There was a time before the world changed. When we thought we were stressed, but we didn’t know what stress was. Where we walked around complaining about our good fortune.
I don’t regret that time. But I do wish I had it back.
I don’t think we were ridiculous. There was plenty of worry. There always is if you don’t stop yourself from looking for it. We’ve never quite trusted our legs; they’ve never felt fully stable. The world was already moving at lightning speed in an unsavory direction.
Three weeks ago, after 14 days of strict quarantine, my husband, Andrew, and my two kids and I fled Brooklyn for my in-laws’ house in a hushed enclave that feels a million miles from everywhere; my parents and sister took a rented home down the road. We are a quarantined compound. With Jewish heritage like ours, you don’t wait around to be last to leave — even if others think you’re overreacting.
As a native New Yorker, I felt a bit like I was jumping ship — like a traitor. But then we got in the car and I exhaled for the first time in weeks (not near anyone, of course).
But, even here, in this quiet place, I’m tempted to whisper lest the danger find us. It’s hard to picture a time when we’ll rush through cereal, argue about wearing coats and walk our children down those idyllic tree-lined concrete streets to school. Will we ever truly feel calm again? Will we ever be able to sing “Happy Birthday” without cringing? Will we kiss our friends hello without a jolt of panic? How will this change us, if we are lucky enough to survive?
And yet, now, when we walk back and forth between the houses, especially in the evening as the sun begins to set, sometimes the kids catch sight of the moon. Tonight it glows as a perfect half and toys with us, dipping intermittently behind clouds. We follow it with our eyes and pointer fingers, craning our necks and taking deep breaths of cool night air — still crisp as it’s only the beginning of April and everyone knows that’s not quite spring.
And we are delighted and spellbound by it. It fills us up for no good reason. My little 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter and unshaven Andrew and me too. And I realize that there is still joy to be had in moments, between the waves of nausea and fear. There is still delight in the present, if we can stop harping on the now irrelevant past and unknowable future. And I wish we could continue our walk forever. But we have only the distance between two houses to traverse, along paved, pebbled and dirt roads. And we are lucky for that. Crossing away from the occasional passing dog walkers. A canopy of trees. An enormous prehistoric bird startling us in silhouette up in the tallest branches of the trees — a vulture or an osprey, we debate. Glass full or glass empty.
Andrew pulls our son backwards in his stroller, the one we bought for city streets, so he can keep sight of the moon as we meander down the driveway. We talk about the book Owl at Home. We all miss our home. But Andrew and I pretend it’s only fun.
I want to lag behind.
Down the road, one tree is in bloom with spectacular white dogwood. It looks like cotton candy, my daughter says. It makes me think of an enchanted fairyland, she says, her tongue finding the spot where her front baby tooth still sat a day ago; a pink helmet protects her precious head of shiny unbrushed dark hair as she scoots.
I am desperate to see the world as she does in those best moments. I want to believe that pure-hearted fairies live in the trunk of that magical tree, protecting us and keeping us safe. I want to forget that this season will end and the flowers will fall and turn to brown mulch on the lawn below, and we still might be here. I can’t stand the thought of her disappointment, and my own, as it turns back into a regular tree.
Hoo Hoo has the corona owl, she said to me the other night, clutching her favorite stuffed owl as I tucked her into bed. We had a talk and, by morning, he only had a cold.
We reach the front entrance to the other house, the one where we sleep. We give wide berth to deliveries and packages, cardboard boxes piling up to be disinfected. Baby food pouches hunch in purgatory. A tent has arrived, as Andrew has promised the kids a special camping adventure on the back lawn. I will be sleeping indoors. I am still me.
My daughter sprints ahead and inside, intent on being first. She slams the door in our faces; it’s essential in order to win in her mind. Andrew follows, as my son waves and shouts, Goodbye, moon! I have taught him this. To believe the moon is his friend.
I take a deep breath of outside air, wanting to hold onto whatever it was we found for a minute in the moonlight. Andrew maneuvers the stroller through the door into dim yellow lamplight. Hesitating on the threshold, I am the last one inside.