Pandemic Diary: How it Ends

November 18

This little diary was supposed to be a miniseries. It was supposed to document and process some of the particulars of my view of COVID-19, an event classified as a global pandemic. An event which, like the death of the sun, I supposed would happen eventually, but not in this lifetime.

But the document I started this spring has gone untouched for months because the pandemic is no longer the event of 2020. It is the setting of 2020. In the same way Seattle’s location between the Puget Sound and the Cascades dictates its weather, COVID-19 dictates the painted plywood storefronts, the savagely funny memes, and the new trend of running into the street rather than passing someone on the sidewalk. The plexiglass, the line to enter Trader Joe’s, the therapy, the YouTube workouts, the profound oddness of sitting in your car at what is usually the emissions testing center having your sinuses snaked by a PPE-clad med student who is at pains to assure you that the swab is “long but very flexible”: these aren’t remarkable anymore, so there’s nothing to remark on.

If I continued this diary, it wouldn’t be about the pandemic, but about what happened in the shadow of the pandemic. Like how in July, my 86-year-old grandfather baptized my 11-month-old niece in the afternoon on the northwest coast of Orcas Island.

It’d be about how in August, I returned to my boss’s spare apartment, this time as a proper tenant. Giddy with gratitude for having a place to myself for the first time, I put my art up on the walls and I adopted Benry, my brother’s cat, who had it out for the now-baptized niece but hasn’t tried to steal my breath yet.

It’d be about how in September, the whole West was sepia-toned due to wildfires. The Air Quality Index hovered around 200. It was hard to take a full breath, and my teeth felt loose and painful until I realized I’d been clenching my jaw for weeks. Going outside felt sinister and dangerous, and our commitment to keeping the coffee shop well-ventilated went, well, out the window.

It’d be about how Matt and I were together in September when we got the news that my family’s beloved dog Luna had to be put to sleep. A few days later, I found one of her tennis balls rolling around in my car from the last time I took her swimming in the pond behind Walmart. 

It’d be about how in October, Matt and I spent the last weekend of our relationship hiking a near-marathon in a day through the Enchantments, one of the most notorious and gorgeous slivers of the Cascade Mountains. After seven miles of hiking and a brutal scramble up Aasgard Pass, we topped out at over 7000 feet and spent the next 12 hours wandering back down through barren moonscapes, alpine lakes, golden larches, and dark forests before collapsing at the other trailhead at night, dead tired and cursing. 

The next day, we drank bucket-sized steins of beer in Leavenworth and cooled our feet in the Wenatchee River. 

The day after that, we broke up.

A week later, we ordered beers one last time–this time mere pints–and gave each other goodbye letters.

When I got home that night, I scratched behind my ear and found week-old sunscreen residue from the Enchantments, from the time I was still one half of a couple. Which is gross, but poignant because it is parallel to finding Luna’s tennis ball. 

The pandemic–now often conflated with 2020 itself–has brought endings. It has ended pub trivia, wearing lipstick, live theatre, hot yoga, normal business hours, financial stability. The endings have offered all of us different flavors of grief. Mine have included the straightforward, wrenching pain of losing a dog, the nuanced, nagging end of a relationship, the confounding, cyclical fury at American politics and our role (or lack thereof?) in it, the omnipresent dread of a mysterious virus, and the generalized angst over the apocalyptic uncertainty of everything. I haven’t tasted the worst flavor. While I know people who know people who have died from the virus, it hasn’t reached me, and my circle has been spared that particular grief. But the randomness keeps us on our toes: it can strike anyone. On top of the familiar ways to die, also this. So for months and months and months on end, with little certain information, we run from it.  It’d be nice to get a break.

It’s fall now, and for once, instead of grieving the loss of the light, the darkness feels like that break. Maybe it’s because after a pandemic that’s occurred almost exclusively in the sunshine, the Earth’s movements finally match our psyches. Maybe it’s because darkness slows us down. Maybe it’s because the election is over. Maybe it’s because the rumors of vaccines grow more plausible. Maybe it’s because summer is supposed to be a happy time, but we haven’t been that happy, and now that it’s fall, it’s okay to be moody. Maybe it’s easier to be authentic in the dark. I hate that I’m about to type this, but maybe it’s because darkness forces us to look inward, to seek the anchoring, quiet light within our homes and hearts.

So instead of continuing this miniseries that has no promise of ending soon, I’m putting it on hold. What a relief. I hunker down into the quietest season I’ve had in ages. No roommates, no boyfriend, no evening plans, no restaurants, no live shows.

Sometimes it’s sad, but more often than not, it makes space to experience that attested Christian phenomenon of being slapped in the face by joy at illogical moments and snuck up on by the peace that passes understanding.

I read book after book. I watch films. I write. I hang out with my family. I tune into the Zoom church services I’ve been neglecting. I sew my own Halloween costume. I work. I go on longer and longer runs in the shorter and shorter days, and now my toes resemble over-boiled hot dogs. I insist I’m not a cat lady as I lie in bed arranging freeze-dried chicken chunks on my chest, trying to bait Benry into staying there long enough for me to fall asleep feeling him purring on top of me. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve never looked forward to New Years more than now. But I welcome the last couple months of 2020. It is shot through with darkness but darkness definitely won’t always be here, and in the meantime, it’s a relief and a good teacher, and there’s still light, and things are still funny, and nothing perishes, but everything transforms. Fall makes winter and winter makes spring. Likewise with us.

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