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Proof of Life in Quarantine

Updated: Jun 24


by Liz Harris

“Even if you hate me, I love you.” My husband poured his whiskey in the kitchen.


“I love you,” I said, “Even if you can’t understand me.”


It’s been 60 days today of self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine, whatever.

Sixty days of rarely getting in the car we had been using three times a day or so. It’s like a time capsule in there: a purse I no longer use filled with snacks, three shades of lipstick, my Y membership card, a library card.

Sixty days since our old routine was broken, since our last social interaction approaching anything like normal.


Those first few weeks, people seemed to be in shock. We were video chatting with bored family members all the time. I would at least make the house look semi-decent for the video calls. We downloaded apps and turned Easter into a virtual drink-fest. We joked for a week or two about Tiger King, ran all its accompanying memes dry until we could Tiger King no more.


***

Sixty-eight days ago, on Friday, March 6th, my son and I had our regular Costco lunch in the food court after I picked him up from preschool. I watched people coming out of the checkout lines as we ate. They were shopping differently. All those bottles of water, toilet paper, sanitizer, paper towels (How are they essential? Backup for toilet paper? Ouch).

I didn’t want to get caught up in this, but how could I not?


I texted my husband about the two new employees whose sole job seemed to be disinfecting every surface immediately after anyone touched them.


Alarmed by Costco’s precautions, I joined the sheep and bought the supplies. Extra protein bars and protein powder, bread, wine, an extra—just one!—Costco-sized package of toilet paper.


I threw in some sanitizing wipes and gallon bottles of drinking water.


My husband and I had our best family friends, Jimmy and Sarah and their kids, over that evening, the 6th. I made pizza in the oven and wings on the smoker, had some thoughtful wine choices ready to share and, since our friends were running late, had time to enlist the kids in helping clean the house.


Our four combined kids, all ages 4-6, play so well together, it’s a thing of beauty. They’re all lovely and the sort of friends you want to keep forever. All eight of us get along famously, and we parents can be free to relax and just act like adults (without a babysitter) when we get together.


While our kids were running around upstairs, we were pouring drinks and talking about the coronavirus. It had been big on my mind already.


Sarah said, “Well I heard it’s just like the flu, with the same death rate,” which I thought was horribly misinformed, and said as much, but at least she was saying this on March 6th and not on March 24th.


By then we all knew better.


My husband volunteered that I had stocked up a little bit (by current standards, certainly not hoarding, but I do still have about one and a half giant Costco TP packages). While it’s not something I was boastful of, I backed up my actions with facts and told them I’m not panicked, I’d just rather be prepared.


Six days later, on a Thursday, I had another friend, Sam, over while my husband was at Jimmy’s for a fantasy baseball draft. Sam brought her kids who are also sweet with mine. Her son is also sweet on my daughter.

“He tried to kiss me in my room, Mom. I said, ew, no.”


Ah, love.


We drank wine and fed our kids chicken nuggets and let them play in the yard.


Sam is a fan of the show Doomsday Preppers, and we talked about the now-suddenly impending doom we were not so prepped for.


While we were outside, we saw and heard a giant flock of seagulls flying over my house, a weird occurrence since we’re not exactly seaside.


“See? The end is near,” I said.


“Don’t you dare,” Sam said. “This is for real."

**

While Sam was still over, my husband texted me from Jimmy’s house.


“Sarah,” who is a teacher at our kids’ district, “says expect school closure sooner than later. Maybe as early as tomorrow.”


By 11:40 A.M. the next day, we got the email telling parents that schools would close at least until after the planned spring break, from Monday, March 16th to Monday, March 30th—a long time at that point.

***

My daughter, who is six years old, is an introvert like me. So she’s thriving. She can crank out her kindergarten schoolwork like it’s nothing, if she feels like it. She’s already ahead of the year-end benchmarks, anyway. She’s gotten some poor marks at school (and we’ve gotten way too many emails) about defiant behavior, though.


The first week and a half at home, with no other kids in the house, no school, no karate, no swim lessons nor Spanish class, she has been doing fantastic. She is now her little brother’s best friend. They are relying on each other, spending hours in forts and with Legos, playing school, jumping in the jump house, taking turns on the iPad when we allow it. They’re each other’s only friends right now, and so are we. I take my job very seriously to make sure my kids feel good and safe and anything resembling normal.


I’ll admit to making a color-coded schedule, but mostly just to practice my calligraphy and hand-letter something pretty. I also tried to fool myself and the kids into thinking there will be structure to our days at home.


We don’t follow the thing.


At all.


My son, who’s four years old, has been using “a lot of big words lately,” according to my husband.

“Like what?” I asked.


“Cancelled,” he said.


“What the hell does a 4-year-old know about cancelling?” I said, before I thought of school and T-ball and swim lessons at the Y.


“Oh,” I said. “Everything.”

***

I had to admonish my mom for staying too long at my brother’s house in Ohio.


My brother provides in-home care as a nurse. His wife works in a hospital. My mom is 67 and has had high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. She didn’t want to listen to me when I told her to leave them and go back to the house she shares with my sister and her kids in Tennessee. I got so angry with her that I cried while I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay all the way up to the tippy top.


I’ve video chatted with my dad, who, when I asked him how he’s doing, said, “I’m bored to death.”


He hasn’t been going anywhere, hasn’t been visiting my brother and his three kids lately. He’s alone in a trailer in Conneaut, Ohio. He has had three very serious heart attacks, the last one, in 2013, nearly killing him three times in the ambulance. He has COPD and still smokes cigars. He takes handfuls of pills every day to survive and to feel less of the chronic pain that keeps him down. He’s 69.

And yet, here at home my daughter still wants me to snuggle her, to pet her back over her cheetah-print fleece onesie the way Maleficent pets her animals, “with your two middle fingers down and the rest up.” All the way down to almost-her-butt, where she cringes and laughs because it tickles and says, “Do it again!”

***

I went to the grocery store today and am just sick with regret, feeling like I got infected and came home in a cloud of sick. I touched everything there with a sanitizing wipe and sanitized my hands at every opportunity. I didn’t allow anyone in my personal bubble and wiped down every surface of every item at home before I put it away.


I guess I am just a little more fearful than I would care to admit, but I’d rather be safe than sorry, rather be prepared than panicked.


But all my preparation has done shit for the panic.

***

Back in January, before all this, I’d gone to Costco one night without the kids. I spent the morning looking for my son’s birth certificate to enroll him in the local school for next year. I went through piles of papers, dividing them to be shredded or recycled and I found nothing, or at least nothing useful.


I shredded the sales receipts from our previous three vehicles, dating back 10 years. I shredded the medical bills from when both of my kids were born. I shredded documents from our first home purchase. What made this project extra urgent was that we were considering moving and our home is filled in every corner with the crap that no one wants but still makes up a life, or at least the proof of it.


I’d gone to Costco that night to get a new shredder after the first shredder busted that day. And I got my shredder, salmon, a stapler for school projects, wine (surprise), oranges and apples. And when I went through the checkout line, the always-talkative, cheeky cashier asked me, “Are you a teacher?”


“No,” I said.


“What’s the stapler for, then?”


“My kids,” I said.


“Oh, no,” he said, groaning at me and perhaps at anyone who could hear him, “She’s gonna lose it. She’s gonna end up on Snapped and they’ll be calling her The Stapler Killer. The kids finally got to her.”


And he laughed and laughed, and I laughed because I felt awkward and then I paid and then I left.


So in case you were wondering how I was looking before quarantine: Snapped.

***

Aside from sporadic family video chats, and one rare-for-me Instagram post, I haven’t been sure whom to reach out to or when or why. My social needs are mostly met at home with my kids and my husband.


But now, 60 days in, I feel at a loss.


I feel something weird for me: like I actually do want to socialize, like I do want other people to know me, like I do want some proof out there that I existed.


That I exist.


That I more than exist.


Of course my husband, my quarantine roomie, understands me better than anyone. He’s a rare person; a patient mirror, showing me my reflection even on days I don’t like what I see.


Somehow he does like it, mostly.


And for now I’m learning to let that be proof enough for me.



Liz Harris is a mom, a freelance food writer and editor, a mediocre bowler and alumna of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, where she majored in English Writing and Spanish. She met her Wisconsinite husband in Costa Rica and frequently frustrates her kids with her at-home strength-training routines.

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