It’s quiet now, an early morning after a late night. I could have gotten my youngest to bed by 9 but he wanted to read more of Watership Down because we’re near the climax of the story and he wants to find out which of the Sandleforde rabbits die in the final battle. He’s not worried about it. To the contrary, he wants at least one or two of them to die. He loves all of them but he’s pragmatic about the really big stuff in life. He can feel the intensity of what’s coming and he knows that in real life, few of them would escape with their lives.
He and my middle son apply this same pragmatism to the COVID 19 situation. They talk about the numbers each day and how it won’t be long before we know people who have it, people who die from it. And maybe it’s like my ex said to me last night: they are still young enough to only be able to grasp some of what’s happening and in a mostly conceptual way.
For me it’s almost exactly the opposite. I can’t seem to understand the meaning of the curve on the contraction deaths graph. I see it rising sharply, I read the numbers daily and a few stories about how New York City’s being impacted and I can’t get my head around it. But I can feel it. When I get home from the rare trips to the store, there’s a tremor in my hands I can’t control. I sit in the car and take long breaths as though I’ve just avoided a fatal car accident. It’s an eerie experience to leave the house, passing no one on the way to car, then drive down streets that are almost empty. The stores are strangely quiet, the beeps of the self-checkouts seem loud against the lack of human voices. There are people shopping but almost no one’s talking.
This morning, as I stood out on my silent porch in the darkness, I remembered that I’ve often stood in the quiet of midnight or morning and wondered what that silence would feel like if the sun were shining down on an apocalypse. Like many survivors of incest and violence, I’ve had apocalyptic dreams for as long as I can remember. Walls of water looming above, about to break down on me and the city I live in. Vampires. Bloody alien invasions. Nuclear bombs. The level of panic in those dreams mirrored what I felt in waking hours for no reason other than my amped up nervous system, a direct result of the neurological impact of ongoing abuse and massive uncertainty.
I get it, a pandemic is not apocalyptic on its own. But we are currently on the edge of massive change, the likes of which we haven’t seen in this country since WWII or the Great Depression. I grew up studying those events and hearing about them from my grandparents. They were hard times, times when people had to make huge adjustments to their lives in order to survive and help others. I’m making masks for friends and families and will soon be making them for the local hospital. It’s helpful to feel useful and know that I’m making a difference.