Tonight, my beloved youngest daughter cried to me on the phone. She doesn’t feel well. She’s got severe cramps. She has a headache. And her throat is sore. Really sore. So sore in fact that the Kaiser Permanente nurse on call ordered her a prescription of amoxicillin without seeing her in person because if it’s strep they want to treat it. If, God forbid, it’s Covid, I guess the antibiotic isn’t going to make a difference. They want her to come in for a Covid test tomorrow. She thinks she has the flu, but she had the shot, and she’s not sure.
She cried because she’s overwhelmed. She’s quarantined with two “ghost” roommates that went home to their folks’ house but surprisingly (to me) re-leased the apartment together with high hopes that the university won’t be remote in Fall. She cried because she still has homework and a new dog, online classes, and a boyfriend who just moved in and it’s all a lot and she doesn’t feel well. She cried because she’s staring at the same walls over and over and there’s no fun sorority activities to look forward to. She cried because food doesn’t even sound good to her anymore. She cried because she’s a junior in college and sometimes the pressure of the quarantine is intense. She cried that she feels like a “pussy” because she’s had it. She feels like she isn’t measuring up in the courage department; that she should be able to take it all in stride.
Meanwhile, my 95- year- old mother- in- law, who was one step ahead of the Nazis all through Europe, is alone in her home, watching TV reruns and chatting with various grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a handful of friends, a lovely, watchful neighbor and one of her daughters who comes over once a week to help with groceries and her home management. My mother-in-law still cooks for an army and always has a complete meal for twenty on hand. Thankfully, she is also great with technology and converses with texts and visits by FaceBook. She has had many challenges in her life, and this is one more under her belt. She’s alone with her resolve.
And my own 89- year- old father is also alone in his home, but he isn’t good with computers, so he is more isolated. My brother and I call him several times during the day and bring over groceries and some hot meals. I grab his laundry and bring it home to do. We try not to stay too long because although we wear gloves and masks, he is a stubborn, proud man and when we finally took away the car keys, he showed us who’s boss and walked to the corner market, sans mask and gloves, to pick up orange juice; something he ostensibly would die without because he couldn’t wait a day or so until we did his grocery run. In other words, we’re not sure if he’s a possible threat to us or we’re a threat to him. So, we try to keep the actual time we’re in his home to a minimum. He is isolated along with his pride.
My oldest daughter came home for part of the quarantine to finish a project for work. Honestly we struggled with limits and boundaries because she is a full-fledged adult and I kept falling back into old mothering habits. It’s a transition and I didn’t do a good job. I wanted her to stay so my husband and I could brave the dangerous grocery store for her. I bribed her with cooking. Actually, I bribed her with my husband’s cooking. I really didn’t want her to go home so I could protect her for as long as possible. Bubble wrapping both my kids during a pandemic still makes sense to me. My daughter is alone now, albeit in her lovely new apartment that she furnished herself with all new items right before the pandemic hit. My daughter is able to work from home; her home, the home she created. She’s alone with her privacy and ambition.
My sister- in- law lost her husband during the pandemic although it was not to the virus. But she couldn’t go into the hospital with him because of the virus and she wasn’t with him when he died. She is lonely and mourning and probably still in shock. There was no service and no closure. We didn’t even have a card on hand to send to her right away. I assumed I couldn’t send flowers and felt funny about that anyway. I do not want flowers in my house right now. I don’t want anything in my house from the outside unless I need it to live and I supposed the same thing about her. She helps her mother. She helps out her son and daughter -in- law too. She hasn’t been the most talkative right now and I don’t want to bother her. She is buying a new house and selling the one where she lived with her husband. She is alone with her memories.
My husband and I are functioning. Our dog seems suddenly sick and we are worried about her. She is 15 years old and an integral part of our family. My husband and I both have some medical issues and neither one of us will go to the doctor right now. I was scheduled for some important tests as was my father frankly, when the shelter-in-place directive came down. And all of us are sitting it out right now. The problems are on hold.
My husband and I go to buy groceries only with great planning. I typed out the last list in order of the store aisles to cut down on our exposure time. We wear 95 masks that are getting battered. We had leftovers from the fires that came within 100 feet of our home last year. We wear gloves, carry sanitizer, wrap the phones in a plastic bag and I top it all off with a face shield and my hair hidden under a sweatshirt hood.
We compare the quarantine to the weeks after we survived the Northridge earthquake, but unfortunately our house didn’t. We’ve been through a lot, the two of us, in 28 years of marriage. We’ve been through a lot. And a couple of months ago, we woke up to a virus that destroyed our industry and our business that we have been building since 1993. Gone. Over. We lost thousands of dollars in one day when one of our big concerts was pulled. And still we cook up new recipes, and make phone calls, and look at new potential partnerships and bake banana bread and challah and talk to the utilities about deferred payments and splurge on green olives stuffed with bleu cheese. We’ve been through a lot. We are alone, together, with our grief.
Today we saw on the news that people went out and about and acted like they were immortal. They are selfish and cruel. We have done our part. We have stayed in as asked except to venture out to the grocery store or my dad’s or the P.O. box. That’s it. For Weeks. And now these selfish, cruel people have wandered out and crammed beaches and pools and parties. And if they wind up in the ICU at the same time as me, or my husband, or my sister- in- law, or my father or my mother- in- law, we will not be the ones who get the ventilators. It won’t matter that we stayed home. We are too old. We have an expiration date. That’s been made very clear.
So, my 20 year- old daughter was crying on the phone tonight and telling me that the quarantine is too much; that she feels weak. And I told her that I am very, very proud of her and her boyfriend. They are only kids. They are by themselves in this unprecedented event in our lifetime and they are living. They are finishing classes and running a household. They are taking care of another living being; a new dog. Her boyfriend is completing his final classes and interviewing for jobs. He’s starting a career hopefully, but sadly missing graduation.
They are just kids. My comfort is limited to FaceTime and encouraging words. My daughter is not weak. Her boyfriend is not weak. They are resilient. Crying is OK I tell her. She would be crazy not to be scared; not to be overwhelmed. She is strong I tell her. She is really strong. I say it again. I hope she is hearing me through the tears and garbled crying. She understands, I hope, that one can be strong even if one is afraid.
I am proud of my family.
I am proud of them all.
I bought industrial toilet paper from China, MREs and backpacking dinners. I got cans of food, hand sanitizer and masks galore. I stocked up on gloves and frozen food but deferred the car payment. We signed up for unemployment for the first time in forty years and managed to secure a small PPP loan. I don’t know how we are going to get through this as I perceive that we are still in the middle of it. And now it’s been made longer by people who had to run outside without masks and gloves and forgot what six feet looked like or worse; it appears that they just didn’t care.
I won’t be in line for a ventilator. I won’t even be considered for one.
I still have a lot of things I want to do. I haven’t been to Israel. I haven’t gone skydiving. I still want that advanced degree. I want to try being a stand-up comic- at least once- even if I have to pay the audience to come! I want to finish writing my book. I want to travel to the national parks with my husband in a spanking new Sprinter. I want to see my kids get great jobs, and maybe get married and have kids if that’s what they want.
My wishes don’t have an expiration. Which one of the selfish people in the pool yesterday got to decide that my goals have an expiration?
I just called my daughter back to check on her. She’s holding off on getting the prescription until the morning. She sounded a little better. I pray her test is negative tomorrow. I hope she realizes how strong she is and how honored I am in knowing her.
And if I wind up on a one-way ticket to the emergency room, during this pandemic, that I probably won’t survive, I hope she’ll let me go gracefully and with dignity and know that she will never really be alone.
Her zeide, grandma, aunt, sister, father, and me her mother, her other aunts and uncles and cousins galore; we will always be with her. We will always be with her, in her strength and in her solitude.
She will never be alone.