My husband and I moved into our 200-unit Westchester County co-op in 2018 – exactly a century after the deadly Spanish flu swept the globe. We never dreamed we would fall victim to a new pandemic, but this spring we both contracted COVID-19. Since then, to keep the days from blurring together, I started keeping a diary of life in our co-op, a chronicle of my isolated existence.
April 15: The annual meeting is officially postponed. Privately, I wonder if it will take place before the end of the year. Even if a vaccine comes, it won’t necessarily protect everyone. How could we imagine crowding into the community room ever again?
April 16: Tonight was Pizza Night. I made it using dough from a bag. Baking from scratch is out of the question: yeast is harder to come by than toilet paper.
April 17: The building now limits elevator occupancy to one person or family. When I’m riding it and the door opens, I apologize to the person waiting in the hall. Occasionally the person pushes in anyway. Privately, I’m seething, but I’m too polite to say anything.
April 19: I haven’t seen my family in over a month, so tonight we decided to do weekly Zoom calls. My parents, who are high-risk, are hiding out in their beach house.
May 17: Today the building held a sing-along over Zoom. My fellow shareholders belted out standards from the ’30s and ’40s, none of which I recognized. Not everyone has mastered the mute button, so there was constant chatter in the background.
May 22: After two months without a haircut, I tied a string around my head and cleaned up everything beneath it with our beard trimmer. It looks patchy up close, but I got compliments in my video meetings. I’ve always worn my hair very short, but I like the new length – I think I’ll keep it that way for a while.
June 10: Today on my walk, a deer stood on the trail. This year, deer don’t run away when I approach – it seems that the pause of foot and car traffic in the spring has emboldened them and that the young ones never learned to fear us. He was a skinny thing, with long whiskers on his chin. I’d never seen a bearded deer before! He stared at me, not understanding where he ranks on the food chain, and then I gave up and walked home.
June 15: It’s been almost two months since anyone in the building had COVID-19. Today our management company sent a buildingwide email that one of our neighbors has tested positive. The email didn’t say who, but one of the doormen blurted it out – the patient lives just a few doors down. Now I’m hyper-vigilant when entering and leaving our apartment.
June 19: In order to open our building’s pool, county and state regulations require a full-time social-distancing monitor in addition to the lifeguard, masks worn in the pool, temperature checks and regular disinfecting of equipment. The co-op board decided to keep the pool closed this summer, the one summer I could have swum every day. Naturally, a soupy heat wave has descended.
July 8: It’s too hot to use the oven, so I’ve adapted recipes for the stove. Tonight we ate dinner on the balcony, gazing down at the empty pool and out at the sleepy, murky Hudson River. At 7 o’clock, we clapped in gratitude for health care workers. One neighbor leaned out of his window, ringing a cowbell. Below us, a woman banged a pot with a wooden spoon.
July 19: The weekly family Zoom calls have continued, and though I haven’t seen my parents or brothers in person in months, I haven’t talked to them so frequently since I was a kid. My father’s sideburns are now flaps that reach almost to his chin, making him look like Ebenezer Scrooge.
July 22: Tonight on the pool deck, a buff resident jumped rope and sprinted back and forth. He leaned against the playground ladder, cordoned off with construction tape, to stretch. Ours isn’t the only playground that has turned into a gym: I often see people lifting weights at the public playground down the street.
Aug. 1: We’re still grateful for health care workers, but I am also grateful that my neighbors implicitly agreed to end the daily 7 p.m. tribute.
Aug. 9: Though I’m privileged to be employed and healthy, I’m tired of being home, tired of video conferences and masks and endless hand sanitizing. But I like some things. I don’t need to set an alarm to catch a train. I have free time every day to read, watch TV or do nothing. My cats have never been this content. In the mornings, my husband and I drink coffee together on the couch. In the evenings, we watch the bellies of the clouds burn gold and purple from the setting sun.
I hope our world can conquer this virus soon, and I grieve for the hundreds of thousands who have died from it and fear for the millions unemployed – and yet these months have been a welcome respite from the frenetic pace of the life I’d grown accustomed to, a pace I’d chosen without a second thought. These months have been a glimpse into a peaceful existence that I’d think twice before giving up.
Jonathan Vatner is the author of “Carnegie Hill,” a novel about the members of an Upper East Side co-op board. “The Bridesmaids Union,” his new novel about an online support group for bridesmaids, will be published in 2022.