Part 4 – Quarantine Syndrome Sets in
The autumn sky in Sydney is the palest blue, so pale it seems like almost all the colour has been leached out. The wide vista beyond our window is still there, but I find the urge to look out of the window is waning. I wonder if I’m starting to internalise being enclosed. This morning I looked outside my bedroom window. The city intersection was deserted except for a gathering flock of white birds. A lonesome light rail tram shocked the birds into a burst of flight and they careened into the air like fireworks.
I’ve been in a temperature controlled environment for almost two weeks now with no ability to touch a natural or growing thing. At first, I experienced it like an ache, hungry to feel the earth under my bare feet, to be pelted by rain. I wanted to touch bark or feel the veins of a leaf, but now the urge for nature is diminishing. It’s becoming more of a mental longing than a physical one. Like I’m losing the full range of my senses.
It’s Day 12 in our forced quarantine and I fear we are devolving into a failed human experiment. Like Pavlovian dogs, our mouths start to water when we hear the knock at the door announcing the arrival of a meal. We eat mechanically and out of plastic containers, barely registering if we are full or not. I’ve realised that without the ritual of mealtimes – the whole arc that brings food to a table – preparation, pots and pans, setting the table, aromas – something essential about the realness and nourishment of the experience feels missing. I haven’t cooked for a long time, or shopped. And already, I’m getting a little nervous about it, as if I’ve forgotten how to do the most basic tasks on the outside.
Our nerves are getting frayed too. We play a lot of card games and the competition is fierce, brutal sometimes. A perfect way to vent the frustrations of being cooped up together. Pillow fights are getting a little more out of hand too. My teenagers make snarky comments (as does my husband) and I don’t always let them slide. I’m very embarrassed to say that sometimes I have the less than mature desire to wrestle them to the ground and pull their hair. Family is the umbilical cord holding us together but dare I say it, it is holding us a little too close.
Perhaps I’m making it sound worse than it is. We are deeply bonded and we feel safe here. Quarantine feels like a very snug cocoon. That is saying a lot. I was in New York only 4 weeks ago to celebrate a friends 50th birthday. Though the city did not know it was yet in the grips of the pandemic – schools and restaurants closed only the day after we left – all we spoke about was coronavirus and how it might play out. Our discussions still felt very theoretical, but they harboured an edge of fear.
My friend is a herbalist and she offered us sips of immune-boosting fire cider while chopping beets and radishes in her Brooklyn brownstone. We walked around her neighbourhood and found it hard to swallow when her husband suggested we might have to completely limit the time our kids spent with their friends. We were still so naive and everything was changing so quickly. Four weeks ago we still thought our family was going to shelter in place in America. All that was turned upside down, but it is New York that my heart breaks for now – that uncontainable, beautiful, non-stop beast of a city felled. My friend does not leave her house now except to shop for food and not too far from her house, mass graves are being dug to hold the accumulating corpses of the unclaimed dead.
I know we are lucky, even if we are unable to step beyond these walls. My son tested negative for COVID-19 and soon we will step out of this room and begin our new lives. Tonight, I looked up to see the sun setting. It filled almost the entire window with colour. Between the heaviness of the low laying clouds, the horizon was streaked with coral pinks and deep orange hues. They stretched out to reach me, like a hand in friendship.