Here are some personal tales of life during the time of covid-19 in 2020.
We hope that you enjoy these stories of love, life, hope and survival from contributors from different parts of the world. Help us to build the narrative and submit your story to: firstname.lastname@example.org
My days were filled with hugs, holding hands on the way to class, bumping knees under the table at lunch because so many chairs had been packed in next to each other to accommodate my group of friends. I stole fries off people’s plates without even thinking of sanitizing my hands first. We passed around drinks with no hesitation because worrying about spreading a virus was still far in the future.
Piggyback rides down the hall were normal, so was piling on top of each other on a couch. I was preoccupied with homework and already stressing out over a number of things I had to do before the end of the school year despite the fact that graduation was still more than two months away. I put on makeup every morning and showered every night. The clothes I wore were always in dress code. By 8 a.m. I was in class with a thermos of coffee on my desk and I was always in bed before midnight. I had a routine; I didn’t intend to change it, but in the end I didn’t get a choice.
I couldn’t have imagined being happier than I was for those first few months of 2020. I had everyone I loved within reach, but I never knew how lucky I was to be able to touch them. I heard about the wildfires in Australia and the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 through the news, but they were worlds away. When I first read the headline about the outbreak of a new virus in Wuhan, China, I never expected that it would affect me, that it could reach my little corner of the world.
Less than two weeks before my school closed, I traveled to Syracuse, New York to compete at the VEX Robotics State Championship. I shook hands with countless people, hugged teammates and high-fived strangers without a second thought. We didn’t wear masks, we didn’t have to yet. The virus was still in California; thousands of miles separated us from the outbreak. No one was worried about large gatherings or safety measures.
In the back of the bus on the way home, I curled up under a blanket with my boyfriend. We shared earbuds and spoke with our faces close together, unaware of the air we were sharing. Once school closed it would be six weeks before I saw him again, then another six after that. My days of being close to people, unrestricted and unmasked, were already starting to count down.
On the night my school announced that students were being sent home and classes would be moved online, it felt like the world was ending. Suddenly my life had become divided into the time before the pandemic existed, before I bothered to pay attention to the daily Coronavirus updates because it hadn’t yet become a reality for me, and after. Only a few hours earlier I was blissfully unaware of the change that was coming. I had no idea just how different life would become in only a matter of days.
No one said any lengthy goodbyes because we all expected to be back on campus in a month to finish the school year in person. But April 27th, the date set for students to return, would come and pass and the school would remain empty.
Staying home didn’t seem so bad at first. I could sleep late in the morning. I had more free time. I had the option to leave home and go to the store or see friends even though I never did. Quarantine took on a whole new meaning when my father started to show symptoms. When being inside all the time was no longer a choice but a requirement, when the only place I could go was from my kitchen to my room and back, was when I truly began to feel stuck.
I wasn’t ever particularly afraid of catching the virus. The prospect of isolation didn’t scare me either; I had always considered myself an introvert, there couldn’t possibly be such a thing as too much time alone. The hours stretched on forever without classes and friends to keep me busy. It didn’t take long for time to lose its meaning. The “alone time” I thought I craved became two separate entities. I was alone; my parents and I moved in such drastically different circles around the house that there were days when we barely spoke. Time kept creeping forward; the hands on the clock spun without meaning.
The weather never changed; day after day I was met with the same grey sky and lifeless yellow grass that hadn’t yet recovered from months of being buried under the snow. I barely left the house for weeks. I was up long past 3 a.m. trying to do homework for a class taught through YouTube videos and low quality video calls. I lived in sweatpants, pulled shirts stained with pizza grease out of my dirty laundry and wore them day after day because comfort mattered more to me than cleanliness. I had long, one-sided conversations with my cat; when she wasn’t around I talked to the walls instead.
There was no closure to the school year. One day I had classes to go to, the next day I didn’t. Trying to create a sense of finality for myself backfired. Emptying out the backpack I hadn’t touched since March meant letting go of the only evidence of normal life that I had. I kept binders full of chemistry formulas, triangle classification charts and Spanish tests that I knew I would never need again simply because I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the past.
And so my days became long, quiet and empty. I wandered in circles through the same rooms again and again. I never got a consistent amount of sleep and had frequent headaches from the amount of time I spent on my computer. I had always been able to fall back on routine and order when life began to feel too chaotic, now I was trying to hold it together knowing that nothing was guaranteed. I tried to act like I was strong, like I could roll with whatever happened next, but I was exhausted beyond belief.
Summer nearly slipped by unnoticed because of how preoccupied I was with feeling bad about all the things I lost to the pandemic. Five months of my life that I will never get back disappeared out from underneath me. I missed the last day of ski season. I missed graduation. I missed the last few months of school with my boyfriend before he left for college. How happy I was before the pandemic weighs me down now.
What I often fail to notice are the little moments of happiness that find their way into my life these days. I treasure the nightly FaceTime calls with my boyfriend that make me feel a little less alone. I’ve perfected several recipes and uncovered clothes from deep within my closet that I had forgotten I owned. Bike rides and walking barefoot in my backyard serve as proof that though it felt like time stopped, the world kept turning and the seasons kept changing.
I wonder now how many times I went to the store, out to lunch or to the beach before the pandemic. I wonder how many people I hugged, how many hands I shook. I’m waiting as patiently as I can for the day when I can do those things again. There is no way of knowing how living through an experience like this will shape who I am later in life, but I will never again take the little things for granted.
Anja Martin, Wilmington, New York, USA, August 2020
Hang on a sec. Let’s take a moment here to think back to December 2019 when life was ‘normal’. We celebrated Christmas, ate too much food, drank too much wine, spent too much money and did what we did best, complained about the weather! As we watched the fireworks on the eve of 2020, we looked forward to the New Year and made our New Year resolutions. We had absolutely no idea that our lives were about to be turned upside down and that we would soon be living in a bizarre, pseudo-apocalyptic, dystopian world within just a fraction of time.
I was really looking forward to 2020. I’d made lots of amazing plans because it is my 50th birthday in August and I had decided that rather than having one big party, I would celebrate by doing lots of small but nice things with the people I love. I had a weekend trip to Madrid to look forward to in March, a family holiday in Crete during the Easter holidays and a girls’ weekend in Mallorca in May. I had even been super organised and booked a weekend camping ticket for Love Supreme Festival in July. 2020 was going to ROCK!
All those exciting (and now seemingly quite ambitious) plans came to an abrupt end in the middle of March. My much loved and cherished business, Eden Blue, a centre for health, well-being, music and arts, which I ran with my husband Emmanuel, was suddenly forced to close to help curtail the spread of covid. We had worked so hard over the previous four years to establish the business and things were running smoothly. We provided over 30 classes a week including Yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Spanish, Art, Guitar, Drumming and Drama. It was brilliant and we loved it! I was actively involved in the Rock, Pop & Gospel Choir and thoroughly enjoyed our monthly walking group, exploring the beautiful Sussex countryside. Eden Blue wasn’t just a business, it was a way of life that connected us with our local community, opened doors to valued friendships and kept us healthy in mind, body and spirit.
The week leading to the official lockdown announcement on Monday 23rd March was probably one of the most frightening weeks of my life. I remember teaching my last ever face-to-face class on Wednesday 18th March. There were only a handful of students that day and I struggled to keep my emotions at bay. I tried hard to stop my voice from quivering as I instructed by students to engage their core and breathe. As we waved goodbye after the session, I felt a sickening knot tighten in my stomach. We had spent hours cleaning the centre, installing hand sanitizers, buying extra supplies of anti-bacterial cleaning spray and ensuring that the studio was as safe and clean as possible, but our efforts turned out to be unnecessary. I put a sign up in the window, recorded a rather wobbly voicemail message saying that we had temporarily closed and went home. By the end of the week, the schools and colleges had closed and my eldest son was brought home from London with his girlfriend in the middle of the night. I glued myself to the news and everything just stopped.
I felt so many mixed emotions during those first few weeks. I felt overwhelmed and distraught about the closure of our business. There would be no more singing or conversations or walks or book club meet-ups; we had no idea how we were going to keep paying the rent and overheads for the business with zero income coming in and as a business that revolves around community and social interaction, we will probably be one of the last types of businesses that will allowed to open. We very quickly set up a fundraising page to help rescue our business and avoid getting into debt and had a formidable and heart warming response. We even received donations from people who don’t even use our services! Having the support of the local community, as well as friends and family, has been humbling. Our love for Eden Blue was not just ours.
At the time of writing, Eden Blue has been closed for three months. Even though I was very reluctant to teach live online classes in the beginning (I felt very self-conscious!) I had to get over my nerves and get on with it. I now teach four classes a week via Zoom. It now seems perfectly normal to talk to my students through my little 13 inch screen laptop. Together we have worked out the various functions of Zoom, learning how to share sound and play around with virtual backgrounds, while at the same time grappling with poor internet connection and guiding technophobes through this strange new reality.
At home, we had to adjust to having two additional members of the household. We became a family of 7 (and Bo, our Springer spaniel dog), so the house is always busy and noisy and sometimes a little bit chaotic. When we go for a walk with the whole family, we do get some peculiar looks. You can tell that people are trying to figure it out – is that a family or a group of people breaking the rules? Lockdown has created a new cohort of social distancing police, who feel it is their duty to report any sightings of groups of more than two people.
Very early on, we set up a rota to make sure that everyone played a part in the running of the household and as there are exactly 7 people in the house, everyone cooks one day a week and washes up one day a week. It turned out to be a great idea. Everyone is around 24/7 so nobody has any real excuse to not do their bit. We’ve always believed that children should contribute to the running of the home, even if it is as simple as emptying the dishwasher or taking out the recycling. I’m thankful that our children are young adults and not young children. I can’t even begin to imagine how tough lockdown has been for families with very young children, particularly single parents and those in difficult relationships.
There is a real passion for food and cooking at home and we have had some delicious dinners - probably a bit too good, as my waistline will prove! Our youngest, Elysia (age 15) has really taken to cooking for the family and even though she had never really cooked much before lockdown, she has cooked some wonderful and often quite elaborate dinners, all made from scratch. My son and his girlfriend are also incredible cooks and have set up a small Friday night supper club, delivering home cooked international dishes within our local area. They have a small but growing group of customers and they take real pride in what they do. I have helped by promoting them like crazy on social media and am their personal driver on Friday evenings! When you are confined to your home for much of the time, any kind of outing is an exciting adventure.
In the first few weeks of lockdown Emmanuel decided that the best thing to do is keep busy so he bought a large dehydrator and started dehydrating fruit with the idea of selling tropical mixed dried fruit. Our kitchen turned into a fruit chopping and dehydrating factory and I have to say it drove me a bit mad! It was very labour intensive and I think he was disappointed that both myself and the kids lacked enthusiasm for the endeavour. Then he moved on to buying flour to sell to neighbours and friends and put a little post on a local Facebook page. The response was phenomenal. Everyone wanted flour and yeast, as it was one of the products that became really difficult to get hold of. During lockdown, people have turned to baking their own bread and pizza bases, cakes and scones, in a big way. The major supermarket chains were all out of flour and Emmanuel discovered very quickly that there was a huge demand for flour and yeast. Within a week, we came up with Old Town Trader as the business name, launched a new website and before you could blink a new business was born. Eden Blue was turned into a flour factory! While its success may be purely down to the fact that there is limited flour available in the major supermarket chains, it has certainly kept us busy. My heart hasn’t been in it, but Emmanuel has given it his all. I had this romantic idea that this rare pause in our lives would give us a chance to think, recharge and enjoy being at home with the family but instead we have been selling flour! Both our eldest children have helped out with the day-to-day running of the business – so it really is a family enterprise. Given that they were both living away from home before lockdown, none of us could ever have imagined that we would spend 2020 working together!
Looking back at the first few weeks of lockdown, I think I was in a bit of a state of shock. Even though I was able to function on a basic level, my behaviour was erratic. I sometimes felt dizzy, clumsy, confused, unable to focus, preoccupied, stressed, sad, angry and frustrated. Answering emails and responding to texts felt like a huge intellectual challenge. I found it so hard to focus because my mind was so preoccupied with the coronavirus. I watched the news obsessively and jumped from one news story to another. I couldn’t read books or watch films. I caught myself holding my breath and not breathing properly. I had days when I just felt depressed. I also felt creatively inept because I was unable to write a single word. Quarantine has not only put a stop to normal life, it has put a stop to normal functioning.
The covid pandemic has caused immense harm throughout the world and I feel that we have yet to feel the true of impact of covid. This vicious new disease has caused thousands of deaths worldwide; one of the worst economic recessions in history; an increase in joblessness and financial insecurity and a surge in mental health problems. I wonder if the worst is yet to come. The impact of covid goes far deeper than the disease itself and it may be months, if not years, before we return to a sense of normality.
The worst part of lockdown has been having to live a socially isolated life; only being able to see one person at a time and keep socially distant; long queues for essentials; confusing and conflicting information from the government; the weird behaviour of people in the shops (everyone looks either miserable or angry or both) and the persistent worry and anxiety about the future. The best part of lockdown has been doing fun things with the family like picking wild garlic, making birthday what’s app videos, getting stuck on a golf course because it was locked, doing a hilarious 1980’s aerobic workout with the family, taking part in a world record breaking online pub quiz, dinners in the garden, teaching Pilates in the park, having a secret movie night at Eden Blue and when my son turned his bedroom into a romantic restaurant for his girlfriend. There are times when lockdown has felt suffocating, draining and tedious and other times when it has felt refreshingly calm. Everything has slowed down and nature is thriving, the air is cleaner and home has become the centre of the universe. Many of the things that we used to worry about no longer have any value or importance and it has helped to put life in perspective. It has given us time to think, re-adjust our mindset and aspire for a better world, where family, community and the natural world come first.
Celine Gucher, June 2020
Written by Judith Mahoney Pasternak
It's cool for a mid-May afternoon, barely above 50°F. I'm wearing a sweater under my safari jacket. But for the first time in two months, I'm outside without a signed home-made certificate giving my name, address, and date of birth, along with the reason for, and expected duration of, the outing. It's the second day of the Paris déconfinement, and all the other people on the street were similarly and suddenly freed yesterday.
So how are we doing? What are we doing? How do the individuals who make up an entire population look and act the day after they've been freed, en masse, from a protracted and unprecedented confinement? How closely can this moment resemble those of our formerly normal lives—and how closely will our déconfinement resemble that in places that had no single central government setting uniform rules for all?
Springtime in Paris
The answer to both questions seems to be, not much. Paris deconfined is, so far, very different from the Paris where I've lived for almost a decade. And the deconfinement is necessarily different because so was the confinement.
As of March 23, all across France, stores were ordered closed except for those selling essentials—basically, grocery stores and supermarkets, bakeries, pharmacies, and tobacconists (well, this is France). People outside without the required certificate were subject to hefty fines. The document listed five permissible reasons for venturing outside, and you had to check one and only one.
You were allowed to go to work at an essential job (if it couldn't be done from home), shop for groceries or other essentials (see above, although the certificate was silent as to tobacco products); see a doctor for essential medical care; care for an aged or otherwise vulnerable person: and exercise, within strict limits as to duration and distance. Tens of thousands of police were assigned just to check that each pedestrian possessed the document.
In the whole two months I was never asked to show mine, but then, I'm an 80-year-old, fairly gray-haired white woman and often find myself invisible to security personnel. A younger male friend was stopped and asked for it every time he left the house.
One other and unexpected result of the confinement was that the city was suddenly quieter—and more fragrant. With car traffic down to a bare minimum, all we heard was bird song, and all we smelled was the sweet scents of spring.
But on May 11, France declared the country more or less open again, and the government published a detailed list of new rules differing among locations according to their rate of infection. Paris remains a hot spot, and this is how the early days of the déconfinement look, indoors and out, especially in and around my quartier, the diverse 20th arrondissement area at the eastern edge of the Right Bank.
The Joint Is Jumping
By May 12, the day after the re-opening, it's not a ghost town. You have to look before you cross the street again, because traffic is up and running. People in close to normal numbers are on the street, going about their daily business. Fewer than usual seem to be in my age bracket—the deconfinement announcement advised the elderly and vulnerable to continue to stay home as much as possible—but children are everywhere, babies in slings and baby carriages, toddlers holding their parents' hands, older ones running on ahead, bumping into strangers and being called back to their parents' sides. Almost none of them are wearing masks, although some of their parents are.
I am. I'm wearing the one I bought a couple of days ago, when they began to reappear in the tabacs and pharmacies. They had been impossible to get for most of the confinement, and I had made do for two months with the only bandanna I own, washing it every evening and wearing it the next day.
I hated it. It was silky and kept slipping, and I constantly had to decide whether to adjust it, thus touching my face, or just hurry home and hope it would stay more or less in place until I got there. But the government had promised that millions of masks would be available as of May 11 and recommended that we wear them to protect ourselves and others “in situations where social distancing is not possible.”
I found one in a pharmacy two days ahead of time and was glad to get it. It was a big improvement on the bandanna. Now, though, you can get them everywhere, and by the weekend, almost two-thirds of the people on the street are masked.
Social Distancing—Ay, There's the Rub!
The deconfinement decree also warned that a mask “in no way substitutes for following the rules of social distancing” and advised Parisians to “keep a one meter distance between yourself and others.” But that recommendation runs athwart a fundamental difference between U.S. cultural norms and a range of European ones, all rooted in the fact that Europe is far more densely populated than the United States.
The population density across Europe is 103/km2(people per square kilometer). The U.S. population density coast to coast is 36/km2. The greater density colors everything European, although of course it plays out differently in different countries, different parts of each country, and among different social and economic groupings. The British and other northern Europeans, for instance, may touch each other in public not only less than southern Europeans, but less than Americans do and accordingly be far more ready for required social distancing. But in any segment of European society, homes are smaller, people live closer together, and they are by and large more committed to the social fabric than in an analogous American one.
Thus it is that, Paris being a mix of northern and southern cultures (especially in my very mixed quartier), keeping at least a meter (or more—the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends six feet, which is almost two meters) between yourself and other people is something of a foreign concept. Inside the shops, where the queues for the cash registers are marked with lines of a little over a meter for spacing, they tend to respect the rule—in the aisles, not so much.
The queues to get into the stores are everywhere, as they were during the confinement, but now many have signs declaring how many people at a time will be allowed in. At my neighborhood's big Monoprix, France's mega-chain for everything from food to clothes to hardware to books and stationery, the queue was two blocks long on deconfinement day three. A guard was letting in groups of ten people as similar numbers exited, and just inside the door was an apparently obligatory hand sanitizer dispenser. At the small shops, there are no guards, and most often the signs say one or two people can enter. A few days ago, I stood on line for half an hour to use the ATM inside my bank, and more recently I waited fifteen minutes to get a loaf of bread at my local bakery.
But it's on the streets where that the alienness of social distancing becomes obvious. Even now, told our lives may depend on keeping our distance, with posters everywhere delineating safe distances, many continue to walk as they always have, often two by two or even three by three, giving no quarter as they approach others. Walking “as they always have” often means walking close enough to smell each other as we pass by.
Which isn't to say that being able to smell a passerby is a rare occurrence here. On the one hand, many Parisians wear enough scent to choke, if not a horse, an asthmatic or allergic person (disclosure: I'm among the latter). On the other, even in ordinary times, Parisians tend to be less religiously committed than Americans either to the daily shower or bath or to laundering clothes after only one wearing. That said, it's probably different along the Champs Elysées and in the rest of the city's upscale neighborhoods, but most of them are in the western half of town, and I rarely have reason to go there and certainly don't now. What I have now is that, after the long, painful loneliness of the confinement, I'm definitely back among my fellow human beings, and glad to be there, smells and all.
La Vie Social
Not everything has re-opened by a long shot. Cinemas, restaurants and cafés remain shuttered (along with the major museums), with the government planning to evaluate letting them re-open at the beginning of June. People are still urged to work from home as much as possible. The Métro is running, but you need a certificate from your employer to ride it during rush hours, and some stations are closed.
So for now, deconfinement means we're free to visit with friends at home or outdoors, but not in gatherings of more than ten people. I lunched with one couple on Saturday, going to their home via my first venture onto the Métro. It felt safer than the street—there were few people on the train, and they were rigorously observing social distancing, all sitting as far apart as possible.
Sunday evening I celebrated a friend's birthday at a dinner for five that got almost riotous, so happy were we all to be in company again. There was tarama (the fish roe mix called tarama salata in New York's Greek restaurants) and bread and wine, of course, before we sat down at the table, where we had champagne with the salad, then chicken and beans and rice with another wine, followed by cheese, followed by chocolate mousse … It was all wonderful. I was somewhat the worse for wear Monday morning.
The host was a jazz musician, a successful one in the sense that at the age of 68 he's made a living from music for his entire adult life. But for the best part of a decade, his most steady work has been at a small club in Montmartre that holds thirty people when it's full. He hasn't worked in three months and can't really imagine when he will again, because the question remains, what will happen to Paris' famed restaurants, its neighborhood brasseries, and its once three-to-a -city-block cafés? The government will consider allowing them to re-open them at the beginning of June, although how many of them will have survived three months without income (albeit with government support) is an open question. The more difficult question is, how many will be able to operate with only half the former number of tables full at any given moment?
A Splinter in My Sandal
Yesterday, walking home from the supermarket with a heavy bag of groceries, I felt something sharp under the sole of my foot. When I leaned against the nearest tree to try to fish it out, still clutching the bag because I didn't want to set the bag down on the sidewalk, two young men stopped to ask if I needed help. I had a micro-second to decide whether to say yes, at this moment when close contact with a stranger can be dangerous.
I opted for what I'd have done six months ago. “Oui, merci,” I said, and handed one of them the bag. He held it while I shook out the sandal. I took the bag back. We smiled at each other, I from behind my mask, and I thanked them again and walked home.
I was still smiling, even while I scrubbed my hands with sanitizer—call it the upside of being where some people find social distancing hard to grasp.
The old Paris? Not yet, maybe never. But Paris, still.
Written by Judith Mahoney Pasternak, June 2020, Paris, France.
A native New Yorker now permanently resident in Paris, Mahoney Pasternak is a longtime writer and journalist and author of seven books including Timeless Places: Paris (2000, Michael Friedman Publishing Group), among other works.
Originally published May 27, 2020, by the Village Sun at https://thevillagesun.com/paris-deconfined-the-new-normal
The other day I was putting away the laundry I had washed and folded. Sweatshirts, sweaters, t-shirts and cardigans, sweat pants, yoga pants, pyjamas, and hoodies. Socks and socks and again some socks, all the comfortable, easy, relaxed clothes that we have been wearing for the past 2 months while in quarantine. There is the odd pair of jeans in the bunch, needed to venture out to the grocery store or other public place but otherwise, the fashion of the past few weeks has been uber casual.
As I was foraging in the closet, I came across my cluster of summer dresses. It was almost as though I had seen them for the first time. The colors, vibrant, the soft cotton and silk, and more dressy styles jumping out at me like I was on an archaeological dig. As I touched each garment with wonder, I was transported to the previous summers when I took for granted slipping into a dress to go out to a club or to a party with friends. This was the one I wore in Paris that night; this one for my son’s wedding. I remember the laughter and cold drinks after a hot summer day wearing this one. This beauty was the bargain I found on a shopping trip with my daughter.
I am not sure why rediscovering my summer dresses left me a bit sad and longing for simpler times. It’s not like I think I will never wear them again. But in many ways, they are a reminder of all that we have lost these past weeks in quarantine, specifically the human connection we all crave and need. It’s interesting that we can think that life before COVID 19 was simple. It wasn’t, although from my lockdown perspective it seemed so much more innocent, which just goes to show that you never really know what time of life is innocent until you lose it.
We are social butterflies trapped in our cocoons. It’s wonderful that we can virtually spend time together, talk and laugh, and yes even have drinks together. But my sense of touch has been limited to my little world, my husband, the rooms of my home, the garden outside. I am infinitely grateful that I have more than one room to move through. But I long to touch the bounty the world has to offer. My children. Our friends.
A few months ago I wrote about a television series my husband and I had watched called “See”, which now in retrospect is seriously hitting way to close to our current reality. The series took place centuries after a deadly virus impacted the human race and those who survived lost their ability to see. What I am sorely missing during this pandemic is my ability to touch. I am a hugger by nature, often choosing that as a greeting whenever meeting with my family and close friends. In my husband’s culture, people greet by kissing on both cheeks. Even when we emerge from our cocoons, I fear such greetings will no longer be part of our experience.
The late, great John Prine’s masterful song Angel from Montgomery has a line where the old woman of the song implores the listener to just give her one thing to hold on to. Maybe my summer dresses are the one thing I can hold on to. The fluid cascade of the fabric. The flirty swirl of the skirt brushing my legs. The lightness of the memory. The attitude, as sparkling as a glass of Cava. Music, dancing, and laughter. Touch brings all of that sensory memory back.
Even as I mourn the things I am missing right now, I know that there have always been cataclysmic events in the world. Humans are incredible adapters, surviving centuries of change and war and illness. I know we will need to evolve from this pandemic as well. Maybe less touch would be better for us as a species. Think of all the things we pass on to each other often without even realizing it. And yet, as so many studies have proven, touch is the very thing that allows humans to thrive. I am not willing to give that up. Maybe I have to wait for a vaccine or better medicine but I will always be a hugger.
Maybe tonight I’ll shave my legs and put on that dress and maybe some lipstick, another thing left to dry from lack of use in this time of quarantine. This evening when we turn on our music and open the wine, two things keeping us sane while we shelter, I will twirl in that dress and remind myself that all things must pass and this virus will too. If we are all in. If, as difficult as it is, we stay sheltered in place, listen to the science, and the level heads of some in charge, we could be back to hugging each other again in the near future. How amazing that will feel! I imagine it will be so lovely, something like velvet. And that will be wonderful. Stay well, friends!
Tina Celentano, May 2020.
Month three of my captivity, what a strange world we live in today.
My name is Carolyn. I live in Eastbourne, UK. I am a survivor of the Big Dipper Crash in Battersea, and was diagnosed with PTSD during an employment tribunal which I won in 2007, but it left me with depression. I had just managed to give up my antidepressants in 2015, when my father died, after falling down his front steps in 2013, choking on his soup in a nursing home and then my daughter and I having to give permission to have his feeding tube removed because he wasn’t responding to treatment.
My husband, Pete, died suddenly in April last year, he had always been ill, starting with having half a lung removed at the age of 4, because of bronchiectasis, diagnosed with emphysema, arrhythmia, pneumonia, diabetes, polyarteritis nodosa and a Baker’s cystto name just a few of his conditions throughout his life, but rarely looked ill, he was having regular blood tests and doctor and hospital appointments, but no-one expected him to die then.
My daughter and her fiancé moved back in with me to help me both financially and generally, I will be eternally grateful to them, as I’m not the tidiest of people and my daughter has OCD! But my house is getting tidier since they have moved in, despite the boxes that I’ve got to sort. I’m finding it hard to start on sorting, partly because the charity shops, auction houses and generally access to getting rid of things are closed, and so it would mainly be just shuffling between boxes, and trying to find somewhere to put them, and I have become a great procrastinator. We also eat mostly freshly prepared food, as my daughter’s fiancé is an excellent cook, and my daughter and I are pretty good too, and the majority of it is healthy.
I had to force myself out of my depression and with the help of family, a few friends and an increase in my antidepressants, I began to rebuild my life. It started with continuing to look after my grandson every Thursday and then because I can’t drive (partly because of PTSD), him staying over on Wednesday too. My friend taking me swimming at Motcombe Pool, up to 3 times a week, meeting up with people I used to work with for a cup of tea and new people I had met swimming.
This gradually built up my confidence and I joined the Eden Blue Rock, Pop and Gospel choir and met a wonderful group of people, with lots of enthusiasm and talent, especially the choir leader, and all so welcoming, and also rekindled my love of performing. Later I also joined the Eden Blue Drama Group, more enthusiasm, talent and lovely people and my rebuild was getting underway on the social side and I had a routine. Things I would be doing were in my diary, a family wedding in April, a friend’s 70th birthday in July, plans for close friends staying and trips on the narrow boat. The only downside was having to clear a garage-full of my parent’s belongings and find somewhere to put it while it was sorted out, and then disposed of or kept and finding somewhere to put it.
My mother died in February, following being left to starve for two weeks by her carers in 2016, she had been unable to feed herself, eat normal food, walk or talk, but recognised us, she was in a nursing home in Robertsbridge, and our lives have been very stressful because of it. Having to organise and pay for a third funeral in less than 5 years, caused more stress, but it could not be avoided. So the funeral was on 17th March, to avoid my daughter’s birthday on 16th and my late husband’s on 24th, to fit in with her work pattern, she is a manager in supported living and my son's, who works for an Autism charity.
COVID had been on the news and so many relatives had to send their apologies for not attending, so it was a very small funeral, although my aunt of 90 years old came with family from London and it was easier to sit and share memories with a smaller group. Being the only child of an only child and marrying an only child, does rather reduce the number of close relatives.
The funeral people told us that the limousines could not be used from the following Monday because of COVID. COVID dominated all the news, programmes and announcements.
My daughter bought masks, gloves, disinfectant, antibacterial soap and hand sanitiser, just enough for us, in case you wondered. Well, we wouldn’t have thought that before lockdown! We ran out of toilet roll and then the one person allowed in a shop, 2 metres or 2 trolleys away from everyone else, after an hour’s wait in a queue, found that a hoard of toilet paper locusts had cleared every shelf of anything tissuey.
The lockdown began on 23rd March 2020, the day before the first time I would not be celebrating Pete’s birthday with him for 45 years. The following week on 1st April, we would have been celebrating our 42nd wedding anniversary, then 6th April, the day he died, then a year since his funeral on 17th May. Looking on the bright side at least all of the personal firsts are over.
But one other thing that happened in March has made a different change, the addition of a puppy. In March my daughter was contacted by a friend, who said a friend of hers needed to rehome a puppy as they had not realised they were not allowed pets, and had asked her to recommend someone. So after seeing a photo of him and getting information, she set off with my daughter-in-law one Sunday afternoon and returned with an American Bully cross puppy. He has definitely given me a new lease of life.
Apart from all of my sad anniversaries. COVID hit me quite hard as the routine and social life was stopped. Looking after my 3 year old grandson every Wednesday had to stop. I must admit getting up at 7am wasn’t my favourite thing but we have a very close relationship with lots of cuddles and fun, my husband and I have looked after him for up to 3 days a week since he was a few months old, and only being able to see him, my son, daughter-in-law and step granddaughter on a screen was just not the same. My daughter and I dropped our spare shovel off at their house in the first couple of weeks of lockdown, we had to phone them to say we had arrived, my son looked over the wall to their back garden, then stood well back as we dropped a plastic wrapped shovel over the wall, they then all looked over the wall including their dog, we stood over 2 metres away and we had a bit of a chat and hugged ourselves for virtual hugs and gestured kisses without the blowing, and they had to disinfect the shovel when we left, it was bizarre.
The television has become a very depressing thing to watch during lockdown, only bad news and having the same people’s stories showing over and over again, then the death rate, when you are not in the best headspace, it is not enjoyable. I have watched every Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Father Brown, Shakespeare and Hathaway, Murdoch Mysteries etc that I can, as I used to watch them with my husband. I have now been dragged into a whole new set of programmes including soaps and reality tv, since my daughter moved in, and some very good but disturbing ones like Killing Eve, which I really enjoy, and our favourite program, that we used to have a meal then all watch together when my husband was alive, the Blacklist, had a new series. So like most people I speak to, we mostly watch our recordings and avoid all news programmes.
That is probably why I completely missed the news about menthol cigarettes. I had mistakenly thought that I had another lot of antidepressants, but discovered that the bag held only my other sets of tablets. I ordered more online with home delivery and they were delivered within 2 days, but that also meant I missed a couple. This increased my smoking so I went to buy some, only to find that they were banned. When we stayed in Canada in 2016, they hadthe same ban, in the park a woman smoking a menthol cigarette whilst standing next to several people smoking marijuana was arrested, but the marijuana smokers were not. The reason given for the ban is flavoured tobacco encourages the young to smoke something stronger like marijuana! It seems to me rather strange that cigarettes in general have not also been banned, if that is the genuine reason, but of course the government would lose such a lot of revenue from that, and a lot of them smoke cigars anyway. My doctor and hospital consultants have said it is not a good time to give up smoking, whilst facing bereavement and debt, but the government do not care or see that bringing in a ban during the COVID crisis with the increased stress, and difficulties with shopping has a detrimental effect on menthol smokers, probably mostly women. I am now testing the mildest cigarettes I can find, sort of trying to give up. I hate vaping as it makes my mouth dry, and patches & gum are too strong for me, so it’s cold turkey or different cigarettes.
My daughter and her fiancé are both key workers, so I have spent most of lockdown with a rather large puppy. He is a lovely dog, who is always hungry, he is a lap dog even though he is big already and loves sitting with us and on us. We have a new walk in our house, which is trying to move with a puppy attached to your slippers, he is getting better at not doing it, but unfortunately we find it hard to tell him off because we are laughing too much. Taking him for a walk has meant that I meet quite a lot of people and dogs. When I went to New Zealand, the person we stayed with said to me, “you have to talk to people here in New Zealand”, and so after he had waited for an hour when I joined his choir, and was talking to everyone there at the end, I said to him, “ I do talk to people”, he replied, “I noticed”. So especially because our puppy is very cute, I talk to lots of people 2m apart, while the dog gets a bit of social life with them petting him and meeting other dogs.He is a very intelligent dog and responds well to whistles, and voice commands, without being given treats, the majority of the time, which I think is good for a puppy of 18 weeks. Although since people have restarted meeting in parks and eating on a blanket, he has decided most of them need visiting, and some calls are ignored, but he has been welcomed by most people and is good with children. It is difficult socialising a puppy when everyone has to keep 2m apart, he has now started moving off the path and sitting 2m away just in case anyone is walking along. Even so weare both getting some exercise and the weather has been lovely so what more do you need.
I spend quite a lot of time online playing games, and chatting or video chatting, but it seems so surreal, and not like talking to real people. I am also finding it harder to concentrate for long the longer the lockdown continues.Phoning people to keep in touch is good, but again not the same as meeting up. We have nice neighbours so have been chatting over the fence 2m apart, and the excitement of going into the street on a Thursday to clap and bang pots and pans, has led to the idea of a street party when all of this ends. So at least something to plan and look forward to.
I met a friend in Motcombe Park for an hour or two, last week, we did discuss whether to borrow 2 shopping trolleys from Waitrose to keep to the 2m or 2 trolleys apart, but decided that was a bit extreme. So we sat 2 benches apart instead. Because I talk to people and say hello to everyone, another lady we didn’t know also joined us for half an hour, of course with the appropriate bench distance. It was lovely to meet up, but also because we are all in lockdown there is nothing to discuss, nobody is doing anything to talk about, apart from COVID.
My hair would now be in competition with Boris and Donald for worst hair. I have ordered nail gel remover online as my appointment in April was obviously cancelled, but it still has not arrived, so I am cutting my nails and the gel and now only have a few spots left to remove, which will probably have grown out when the remover eventually comes.
All social gatherings we intended to go to have been cancelled, including a family holiday in Amsterdam in September. We are reaching cancellation dates and hope to get refunded for other bookings, but did get refunded for my cousin’s wedding in April, so fingers crossed.
I am still fighting 3 cases and filling in forms, firstlycompensation from my mother’s carers, it might have improved her life slightly,butshe sadly will not benefit fromit now, and two cases to reclaim SIPPs that both went bankrupt following bad advice from financial advisors. All the cases started in 2016 and are still going on. Each step forward leads to more paperwork, but I hope they will be finalised soon.
So lockdown for me has had it’s ups and downs. There has been a lot of time to think, but we all have to remember the good things, for me it ismy family, having a house with a garden to sit out in the sun,friends who keep in touch, a regular income, food and a puppy to give me a reason to get up and get out in the day.
I hope everyone reading this keeps safe and well, and that everyone in the world will soon get back to whatever our new normal will be. Hopefully we can all get together and celebrate all the birthdays we missed and have the luxury of going out for a meal, with available toilets.
In the words of Vera Lynn, “We’ll meet again don’t know where don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”.
Carolyn Adamczyk, May 2020
I am an art teacher in a small elementary school. At my age, most teachers have retired happily on a nice pension but I won’t get anything from this private, not for profit school except heartfelt words and a silver bracelet. However unique I think I am, however hard I work, the fact remains that I am replaceable. Therefore, should I retire, (God, I hate that word), I’ll still need to earn money and have some way to stay creative too, and I’m trying to work that out all the time.
For the past 6 weeks our school has taken their classes online, which has kept me busy enough to be tied to a sort of work reality. It has given me enough time and space to realize what not working at a full-time job could be like. It’s not bad at all.
I never thought I’d be able to teach using google classroom and yet, even with my rudimentary tech skills, I’ve learned to navigate the internet sufficiently to upload photos, links and lesson plans, make short ‘how-to’ videos and continue to create hands on art as examples, being careful to find projects that are possible for kids to do from their homes and immediate environments. This week we’re doing environmental art inspired by one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy.
Art is so important at any time but even more so now during these unusual lockdown days. I encourage kids and adults to keep a visual diary, using some descriptive words along with drawings or paintings. Observations of life around us, thoughts in our heads, these are things to take note of especially when the normal routine is gone. But, you know, I’ve yet to listen to my own advice.
We tune in to Governor Cuomo’s daily news brief, because he tells it like it is while the so-called President is touting lies and stupidity as usual. The things he says! It makes me squirm with embarrassment for this country, my country, (well the one I live in anyway.) The Un-United States of America.
England is another homeland for me and yeah sure I know politically it’s been a mess. Also, un-united. But England has been in my heart since age seven, when my family uprooted and moved there during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, a lot of living! Then as a young adult with my husband and four children, we chose to move to Long Island, New York. There were reasons which could be described as hopeful or the ‘American dream’ as well as Paul’s carpentry job with health benefits, a nice house and grandparents nearby. My aging parents had also moved back- though soon after the move, we thought we’d made a huge mistake when Paul lost his job and suddenly we were left without our health care package. I know what it’s like to be broke and unable to make mortgage payments or have enough food in the house. I thank Catholic Charities for the weekly box of unperishable food that we received at the time and even though I’m not Catholic or of any organized faith, I think human kindness transcends religion. And the reason I mention this is because there are people struggling now due to job-loss and where there have always been hardships, it is especially heightened now and I worry about children and domestic violence being a direct result of this lockdown. I thank all health-care workers who lay their own lives on the line trying to help others all over the world, not just here in New York.
We live 60 miles east of New York City in a small, relatively quiet town. Our house is opposite a creek that leads into the bay, buffered by Fire Island, a long thin strip of beach on the oceanfront. We share the waters around with ducks and swans, herons and cormorants, muskrats and a whole variety of fish. I love the sound of sea gulls, not the hum of trucks and cars up on the highway. There are a lot more nature sounds now and I’m not missing any of the clatter made by humans. Being alone more gives us time to connect with the natural world. Dig the earth, plant some seeds. Sure, you might have to order from a local nursery that provides out front pickup or doorstep delivery. Support local businesses!
I do quick walks and bike rides around the roads, passing a few others with a wide birth, perhaps a little smile or a silent nod. It’s weird to suddenly fear other humans, like you don’t want to be friendly in case they misinterpret that and get too close. It is entirely possible that I always felt that way but now I have every right to be protective.
My husband Paul is one of those high-risk people. He’s in his late 60’s, type one diabetic and has had heart disease so we’ve been very careful. We should ALL be that careful though. Shopping is a stressful experience – I go with mask, hand-sanitizers and wipes - supermarkets are finally getting the idea of pacing the intake and distancing of customers and there are signs saying ‘just one’ or ‘no more than 2 per person’ and most folks are wearing masks of various types (I made my own). Most of us are being respectful of personal space. Around here there is
some camaraderie for the most part. There are always a few who want to fight the system, like the guy in the post office the other day not wearing a mask and nobody said anything in case he got crazy aggressive because we were all mask-wearing liberals or something. Emotions are running high and folks might be angry at the loss of their freedom, maybe the loss of their jobs, and loss is the thing we all feel, but the solution to having our normal lives back is to self-isolate until it is safe, or until there is testing available to all and a vaccine for the virus.
I don’t want things to go back to ‘normal’ if it means rushing around without a care for other humans or animals and terrorizing our environment. What can be learned from all this? My brother sends videos of a quiet Paris full of birdsong as viewed from his little balcony garden. It’s beautiful! So I wonder what positive aspects can be taken away from this human retreat to make for a better world? A world up against a great wall of greed. A modern-day utopia that is more community based is what I want even if it is just a dream.
I fear the aftermath of Covid 19, fear that in its wake will come a whole slew of unforeseen things and that’s not just my insecurity talking. I can only hear so much news although ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss, it’s not smart to be uninformed. I find the best way to remedy fear and depression is to listen to Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and others with a sense of intelligent humor.
I have a lot more time to reminisce. Time to remember my parents and brother who died quite recently. Time to think of my baby Joshua who died many years ago. I’m living with ghosts but they are very real to me. I know that I’m fortunate to have the time and space both physical and otherwise, not cooped up in an apartment block in an urban area. So, even on days when I’m dragging myself around because this situation is getting old now, it’s exhausting but even then, I have wine to look forward to and other rooms to escape to and a garden to tend.
I used to be able to travel with relative ease to visit my children, grandchildren and other family members who live in Merida, Yucatan, Miami, France, Germany and England. Will this change? The carbon footprint has diminished significantly which is wonderful but so far, a healthier alternative hasn’t been invented, or funded, therefore flying here, there and everywhere should not be an easy option but my family are all over the world and my oldest son Jacob is a pilot and he depends on his job and actually so do I, since we have airline privileges. How hypocritical I
become because I want what I want! Who am I to preach? Idealism comes from the heart but just try to make it work in the real world.
We are the lucky ones because we have my income still, though barely enough to get by on, no one is starving here. Meanwhile I have the continuity of teaching art to my students online, being more earth friendly, using less, being more resourceful, and trying to start up my small art card business on Etsy and all the while reaching out to friends and family, checking in most days, with hope of seeing them in the not-too-distant future.
Since the lockdown, procrastination is OK, pat yourself on the back and don’t feel guilty for feeling down or hanging around in pajamas and staring out the window. Life as we knew it has come to an end, albeit temporarily. Don’t worry, or do worry, but do small things. I’m a busy person by nature, still driving myself to be somewhat productive and score satisfaction points if I do one good thing a day. Get some fresh air, practice music, do some gardening, yoga, make a cake, talk to a friend, create some art.
Some days I wake up and feel good. Nothing terrible has happened to my family as a direct result of the Coronavirus. And other days, anxiety gets the better of me – a sinking, cavernous emptiness and I’m lost in the blank canvas of day.
Good things happen that don’t make the headlines. For a start, my son Joel giving money to an animal rescue place in Merida where there’s a lot of starving cats and dogs on the streets, more now with the lockdown - and he doesn’t earn that much. I often find that folks with less money have bigger hearts. Being charitable doesn’t mean bragging to the world. You know it’s a tax write-off for the wealthy! Some people just care naturally and quietly.
Evening is the best part of the day when we cook a nice dinner, either me or Sam, my youngest son. He’s a vegan these days and living with us again during his recovery from Lyme disease which had been quite debilitating. As a filmmaker and free-lance editor, he managed to work right up until social distancing. All three of us curl up on an armchair and couch with the cats and watch Jeopardy and other distractions on Netflix or Amazon. It’s our nightly ritual.
Paul still practices his bass so eventually he can do the acapella thing with his band members. Thankfully we can still have musical collaborations. Our daughter Ruth is playing from her bedroom/studio, she’s a harpist and lives in Merida. It’s quite wonderful, connecting with the world from homemade studios using zoom or facetime or other apps. My sister in law is creating a quiz night for a bunch of us this weekend. People are being more creative than ever to stay social and have fun. I don’t mind being alone much of the time so long as there is a network of family and friends out there.
Periodically when frustrations get the better we might shout – not quite the Jerry Springer show – otherwise we co-exist with some degree of harmony. Overall there has been some positive-growth and I really can appreciate the change of pace, though I feel bad to express this truth when there are people suffering, so I apologize if I sound callous. On a personal note, so far, quarantine been an interesting time.
Consi Handelsman Bennett. April, 2020.
Center Moriches, New York, USA.
We should have been somewhere in Andalusia right now in our camper van, about half way through a 2 month trip to Spain and Portugal. But if we had been there we wouldn’t have spent last night doing an online quiz with both our kids and their partners, all chatting and catching up despite the physical miles between us.
And if we were away we wouldn’t be so appreciative of the beauty of our local area with the seafront and South Downs just a few minutes walk away from our front door. And a cycle ride along the seafront to the harbour wouldn’t seem so appealing, even if we now need to take our own flask because all the coffee shops are closed. So that’s another plus; we’re saving loads of money this way!
Our little courtyard back garden is joy to us now. A photo I posted on Facebook’s new ‘View from my Window’ group got over 17,000 likes and 50 comments from other people in lockdown all around the world. Very powerful stuff.
Although the days are somewhat repetitive I haven’t been too bored. Maybe we are getting up a little later and taking longer over a cuppa in bed, but that’s ok. I get up earlier a couple of days a week to volunteer at the Foodbank, and not in my pre-lockdown face to face role as an advocate, but helping in the warehouse to pack food boxes. We have a good team and have become friends, despite trying to work within the social distancing guidelines.
It’s good to be able to help some of our older neighbours too. They worry they are a burden but I welcome the texts asking for a few essentials from the supermarket as it’s good to feel useful. Clapping for key workers on a Thursday at 8pm is a time to get together briefly with all the neighbours, albeit from a distance. It’s become more than the clapping, but an opportunity to wave and chat briefly across our small front gardens.
Another highlight is our weekly charity quiz which is now conducted via Zoom from our respective sitting rooms (and doesn’t include a communal supper any more). There’s still lots of banter and fun and we’ve certainly got to think of the team even more as friends now. We’ll hopefully all be back out soon as part of the monthly Eden Blue walking group most of us belong to.
Social media keeps me in touch too, Facebook and Instagram particularly. We have an Instagram page for our campervan travels (@not.tired.but.retired) and although we don’t have huge numbers of followers, it’s a way to keep in touch with the van life community. Of course, the posts are different now; people posting about their daily exercise walks rather than where they are off to in their vans round the world.
I’ve become more actively creative too. I’ve always liked crafts and usually have some project or other on the go, but now it’s part of daily life. I’m finishing a counted cross stitch I started a few years ago and plan to finish it within lockdown. I usually sit on our small sofa in the kitchen in the morning, which gets the sun, while I stitch and watch the crows managing to get into the feeders we put out for the small birds!
Or sometimes I’ll work on some new pebble pictures. This is something I started when we moved to Eastbourne four years ago. I collect pebbles and driftwood from the beach and have an informal arrangement with the borough council to collect rubbish when I’m gathering the pebbles I need. Luckily, I have a large stock already collected from days when you could spend all day sitting on the beach at your leisure. I’m now donating 20% of any sales to the Foodbank from my Facebook page and online Etsy shop.
Writing this account has made me realise how busy I’m keeping. I’m generally a restless soul who can’t sit still for long, and this enforced lockdown has shown me that I can be still and still occupy my mind. It’s been quite a revelation.
We have our ferry trip to Spain postponed until mid August but even that seems increasingly unlikely now. Maybe this year will be UK based and if restrictions ease we will give our business to UK campsites if they open again, and see more of this beautiful country. Sounds like a plan to me!
Mel Gill, May 2020.
Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK.