“ A few weeks ago, I believe that the way to get through this lonely and formless pandemic was to be bigger than we were, but now I worry that most of us will never fit back into our old skins, which sag around us and trail behind when we walk.”– Dahlia Lithick, The Stream Of Death and Bread
Today marks week nine of Quarantine Spring. Normally, Baltimore City Spring is just a brief pause between the frigid winter and oppressive humidity of summer.
Nothing is normal this year. It’s week nine of beautiful weather. The city has stopped mowing the parks, so everyday I walk my chubby pitbull to frolic in the grass. She’s obsessed with it: rubbing her pink snout on the ground, rolling over, and then stretching her whole body and munching the grass like a cow. The dog is thriving in quarantine.
The first few weeks, I mark each day by writing a haiku and posting it to Instagram. I long to write more, but the pages of my journal are big and blank. The lines demand shrewd observations on the deteriorating state of the American Empire. I imagine myself in the future, cracking the spine of the dingy fake Moleskine. I thumb past the pages of scribbled whining and unchecked to-do lists and say, ah yes, here it is: March 2020.
But alas, I do not capture great reflections. Instead I take a picture of Brussel Sprouts and caption it: “Chopped two pounds of veg/ scrolled through two hours of TikTok/ We are all coping.”
After a month of daily haiku, I cough. The cough descends into my chest, filling my throat and lungs until I can’t speak a full sentence without barking like a seal. I call the doctor. “Presumed COVID,” he says, “but unless you get a fever of 101, stay home and don’t go to the ER.”
I stop writing haiku. I start reading a story about a beloved Colombian grandmother in Queens, who died while her family prayed the rosary through Zoom. The government deposits $1,200 into my bank account and defers my student loan payments. An envelope arrives with Donald Trump’s curvaceous signature and a note that his government is “fully committed to ensuring you and your family have the support you need to get through this time.” The day before, the President announced he was halting funding to the World Health Organization. The day after, the US passes 30,000 deaths. Black and Latinos are dying at 2.7 times the rate of white people. I read a story about asymptomatic thirty-year-olds who have massive strokes after they test positive for COVID. I shred the President’s letter.
A month later, I can breathe and talk normally. But at night I still wake up short of breath, sweating through my sheets. Is it COVID? I think to myself. Or just anger?
My nine-year-old niece FaceTimes me daily. Leta is tall, with straight blonde hair and creativity that spans genres and languages. At first we stick to her school schedule and she reads me books in Spanish. By week three, we’re only reading in English. By week five, she’s giving live performances on her recorder. By week seven we’re using fake voices and pretending we are dogs. By week eight, she calls me upset. I’ve been losing my temper a lot. She says. It’s hard for me to control my feelings when I’m inside all day with my parents.
Week nine: dog walks mark my time. There are three walks a day: Morning poop walk, afternoon exercise walk, evening poop walk. My schedule revolves around canine discharge patterns. It’s keeping me sane. The dog forces me to turn off the news and Microsoft Teams and remember that I am a biological organism that requires light and fresh air.
Our neighborhood is lush with springtime blooms: maple, oak, linden and dogwood. Pansies peek out of planters, ivy tumbles clumsily out of window boxes. Look at us, the plants preen, thriving, growing, living. I am grateful for their spirit. In a window a child has hung a sign that says, “Do a silly dance!” In another, the words, “Hello I’m Snickers!”are inked on the street level window. Above, a disheveled looking terrier mix presses his nose to the glass, monitoring the passersby.
On the sidewalk, the trash is no longer just condoms and acrylic nails. I see disposable masks caught in bushes and peeking out of sewers. The streets stand wide and empty.The dog and I almost never have to wait to cross an intersection. Baltimore is already an underpopulated city. With COVID, it’s as if the city took a deep breath and sucked everyone inside. In the mornings it’s only me, the dog,and the plastic bags that float through the city like the last streamers on New Years Eve, in no hurry to arrive at their final resting place.