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Will a second lockdown be lonelier than the first?

BY KATE WALTER | I’m going to scream if I read one more piece about how the lockdown brought someone closer to her husband or wife or kids or parents.

A colleague wrote that she was nostalgic for family time now that her husband was going back to work part time. There was nothing positive about the quarantine for me. I’m single and live alone.

Before the pandemic, I had a fantastic social life for a 71-year-old gay woman living in Manhattan. I belonged to a vocal group, “the Bliss Singers,” that met every Friday. We sang blues and pop and show tunes and danced around the Westbeth community room to “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

I made new friends and felt rejuvenated when I left the session. Our teacher moved the group online, but Zoom does not work for singing together.

Every Thursday night I took the bus to a creative writing workshop in my friend’s fabulous apartment in Greenwich Village. I’ve been in this workshop for more than 20 years and it had become like a family. We celebrated weddings, birthdays, book publications. Now we are meeting on Zoom, which works well, but I haven’t seen anyone from the group in person since March.

Another thing that sustained me was attending services on Sundays at Middle Collegiate Church, a social-justice church in the East Village. I’ve been a member for more than 10 years. The music was a big attraction: the gospel choir rocking a spiritual or the traditional choir with stellar harmonies or a Broadway star making a guest appearance. The sermons were always inspiring.

My fellow congregants in this multiracial L.G.B.T.Q.-positive church were warm and loving, lots of hugging. Then I’d go to the social hall for brunch and conversation.

Now my church streams online. Sometimes I start crying when I see performances I’d seen in person. I miss being in the sanctuary hearing live music.

From the middle of March until the end of June I socialized with exactly two people. (I’m not counting brief conversations with neighbors.) I shared a glass of wine with my neighbor on her birthday. I brought peach cake from the Greenmarket. We sat six feet away in her apartment. And we met one other time.

My colleague rode her bike down to my building to visit me and we hung out in the courtyard. That was it. Three interactions.

Waiting for sunrise at the Jersey Shore. (Photo by Kate Walter)

The one thing that kept me going was thinking that I would get to the Jersey Shore this summer. When I finally arrived, I was so happy. I saw my brother for the first time since Christmas and my sister for the first time since my birthday in January.

I was apprehensive about taking public transportation (New Jersey Transit) but I figured it was worth the risk to escape to the beach.

It is now September and I’m staying past Labor Day, enjoying locals’ summer. I know I am privileged to have a vintage bungalow (inherited from my parents) and access to a beach a half a block away. I’m enjoying every minute: swimming in the ocean, riding my bike, eating outside at the patio table, entertaining guests in the little yard. I socialized more with friends and family in my first two weeks here than in four months in the city.

I’m dreading the idea of returning to Manhattan and experiencing what I did last winter and spring. Once it gets cold, I won’t be able to picnic in the park like I did in June and July. I never liked sidewalk dining and have even less interest now. I fear my life will be almost like it was in April (very lonely), except now stores are open so I can buy books at The Strand.

But there still will be no fun group activities: no readings or singing groups or yoga classes in the community room, no openings in our in-house gallery, no collegial in-person writing workshops, no hugging when we pass the peace in church. It will just be me alone in my apartment reading and writing and Zooming.

With fall coming soon, I get upset whenever I read a piece in the real estate section about homeowners fixing up their decks or porches or patios and getting heaters or fire pits so they can hang outside more in the cold. When the weather gets cool, I will be stuck back inside.

When I hear or read about anyone expressing anything positive about this situation, it feels like toxic positivity that makes me feel invisible. I have not hugged anyone since February. So please don’t tell me how wonderful it was that you slowed down or bonded with people.

Yes, it’s true I reconnected with a high school friend and now we often talk on the phone. But that’s it.

Years ago, when I went through a horrible breakup of my long-term relationship, I was distraught. I was angry. I was sad, but I didn’t feel this aching loneliness, exacerbated by the fact that there is no end in sight. I don’t want to return to that painful state again.

I’m not looking forward to the holidays. I’m afraid we will not be getting together as a family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, just as we did not meet at Easter. I will be lonely if I don’t get to see my sibs and my nieces and their kids for our traditional feasts in New Jersey.

There will be no fun party in the Westbeth community room with dinner and dancing to a live band. No joyful caroling in the lobby.

My therapist says I need to have plans for the fall and winter. Last spring, I taught myself to play the harmonica and got pretty good. I considered taking up the ukulele, but since I can’t keep my guitar in tune, that may not work.

Before this plague destroyed life as I knew it, I was happy and thriving and seeing lots of people. I took all this for granted.
Now I’m in limbo. My life in New York City is on hold.

Walter is a freelance writer and the author of the memoir “Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing.” She is working on an essay collection about her life during the pandemic in New York City.

3 Comments

  1. Lynn Marrapodi Lynn Marrapodi September 10, 2020

    Wow! Thank you Kate!
    I could have written this…verbatim.

  2. Dr. Eileen Cleary Dr. Eileen Cleary September 12, 2020

    Very powerful piece, Kate. In a culture where single people are often forgotten, your piece reminds us how this pandemic has brought loneliness and isolation to many. Also how “toxic positivity” can rub salt in the wounds during this difficult time. Let’s talk on the phone again soon. Looking forward to your next essay.

  3. Ellen Ellen October 17, 2020

    Thank you. You articulated well what a lot of us feel.
    Ellen

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