Tonight no one wants to stop their car. At every red light I lean towards the lane of incoming traffic, hoping if struck to roll off the hood. Feel oddly visible, like someone has noticed something—perhaps only I have, and that’s being read by everyone else. Last night we drove on fumes through the low trees. Made three right turns. When I got out at the OnRoute and shouted your name the woman walking next to you started and ran to her car. A nervy rabbit or a guilty conscience. Why is it I feel such exhaustion? A full fridge wherever I go. On the drive back I said it was “satisfaction.” Caught on video exiting the house. Delete it before I pass on the password. (No good reason: I’d send it to you if I thought I looked attractive.) I’d like to corral whatever I’m feeling now—I mean tonight, walking in loops. Passing from one side of the city to another. The air has a particular quality, clear and cool. Everything is done growing but it hasn’t begun to fall back. The city is empty. But the streets are full. Why ever leave bed.
We are practicing social distancing—keeping to ourselves in a house seventy kilometres from the city. In the morning we take the dog across the field and into the forest, where there is still snow and ice which softens during the day and freezes up again at night. Then we enter our days, working respectively in the living room and dining room; the two rooms are really the same large room, divided only by a short barrier about four feet tall. We drink coffee together in the morning—she takes cream and I, milk. Often we will eat the same breakfast, but not always. Today, for instance, I ate a packet of Quaker Instant Oatmeal diluted with regular quick oats and she did not eat until the early afternoon, a single egg on an English muffin. Typically we will eat lunch and dinner together, although because today her first meal would more properly be described as lunch I ate my lunch separately, even though in the end I ate the same thing. Our last English muffin, the last of the bread that we brought up here from the city.
I think because the situation—locally and globally—is so uncertain, I have been finding it difficult to concentrate. This began long before the pandemic, and the social isolation, had been called, as I followed the course of the disease as it made its way through China, South Korea, to Italy, here. For weeks, anticipating this decampment, for weeks, wondering about the state of the world. I returned from a trip to Boston only two weeks ago, where I passed through two international airports and washed my hands constantly. Before leaving I regretted not pulling out of the conference—but it was too late to do so. A few days after returning I developed chest pains. A muscle soreness that I imagined might have been the coronavirus operating on me relatively asymptomatically—but now I think it was just anxiety, since after arriving here it largely disappeared. It is a relief to not have to worry about my neighbours (have I infected them? will they infect me?) or the people I pass on the street.
We are lucky to be able to escape in this way—I am aware of the privilege that makes this possible. I feel embarrassed, ashamed, that this is available to me. It is not available to everyone. I have spent the past decade distancing myself from the privilege that is not really mine and never was. Except in situations like this. I worry that it has done something to me, returning here and leaving the city behind. I worry that I will again inhabit a kind of selfishness, that I will become colder and more closed off. In other words I worry about a form of quarantine that is far from physical. Even as we perch together on what feels like the edge of the world.