COVID-days dispatch: Uncertainty is the new norm

COVID-days dispatch: Uncertainty is the new norm

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Nest

A nest filled with hope. Photo by Megan Galbraith

Dear Friend,  

Thanks for your text. I’ve been thinking about you also and hate that we’re not able to see each other right now.

While I am happy to hear that you’re able to work from home, I am sorry about the increased number of hours you are working. I cannot imagine an eight-hour conference call. How did you manage? How does your company handle restroom breaks? Speaking of which, a friend of mine recently reported her conference call was interrupted by loud noises and then flushing by one of her co-workers. Apparently, he forgot to hit the mute button. Someone else reported walking around her house almost-nude while her partner was on a video call. For these and many other reasons, I’ve decided that I’ll have limited video conferencing times with my students, probably in the hallway coat closet with the door closed. God forbid a student hears my husband (or, realistically, me) burp.

I’m trying to have a sense of humor about this all. Really, I am. But I keep remembering those days after Sept. 11 when I was stranded on the road driving from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Unable to keep my rental car, my boss kept calling me on my BlackBerry and threatening to dock my vacation days unless I returned to DC immediately. She believed I was “loafing” and that I should be able to rent another car or buy a bus ticket and get back to work. As I continued to watch the collapsing floors of the Twin Towers on replay for days, I wondered what news my supervisor was watching. For her, it was as though nothing had happened.

Doesn’t this time, too, feel like we’re supposed to go on, business as usual, like we did in 2001? Somehow, we’re pretending we don’t have families who need us, or that we’re not on the verge of losing our jobs, or that our friend won’t lose her apartment before her unemployment benefits begin. The people of Italy sing to each other from balconies while the waters in the Venice canals turn crystal clear. Meanwhile, we spend our days on eight-hour conference calls between runs to the store to see if toilet paper is back in stock.

What is wrong with us?

Well, the “good” news here is there are at least two things that are different from that September. I’m actually grateful for social media, which we didn’t have in 2001. At least we can keep up with each other and share resources. The second is that we can talk about how we feel. I remember the fear I experienced on the DC Metro about a month after the 9/11 attacks. The rail cars stopped between stations and went dark. The conductor couldn’t tell us what was happening. People sobbed quietly. When the lights went back on, we all pretended everything was normal. I got off at the next stop and sat on a bench shaking for almost half an hour, willing myself to get on another train so that I could get home. I’ve only ever told a few people that story, ashamed of what I deemed an overreaction at the time. It seems now that we can share our feelings of anxiety and uncertainty a little more openly, which maybe is as close to feeling “normal” as we can.  

My friend, Allison, believes each of us has the grace to deal with the unimaginable. I love this idea, and every day, I swear, I am trying to be a better version of myself. But after a few days of the endless news cycle the past week, I found myself watching Forensic Files for three hours straight while eating an entire can of Pringles. I can only share this with you—I am still ashamed. Marc worries about this new habit and wonders aloud if I will put arsenic in his food. I remind him that arsenic is detectable in our hair strands for months after we die. These are the conversations we have now, distant from our friends but not from each other. I think he moved the garden shovels, but I haven’t wanted to ask him this close to our arsenic conversation.

As I type this to you, I'm back to watching television, this time all the “feel-good” COVID-19 stories on the news. The first story: a movie star and his friends singing “together” via video—they’ve got the whole world in their hands—a salute to medical workers! Then, there’s a story about a couple making medical equipment in their homes with their 3-D printers. And look, ha ha, someone stole a tractor trailer truck full of toilet paper and got caught, ha ha. These stories lull me into laughing or feeling good for a minute before my thoughts turn to OMG, THIS IS AMERICA! People should not be making medical equipment in their homes!

Tonight’s news is also filled with double the deaths from yesterday, as well as no relief aid from our congressional “representatives.”

I’ve moved from a general malaise and existential angst to anger in less than three days. It sounds as though you feel the same. So I turn off the television and instead finish this letter to you. I miss you and wish we could sit across from each other, drinking coffee and fixing the world with our sense of hope and our imaginations.

Speaking of hope, my friend, Megan, shared this photo of a bird’s nest. She found it on a walk in her neighborhood and, even though it looks empty, she tells me it is actually filled with hope. I’m passing it along to you. Take good care, and please share this photo with someone else who needs it. 

With all of my love (from a distance),

Stacy

Stacy Murison’s work has appeared in Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies (where she is a Contributing Editor), Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, River Teeth and The Rumpus among others. She holds an MA from Georgetown University and MFA in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University where she now teaches composition.

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