In this time of COVID, I’ve been thinking a lot about what other people call “stuck at home.” When this post is published, I will have been working from home for eight weeks. My last day in Midtown Manhattan was Wednesday, March 11, and although my company hadn’t yet officially put in place their work-from-home measures—those would come the following day—I decided that would be my last day in the City that week and likely for at least a few weeks.
I have an autoimmune disease that puts me at potentially higher risk for COVID-19 complications. I say potentially because, as with most things having to do with this virus, no one really knows, so my doctor has advised me to assume I’m at higher risk and take every possible precaution. This is obviously not a challenge for me; I’ve been practicing for this my whole life. On a good day, I’m a high-functioning knot of fear. But that week when I was still in and out of the City, I increasingly felt like I was taking chances I shouldn’t be. The outbreak in New Rochelle was well underway, and with it came confirmation of what we already knew but didn’t want to acknowledge. COVID had been riding on Metro-North. COVID had been walking through Grand Central. COVID had been holding onto handrails and pressing elevator buttons and probably even grabbing Starbucks.
So, I came home, and I’ve stayed here. With the exception of a trip to Walgreens and CVS for acetaminophen and a questionable thermometer that very first weekend—making sure to keep at least a 6-foot distance from anyone but my wife, Kim—I have not been inside a public space. I have taken trash and recycling out to the bins at the back of our building. I have ventured to the basement to do laundry. This past weekend was my first time in our car in seven weeks. I drove us to the liquor store, where Kim was handed our curbside pickup order. People were out and about in Tarrytown as if nothing unusual was happening—not distancing, not wearing masks, mindlessly walking in front of the car—and all I wanted to do was come back home.
I don’t feel stuck at home. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful. Incredibly lucky and grateful that I have a home. Incredibly lucky and grateful that I still have a job and that I’m able to do it from home. Incredibly lucky and grateful that Kim is able to be here with me, also with a job, also doing it from home. Incredibly lucky and grateful that I live in an area where we can have nearly everything delivered, and what we can’t have delivered, we can pick up curbside. Incredibly lucky and grateful that I can afford these luxuries. Incredibly lucky and grateful that I’m in a happy marriage with someone I both love and like so much that I’m kind of delighted to be at home with her for weeks on end, and so far, the feeling is mutual, which is a huge relief since Kim is an extrovert. (As an introvert with an acute fear of death, I’ve returned to my natural state. I was built for fear and isolation. Kim, not so much.)
Speaking of my natural state, I’ve had to make a concerted effort to temper it. During the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t stop reading the news and checking my symptoms and asking Kim if she was feeling OK. In that order: read the news, check my symptoms, ask Kim if she’s feeling OK; read the news, check my symptoms, ask Kim if she’s feeling OK; read the news, check my symptoms, ask Kim if she’s feeling OK. Kim and I were both so anxious—because of the pandemic generally, because of my potential risk factors specifically, and even more specifically because Kim had to continue going into her office for another week or so after I did—that we each lost more than six pounds.
But since she’s been home, we’ve settled in for the long haul. We’re hanging in, literally. We’ve established little daily routines. Kim opens the cafe on weekday mornings (i.e., makes coffee) while I head into the office (i.e., our dining table). I make us lunch in between video calls—we’ve been on a tofu scramble kick lately, though pandemic bean curd has sometimes been hard to come by. When I come home from work (i.e., walk across the room to the couch), Kim has usually made dinner. And I fix us a cocktail or homemade hot cocoa (tonight is a hot cocoa night). And we huddle together on the couch and watch a movie (last night was A Secret Love) and/or an episode of a TV show (tonight will be Westworld). And we remark to each other how incredibly lucky we are to be safe at home, with each other, to like each other and love each other and truly want to be nowhere else right now but our 550-square foot apartment.
We are all in on social distancing, not just for ourselves but for our community. We stay home for the people who aren’t lucky enough to be able to stay home, including our friends and family who are essential workers—my little brother A, who is a news director for a small radio network in Oregon and at extremely high risk because of cystic fibrosis; my sister-in-law, who is a vet assistant and the manager of a vet clinic in Bend, OR; my cousin M, who is an ICU nurse on the COVID front lines in Denver; our niece C, who is a social worker at a transitional home for high-risk patients in Albany; our friend D here in Westchester, who is a postal carrier and works for her family’s transportation company and whose brother and sister-in-law were both hospitalized with COVID and whose partner is sleeping in a different room and using a different bathroom because she has an autoimmune disease. We stay home for our elderly and immuno-compromised friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers. Although we’ve been quarantined together for 6+ weeks, we’re not visiting anyone, including Kim’s mom who lives an hour away, in case we’re asymptomatic carriers. And when we’re outside in public, which is almost never, we keep our fucking distance and cover our fucking faces. As Papa Cuomo said in his daily briefing on Sunday, “You wear the mask not for yourself, you wear the mask for me. It’s a sign of respect to other people. We are individuals who live in a community in the middle of a global pandemic. Just be responsible and show respect. I don’t think that’s too much for each of us to ask of one another. That’s a basic common decency in this situation.”
I keep going back to a particular section of my wedding vows to Kim—delivered five years ago come August:
You make me feel safe, something I didn’t know another person could do, something I didn’t know I could feel—and our little apartment in Tarrytown and the life we’ve built within and around it is home. Not the place so much as the feeling. You are home, and I am at home with you.
We likely won’t be able to travel for our anniversary this year, which is just fine. As long as we’re safe and healthy and together, we’re home, and that’s more than enough.
Here all week, every week, for the foreseeable future,
Jessica the Westchesbian
Jessica lives with her shiksa wife and geriatric cat in picturesque Tarrytown on the Hudson. Although a proud Westchesbian these days, Jessica grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, back when the opening of the Olive Garden and the 24-hour Walmart were big news. During business hours, Jessica’s a communications professional who translates highly technical concepts into clear, concise, colloquial language that media buyers and sellers can understand. Outside of business hours, she’s a poet, cat mom, wife, avid reader, and lover of questionable crime, sci-fi, and supernatural TV shows (preferably all in one), not necessarily in that order. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, LIT, and The Huffington Post, among others.