I stopped dating last summer. I wanted to focus on building community and investing in my work and my girls, but lately I find myself wanting something more, so I created a profile on OKCupid. Soon after I make my first connections, news reports of the coronavirus filter in from around the world.
The accounts seem unreal. I watch a video of an Iranian man fall over in the street, warding people off, telling them to stay away. He doesn’t want to infect anyone else.
My group of Seattle Lady Makers start a thread on our slack channel titled “corona” which quickly fills with articles about the local response, speculation on school closings, and personal health concerns.
“Should we cancel our meetup next week?” One of us writes. Would that be overreacting? We aren’t sure. One of our members has an aging mother. Another shares that her husband’s job refuses to cancel a meeting, even though one of the staff just travelled internationally in an infected area. We decide to postpone.
On Friday the Thirteenth, my friend’s 40th birthday party is cancelled, but I have childcare already lined up, so I message a cute girl I met on OKCupid, and we decide to go on a date. I text her:
Coronavirus Themed Ideas for our first date:
- Hang out in urgent care centers.
- Eat at a buffet.
- Hand sanitizer scavenger hunt.
- Drink Coronas.
- Steal surgical masks from the hospital.
- Sneeze on things.
She LOL-s, and we decide to grab a coffee, or maybe go for a walk. Two days later, we cancel. I conclude the coronavirus is homophobic, the worst lesbian cock-block, or whatever you call it when you keep two girls from setting each other on fire.
I go to the grocery store, instead, and stress-purchase 18 bottles of electrolyte water, 24 yogurt cups, and a jar of yeast. The pasta shelves are bare, the toilet paper is gone, but the wine is well stocked (I buy a box of red and a box of white). I stand in line for thirty minutes feeling guilty about hoarding even though I left plenty of things on the shelf.
This week, lonely Italians who are quarantined in their apartments gathered on their balconies, playing instruments and singing. The day before these videos go viral, Giovanni De Feo (a guy I met through OKCupid) sends me an email, capturing the paranoia of living in Bologna during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are excerpts from Giovanni’s email:
I always have –sorry, had– my cappuccino and cornetto. So, in the early days I still went. There were already gaps of people. Like missing teeth, they stood out. And the holes got bigger; and bigger. The young flooded the pubs, partied harder. Yes, like in the novels, the “we are all gonna die soon anyway” frenzy.
Seeing this all from outside, as I write it down, it feels like insanity was spreading faster than the virus.
In a way I feel I belong now to a community more than in my whole life. I don’t trust myself with it. I think my genes are activating a genome in me that is socially compliant, because that’s what would make our common survival easier.
From where I write I can see windows and a courtyard filled with students. There is a commonality in quarantine that I have never experienced before.
“What! What is it'”
“How you doin’?”
“I am boooored.”
You hear them say from balcony to balcony. And then music, very loud. Shouting. Even singing, sometimes.
I do get out, but it is depressing, and it feels like I shouldn’t. Not while I am doing it, but when I am back. Outside, there are fewer and fewer people, but it’s sort of ok. At times it even feels normal. Then you pass in front of a bar and you think of “the times when the bars were open”. That was three days ago.
His email ends with a chilling valediction, like a warning from my future:
Stay (mostly) indoors, and stay safe.
I see an update about the death count in Italy. The numbers are staggering.
Someone on twitter shares a simulation that explains why it’s important for people to restrict movement during a pandemic. Warm with wine, my kids sleeping at my brother’s, I refresh it again and again to watch how quickly the healthy blue dots become infected by the red ones like a digital zombie apocalypse. The more people move around, the worse it gets. The more people who stay home, the quicker society heals as a whole.
I take another sip of wine and think about my months of self-imposed isolation while I was waiting for my heart to work through its grief. As I watch the simulation, I start to imagine that the red dots are not sick people, but heartbroken ones, and that society would be healthier as a whole if more people stood still and did inner work instead of bouncing around and infecting others with their heartbreaks.
On Saturday, I drive to my brother’s house to pick up my girls and talk with my sister-in-law about everything that is cancelled through the end of April: schools, the YMCA, Phoebe’s ballet performance, the huts in the mountains. Even homeschoolers are feeling the strain of the coronavirus.
We are supposed to stay home, but how will people make ends meet? Craft shows are all cancelled. In Germany, artists get government relief, but in Seattle all we’ve got is a crowd-sourced fundraiser and a hopeless petition for the governor to suspend rent and mortgage payments. There is an alert on my slack channel: a Pike Place vendor is confirmed to have COVID-19, and we wonder if they will finally close the market. I’m grateful my Patreon hasn’t lost any supporters.
I feel anxiety chewing on me like a gremlin. I don’t know if I’m more worried about overreacting to the news, or more concerned that others are not acting seriously enough. I text my Friday-the-Thirteeth girl and find myself opening up like a conifer in the wake of a forest fire. After she goes to bed, I can’t sleep, so I log into Hulu using a password from my OKCupid friend in Bellingham and watch Killing Eve until I pass out around 5am.
The next morning, lazy in bed, I shoot off dozens of texts to check on my friends. Five of them are sick. I hope it’s just seasonal allergies.
I also text the girl I have a crush on. She’s using this time to write a short story about lesbian mermaids, which makes me want to kiss her immediately, but I don’t tell her that. I blush instead. For the first time in days, I’m not scared, and I’m stunned to realize that, with her, I have nothing to fear.