Jonathan Vatner in COVID-19 on October 2, 2020
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 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!
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: 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: 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.
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.
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