Day 70 of house arrest.
With my 16-year-old son.
And cantankerous cat.
Gary is the link to the outside world for the most part. The company he works for (they sell electricity) finagled an “essential” business status. Although their website states, “We are dedicated to our customers and we wish you and your families continued safety and good health,” those good intentions don’t extend to Gary who is perfectly capable of doing his Developer job uninterrupted from home and more importantly guarded against COVID-19 when not surrounded by several hundred people in close quarters. Seems the millionaire owner only trusts you to do your job when he can see you at your desk. Despite a pandemic.
I do envy and appreciate his good fortune in still having a job. It means we can pay our mortgage and an even costlier and more important debt (at least to his ex-wife), her exorbitant blood money, I mean adult support, I mean alimony (6 years done, 3 left to go). Note to any ex-husbands out there to be: Don’t get divorced in Colorado.
She may get a generous steady stream of cash to supplement her part-time job, but I got the guy who thinks I'm worth that quarter of a million dollars.
Alas, my once thriving business is on temporary hiatus. This makes me wake up in the middle of the night in terror. And when I do, I can hear my son still up doing battle with other 16-year-old kids from all over the world on his Xbox. This makes me think I’m the world’s worse mother – no matter how many agreements we make about his bedtime hour, he can’t stop himself from staying up until 3 AM “trying to find a specific lag in entity”, whatever the hell that means. I’ve decided to let him keep his own hours since he no longer walks to and from school encumbered by set hours – if he maintains good grades and does all his chores. I did put my copy of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse on his bedside table (which I read at his age and loved). I'm still waiting for him to crack it open.
I’ve lost control. But did I ever have it to begin with? Was moving forward in life, raising a child responsibly, paying bills on time, running a business, building a house ourselves, seeking culture and dreaming of a better future analogous to possessing control?
Some people with depression feel this is more “their time” than those who don’t suffer from this affliction. In Jon Moe’s Podcast and memoir, “The Hilarious World of Depression” he says, “The big thing I’ve been hearing is a fair number of depressed people doing miraculously okay through this because we’ve been preparing for this for a long time. This is the world that a lot of “saddies” have been living for a while. This idea that there is doom around the corner and it’s going to get you and it’s going to be terrible and everything is going to end in ruin. That’s been our thinking all along. And so, in this case it has a name, it has a spiky molecule that looks like a Christmas tree ornament and it’s being recognized by everybody. And in some ways, everybody is now seeing the monster under the bed that we’ve been seeing all along that everybody has been telling us isn’t real. This was the drill all along. I saw a Tweet that said, ‘All you have to do is admit that depressed people were right all along and thank us for our service.’
Though I don't consider myself a “saddie” whose time has come, it seems those who do are on to something. Being in tune with your life and who you are can help ward off panic during the pandemic - or at least accept the moments for what they are. I do know that my life’s experiences, disappointments and adjustments to trauma have given me strength to take on this dastardly COVID-19.
I’ve come to realize I’m built for a Pandemic.
Knowing this has helped me in hanging on when there’s nothing much to hang onto and accepting that control is just a figment of my imagination. This pandemic brings no joy. It’s scary and conniving. And our reaction to it is everything.
TO MASK OR NOT TO MASK
Where other third grade friends listed “teacher, mother, singer, movie star, policeman and fireman” as what they wanted to be when they grew up, not me. I wanted to be a spy. I liked the idea of wearing disguises, being stealth, incognito. Of people not knowing whom I really was. And not being discovered, easy to read - especially by strangers.
This mask thing plays right into my 8-year-old career fantasy.
I’ve travelled the world for my work in video production: Spending time in a longhouse in Borneo with an Iban Indian tribe; dining on Spargel with Count Matuschka-Greiffenclau at his Schloss Vollrads vineyard and castle in the Rheingau region of Germany; parasailing in Puerto Rico, traversing Mount Blanc in Switzerland; witnessing the “Burying Brian Boru” parade my first night in Ennis, Ireland and getting my fortune read in a tiny Chinese Medicine shop in Singapore.
I knew at the time I was living the dream. I appreciated every moment of that journey, every port, bumpy road, Buddhist temple, winding river, breathtaking beach, sunrise and sunset, the loud bands, bars and Chinese operas. From the outdoor toilets to the five-star hotels. Even those 20-hour flights to get to Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Living fully in those moments make living in these quarantine times tolerable. And living in these moments, as shitty as they are, gives you power.
I’M SO BORED!
I am a busy-bee, list-making organizer. Blame it on my parents – my mother’s filing cabinets burst with information on hundreds of subjects, facts, lists of things to do, lists of things she did, cut out articles, family history, doctor’s reports, correspondence written, correspondence received, report cards (hers and her 5 daughters), recipes, warranties, instruction books, birth announcements and obituaries.
My father’s basement workshop was lined with tools all organized above his workbench. From the ceiling, he hung airplane models of the kinds of planes he flew in WWII. His clothes closet was neatly organized and there was a place for his hat. Every week he’d line up all our shoes, take out his wooden shoeshine box and using a large horsehair bristled brush remove dirt with a quick side to side determination on a dozen shoes. This tradition took up most of his Sunday nights in front of the big television in the basement.
I rarely saw my parents stop and relax - though they did have an occasional night on the town at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC - dad in his tux and mom in a ballgown. Like them, I’m always busy with something. And now I even seem to be living my parents 1960’s life: Gary gets up and dresses to go to work. I clean up the breakfast dishes while handing him his lunch. While he’s out bringing home the bacon, I’m in the house cooking it. Dishes, laundry, cleaning, cooking three meals, bill paying and taking care of the kid and the cat take up the day.
The quarantine and employment lull gives me the time to push the house building along (site visits, coordinating crew, budgeting, reading, research, negotiation and supervision, ordering and picking up supplies and materials). I’ve added a 2-mile podcast walk to my schedule. I may not be a hunk when this isolation is over, but I’m doing the best I can to avoid coming out of it as a chunk or a drunk.
I’ve never considered myself a patient person. My past is riddled with impatient, spur of the moment decisions that still haunt me to this day. Decisions ranging from shoes bought that were not the right size, but “I have to have them now,” to marrying my just graduated from medical school first husband, “I’m not quite sure, but why wait?” (Frankly, I look back with more yearning for those shoes than I ever have for him).
So, it’s with great surprise to realize I (we) have been building our modern dream home from scratch for FOUR INCREDIBLY WITHOUT A BREAK LONG YEARS. Yep, for 4 years, we've been building our house from the ground up - ourselves. During this time, Tucker started middle school and is now a junior in high school; the Earth orbited the sun 4 times; we've had 2 Leap Years; we went from Obama to Trump; Hurricane Harvey put Houston underwater; the Astros won the World Series; the world grew by 1.4 billion people; we said goodbye to Prince, Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Cokie Roberts and musician and friend, Don Sanders, "Mayor of Montrose".
Probably every Green Anole who was there when we tore down our 1928 house to build this new one has lived the span of its expected four years; and some kid's guinea pig bit the dust for the same reason.
The first 2 years was planning, demolishing our 89 year-old-house, pouring the foundation and then Gary and I completely framing the bottom floor and 50' balcony, working every weekend. Since then, we found and hired a bodacious framer so we could concentrate on bringing in more money through our businesses. We still work at the site, but Carlos is there full-time. We have seen countless townhouses and single-family homes spring up all around us. It's amazing what a full crew of people, working 6 days a week with a well-paid general contractor can accomplish in a short amount of time. This January, we had enough cash saved up to get into the house by September. The pandemic financial hit we’ve taken is a threat to finally seeing our delayed gratification and sacrifices through to its successful end. But now, will 4 years turn into 5? Do I have enough patience for that?
Refusing to take on a larger mortgage note to fund the venture, we’ve been building the house mostly with cash. Gary as the builder and me the general. This method will reward us in the end (investment up, mortgage balance down), but the perseverance it has taken is sometimes soul crushing. We're down to 1 car, haven't been out to a restaurant in a year, don't shop for new clothes or any other "stuff" and put every spare cent to moving the house forward. And this has been life since before the pandemic.
Though I’ve wanted to give up and give in many, many times (including saying no twice to a builder offering top dollar for the land our half-built house sits on), I haven’t. Gary hasn't given in to my cost and time cutting arguments: less skylights and none that open, purchasing cheaper brick, not polishing the concrete floors, getting rid of some windows, not installing so many lights. He has stood strong and hasn't wavered. His commitment to the design and integrity of the house has been inspiring to me and just about everybody who hears our story. Patience can teach a lot. Well, haven't the Buddhists been telling us this all along?
I continue to put on my construction boots and slog through the never-ending work it takes to accomplish and reach what seems unreachable. And Gary continues to work his ass off to pay the bills (and support that charming ex-wife).
This patience thing isn’t for sissies.
This pandemic thing isn’t for the light-hearted. It is insidious. It robs you of your confidence. It keeps you up at night. It turns once good, happy dreaming (both waking and asleep) into nightmares. It strikes terror down to your very soul. It is a robber, a brute and a bully. It is a menace and a mocker.
It dares you to strike, knowing its invisibility is its strongest shield. It’s an enemy you can’t see. It’s a thing you can’t blame for your troubles with any real satisfaction (I know of what I speak).
It wants to trick you into believing it has control. Don’t let it win.
Arm yourself with your inner knowledge and experiences of a lifetime. Gather your personal power.
Spit in the face of this pandemic. Show it who’s boss. Will yourself to get up and fight another day. Dream of your new future with a better, stronger and wiser you at the helm.
As a fellow New Yorker used to say to me in times of trouble, “Put on the boots, it’s getting deep.”
I’ve put on the boots. Have you?
(Photographs from the collection of the author, unless otherwise noted. Photograph of kissing couple in masks from Cambridge Alert).