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Melting down in lockdown

BY KATE WALTER | I called my sister to wish her happy Mother’s Day. She has four daughters and nine grandkids.

“I know this might sound crazy,” I said, “but I’m really glad Mom is gone and not here for this.”

My sister said that she was thinking the same thing. We would be so worried, even though our mother lived at home until she died at 95 in 2017.

Later that day, I saw a post from a Facebook friend, a prolific author, who wrote she was glad her mother had died last fall. Many echoed this sentiment about their elderly parents.

My niece and her three girls went to the cemetery to place flowers on Mom’s grave.

My sister went later in the day, noting she was glad it was open, that it had previously been closed.

I wondered why a cemetery would be closed.

“Too many funerals?” she guessed.

On Mother’s Day I made a donation to Eva’s Village, my mother’s favorite charity. It’s an organization in my hometown in Paterson, New Jersey, that provides food and housing, rehabilitation and job training to addicts. While their work may have changed now, I’m sure they are still supplying food to the hungry.

My mother was an incredibly resilient person and I’m trying to draw strength from her during this difficult time.

When I got my stimulus check, I donated a third of it to food banks and organizations helping to feed the healthcare workers.

I’m taking a workshop with a spiritual teacher who asked us to make a list of 15 things that lifted our spirit. I discovered that donating money made me feel good. I enjoyed selecting the charities, making sure to include Sylvia’s Place, which feeds the homeless L.G.B.T.Q. kids.

………………

When the lockdown first started, I was on a roll writing five pieces within a few weeks, breaking into a new, good paying market. Then I fell into a slump. I had quarantine fatigue.

I was depressed but reassured myself this was normal, given the circumstances.

I talked to colleagues on Facebook who also lacked the energy to write because they were so emotionally drained from dealing with the virus. I also knew others who remained prolific.

I read articles about people having mental and emotional health issues. I wasn’t alone.

Everything seems exhausting. Going for a walk is exhausting as I get angry at the runners not wearing masks. Going grocery shopping is exhausting as I worry if I’ve taken enough precautions. Going to the laundry room is exhausting as I fear getting infected.

Of course I’m taking the necessary measures — mask, gloves, relentless hand washing.

After returning from my trip to the grocery store (I hit Brooklyn Fare during senior hour), I get home and wait for my delivery. I go downstairs to pick it up. Come back upstairs, clean my groceries. Then I feel exhausted. I’m done for the day — and it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning.

While waiting for my delivery, I quarantine myself in my “COVID chair” wearing my outdoor clothes. After I unpack the groceries, I strip off those clothes, toss them on that chair and change into sweatpants.

Unlike those who escaped to houses outside the city, I don’t have the luxury to wash my clothes every time I come back inside. I do laundry as seldom as possible. I’m wearing mismatching socks and bought more underwear online.

I believe that when this ends (assuming these folks return) New York will be divided into those who stayed and those who fled. No one outside the city can grasp what it is like here.

Even my reading has fallen off. I’m an avid reader who devoured one or two books a week. During the winter I read 28 books. (I keep a log.)  This spring I’ve only read four, including the classic “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times,” by Pema Chodron.

One of only four books the writer has managed to read this spring, far off her usual pace. (Photo by Kate Walter)

Much of my reading energy has switched to news. I consume newspapers online for about two hours every morning. I feel being informed gives me some small degree of control.

I’m an organized person with a schedule of Zoom classes and workshops that meet regularly. Since I retired from full-time teaching, I was working at home as a freelance writer, so my daily routine has not changed much, except now my meetings are online.

I have learned to appreciate the 5-to-10-minute conversations I have with my Westbeth neighbors, either on the street or in the hallway (from a safe distance). This is my sad little social life now.

On the other hand, I’d much rather be living alone in my cozy loft than with someone who drives me crazy. I have deepened friendships (long phone calls) with old friends who enrich my life and make me feel less lonely.

…………….

As the lockdown drags on, I’ve had several meltdowns. One day my Verizon Fios went out. Not having the Internet scared me. I was shaking when I couldn’t get a signal and saw the red light. I recalled that, in the past, unplugging it for a minute or two, then replugging, usually restored the connection. I did that and said a prayer. It came back!

Another time my smartphone stopped working. I got a signal that it was overheated. I had never ever seen that before and I freaked out. I called my computer-savvy contacts, grateful I still had a land line. I took it out of the case, put it aside for an hour. They said it would probably come back. After it did (more prayers), my 15-year-old grandnephew, an iPhone wiz, told me to turn down the brightness and delete any apps I’m not using.

The other meltdown came from a dental problem. A temporary crown cracked and fell apart. (Yes, I know, I need an implant). I took an ugly selfie and called my dentist. He thought it would hold up until he could see me. Told me to file down the jaggy edges.

My teeth need a cleaning and my periodontist is not open. He is a miracle worker who managed to save many of my teeth. He is in his late 70s, so I hope he does not retire. I fear that after the lockdown ends, my teeth will be rotting out of my mouth.

Of course, I need a haircut and color but that’s not a big deal. Once I see my stylist, I will be fine. At least the rest of my health is good.

My worst meltdown occurred on a Sunday morning and caught me off guard. I looked forward to watching church online. It gave me comfort and connection. On the last Sunday in April, the usual music came on before the actual service began.

As I heard the familiar song, “You’re Welcome in This Place,” I burst out crying and started sobbing hysterically. I put my head down on my desk and sobbed. I could not stop.

I was crying for my lost life, which had been very good. I was crying because I have no idea how long this will go on and when I will be able to see family and friends again.

Normally, in May I’m looking forward to going to the family beach house at the Jersey Shore and getting it ready for the summer season. I put that on hold this year and simply hope that I will be able to escape for a vacation in July or August.

Clinging to that thought keeps me going. I have no idea how I will get there — maybe car service — I don’t care if it costs a fortune. I know that this season will be nothing like any other summer at the beach. During the two months here in lockdown, I’ve established routines that gave me some level of safety. I’d have to recreate that in another environment.

Now that we are fully into spring and produce is coming into the Greenmarkets, I’m walking to Union Square and shopping for fresh vegetables and buying plants for my garden at Westbeth. This is one of the few things that gives me pleasure.

I also enjoy hanging out my window at 7 o’clock every night and cheering and ringing a loud bell. I love watching this family in this big building on W. 12th St. Their back terraces face my building. They come out every night at 7 o’clock. Mom, Dad, three little kids. The kids and father are sitting and drumming like mad. The mother stands, shaking an instrument.

And I watch the neighbors across the street in a $10 million townhouse on Bethune St. The father built a playground on his roof for his three boys, including a skateboard ramp and table tennis. At first it struck me as the ultimate in “white privilege” while other kids are locked out of skate parks and playgrounds. But then I saw the father clapping for the workers and he waved to me and I liked him. Their housekeeper often sits on the steps and claps.

The clapping together brings us momentary joy in a time of deep sorrow and loss. Many are still dying and the things that made New York fabulous are closed: the public libraries, museums and galleries, jazz clubs, theaters, restaurants. Crowded Hudson River Park is not relaxing.

Little did I know that when my sister took me to “Oklahoma” on Broadway for my birthday in January (my friend’s son played the lead), it would be the last time we would see a show.

Or the last time we’d see each other. I look at the Playbill and long for that life.

7 Comments

  1. Frances Holden Frances Holden May 12, 2020

    Such a clear confession of the drift from empowered to ennui to anguish! I find myself bouncing around these emotions like a pinball game – up, down, and occasionally just stuck in one spot. I’m comforted by words that show others are surviving the emotional symptoms of this pandemic. Thanks!

  2. Susan Chaple Susan Chaple May 12, 2020

    Really enjoyed this. Touched a chord with the dentist and how it would be living with someone for long periods. I’m lucky I’ve a storyteller in my youngest son, whom I live with. Take care and thanks for share. ♡

  3. Erica Manfred Erica Manfred May 12, 2020

    Wonderful report from the epicenter. It’s not easy where I am in Florida but at least I get to go out and take a relatively quiet walk and I can drive. I used to miss New York City but not now. Love your pieces on what you’re experiencing. I admire your honesty and forthrightness in telling both sides.

  4. John Campo John Campo May 13, 2020

    Way to go Kate, see you in OC this summer a summer to remember we are going to kick out those jams!!!!!!
    best JC

  5. mbfc mbfc May 14, 2020

    love your writing and personal revelations…
    this all hits so close to home……
    I’m thinking positive about some normalcy coming next month…
    won’t be seeing you at the next preservation awards, but hope to see you in O.G. !!
    ——-m

  6. Noreen newell Noreen newell May 14, 2020

    That was well written and nostalgic. I have been through phases of baking , cooking , drinking wine , drinking beer , cups and cups of hot tea , wearing a nice fuschia dress for a zoom happy hour , wearing Raggy Doors t shirt With a raggy bra black jeans un matching socks , loving my 19 year old roommate I gave birth to , hating this same individual who learned how to cope being home much better than me and felt obligated To tell me all the domestic crimes I commit or edits how I pronounce things like salsa And names of every school pal he has been in touch with

  7. Caren Chesler Caren Chesler July 6, 2020

    Beautiful. As others said, I love your writing. It’s Hemingwayesque: short, direct, concise sentences that highlight the actions, not the language. And it’s a great topic on which to note a series of actions. We will remember this time forever, but we’ll forget the details. Not entirely, though, thanks to pieces like this.

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