogant for us to imagine that not getting this thing was all a matter of good practices. Yes to that, but it was also a certain amount of luck.

I could go out to dinner—and order a nice bottle of wine— if I had a dollar for every person who has said to me in the last week, “But the two of you have been so careful.” Yes, we have. And been quick to judge those who we perceived to be living recklessly, a particularly rich and pungent combination of traits. Pride comes before the fall. Which does make one wonder. What exactly, I’m not sure.

Or I love this one: “Well, statistically we’re all going to get it sooner or later.” If so, then why…the unspoken question lingers in the air.

The bottom line is that our luck just ran out. We don’t know where Matt picked it up, but since the mask mandate was lifted in New Mexico mid-February, we admit that we have been less careful. We have been going to restaurants and coffee houses again. Matt had returned to the gym after several years. Although most folks in our lives were still wearing masks most of the time, we were breathing easier, hugging more, enjoying the chance to meet up again in public places. No, we don’t know exactly where Matt picked it up, but there are any number of places he could have. Pick one, add a little bad luck and what we’ve got is another positive Covid case. The unwelcomed guest arrives.

After all the talking, yelling, screaming, debating and arguing about Covid the last two years, in the end, it was surprising how quietly it came into our lives and our sweet little house. For once Matt had the coronavirus, it was really just a waiting game. Despite our best attempts at quarantining from one another, our home was hardly a CDC-approved situation. Every corner and doorframe are crooked in this nearly century-old house. The doors don’t stay shut, so they certainly aren’t air tight. Somebody (that would be me) had to feed the sick, which meant bringing trays of food in and out of the bedroom. We kept windows open; we wore N95 masks when we were near one another. Truffle and I slept on the couch, while Matt and Trollope slept in the bedroom. And we crossed our fingers.

After the last two years, the choices and options for filling my time in quarantine were all too familiar. I taught hours of lessons online. I practiced, went for long walks while talking to friends on the phone. I sat in the rocking chair in the corner by the window and needlepointed. I spent hours reading on the couch. I made soup and watered the garden.

What was unfamiliar was how vigilant I had to be in keeping my distance from Matt, who was simultaneously trying to keep his distance from me. For much of the pandemic we had stayed a loyal pod of two. But now, we were in this singularly. We couldn’t have dinner together and talk for hours over a bottle of wine. We couldn’t curl up in bed together and watch a movie. We couldn’t bump into each other during our routinely busy days and steal a kiss in the hallway as we each went about our daily tasks and work. It was a lonely and uncomfortable few days.

There is nothing natural or intuitive about being in quarantine from the person you love most in the world. But then there’s been nothing natural about most of our pandemic practices, such as social distancing or mask wearing. Choir directors have been consoling themselves by saying that masked choirs sound OK. Sure, until they take off their masks and you remember what a choir really sounds like. Teaching piano lessons from across the room and behind a mask is far better than teaching them across FaceTime, but it doesn’t begin to compare with a regular non-masked music lesson. We can tell each other that wearing masks and keeping our distance in social situations are practices we can live with, but these behaviors are sterile, artificial, the stuff of sci-fi fantasy stories that take place on spaceships. This is not how God’s warm-blooded creatures are supposed to live.

By day three, my thoughts began circling through the magical thinking of Covid probabilities: If I am not sick now, maybe that means I’m not going to get this. Mostly, I was just bored and restless, and tired of the dancing the two-step of avoidance with Matt. I was ready to make bargains with the devil just to have my world returned, my little pod back intact: Team Greer, we often like to say to one another when overwhelmed by the demands of the world or our work. Team of two, with two feline sidekicks.

On day four I woke up with a sore throat and suddenly the game changed; the quarantine was over. Although it would take two more days before I got a positive PCR test, there wasn’t much question that the congestion and body aches and scratchy throat indicated my onset of Covid. “I couldn’t help myself,” Matt joked later. “In the middle of the night I snuck out and kissed you and Truffle sleeping on the couch.” If this is indeed true, I must say that Truffle fared better from this display of affection than I did.

Even so, mostly my version of the virus looked like a lousy cold complete with that buzzing, light-headed feeling that often comes with the flu. I slept a lot, but otherwise tried to do what I could: I practiced a bit, taught some online lessons, fed the cats, pulled weeds, pruned the roses, took short walks around the block. My days consisted of one small rock and then another, pushed very, very slowly up the hill. I was reminded of the note a student once wrote me in her practice notebook: “Miss Amy: If there is an X in the practice box, I did all my assignments. If there is an * in the box, I did some.” My entire week could be marked with an asterisk: I did some.

But when I stopped whining and feeling sorry for myself, there came a little perspective. I have found myself thinking a lot about March 2020 this week, reliving both the uncertainty and anxiety of those days, and also revisiting the choices I made then about how to fill my hours: would I keep teaching? Practicing? Exercising? Eating vegetables? When the world is falling apart around us, how do we choose to spend our time?

While we were waiting out this recent quarantine in our cozy little home, the Russians have been attacking Ukraine, which makes our fears and acts of waiting seem trivial in comparison. Thousands and thousands of people in the last two years have watched a loved one get sicker and sicker and then die, with no human touch allowed. Always, in the most normal times, there are millions of people who are isolated and lonely, who suffer from the pain of not having a loving and supportive community in their lives. A few days of feeling uncomfortable and restless in order that we might increase our ability for compassion and understanding isn’t a bad exchange really. In fact, we got off rather easy here, no way around it.

Last Friday, March 18, was the 30th anniversary of Matt and my first kiss. 30 years. Three decades. Ten times ten thousand kisses. “This is strange,” Matt said the first night of quarantine when we were preparing for beds in our separate rooms. “Let’s not make this a habit.” After the two years where we have eyed every person we meet with suspicion, our current habits and attitudes might give one pause and reason for concern about the future of humanity. A red heart appearing on one’s phone is not the same as a hug. Avoiding those we love is lonely. There’s been plenty of compelling reasons why we have needed to adopt these artificial and isolating behaviors, but life is too short and we need each other too much.

Please friends, let’s not make this a habit.

 

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