The state we’re in doesn’t define our state.
This essay was originally published on Medium.com. View it here.
It’s April, two-thousand and twenty, and we have been in quarantine for about two months, we being me and my body.
At the beginning, we were doing okay.
We were healthy: no sign of the global emergency burning up our forehead or being shot dryly out of our mouth. We were eating well — most of the time, going on walks with the dog, and sporadically jogging through the spacious, grassy graveyard near our new apartment in a less-congested part of the city, Brooklyn to Queens. We had just moved in with our boyfriend, and we are so glad. We feel safer.
Our head, overall, was good. Stimulated from professional work — thriving on the work-from-home schedule — and creative projects; our mind could be happy as our brain was confident where and how we would get antidepressants; we were anxious, but just the normal amount.
We were using the computer more than usual, but our eyes were doing fine, unstrained by regular breaks outdoors.
Our lungs were doing well, too, occasionally partaking in recreational marijuana use, but not going overboard.
Lastly, our heart was full. The mornings began at the dog park holding hands, then making oatmeal and having coffee at the Ikea table we built ourselves. Then, we would all work and work, finally lazing on the couch or in bed in the evenings watching British television or reading.
Now, we’ve learned that vomiting randomly, even just once (not pregnant), and having nausea for a month and full-body aches the day we arrived at our boyfriend’s aunt’s house in suburban Ohio that hasn’t been lived in for three months (they’re staying at their summer home) actually are symptoms. We couldn’t exercise at all, let alone do the work for our only job (part-time) efficiently or converse or cook or do really anything for longer than a few hours to a few minutes, depending on its level of rigor. When our aches, fatigue, and general indifference to life peaked, we wished we had known that, yes, we can still have that same thing people all over the world are dying from even if we don’t have a fever and a cough.
After recovering from what we are sure was COVID-19 despite the impossibility of actually getting tested anywhere in the United States (even in the midwest where refrigerated trucks aren’t being used to store piles of dead bodies that have overflowed out of hospitals), we are able to exercise again in the form of short runs, which has proved a nice break from the strong bouts of depression that shut us down several times a week. But, hey, we downloaded a calorie counter app on our phone and are maintaining our weight, so that’s something to mention over Zoom when my parents ask if I’m okay.
Our head, overall, is not great. We’ve begun attending a weekly webinar for body-focused repetitive behaviors for fear of reigniting this flame that has been carefully, systematically, agonizingly extinguished: if not knitting, we will pull out our hair, pick at our skin, bite the insides of our cheeks, or just tightly hold the insides of our lips between clenched teeth until it starts to hurt and we notice we’ve been doing it. Now, we sit in adi mudra when we feel revved up, prone to pulling/picking/biting/etc.
Our mind, after recovering from the thing we can’t even complain about legitimately without a test we can’t get, is finally able to focus and maintain clear thoughts during conference calls, and we’ve regained our sense of humor. Living without laughing is very strange.
Our brain, though, is incredibly nervous, as it’s unclear how to get prescription medication since we’re out-of-state and our psychiatrist is wholly unhelpful. Even before the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to find one who was accepting new patients, even in NYC.
Our eyes, too, are permanently strained from reading thrillers in low light and watching too much telly. Sitcoms, reality and game shows, and crime dramas are burning holes in our retinas from desperately needing a distraction from the crumbling, bubbling, frothing mess of America, with Pence traipsing around a fucking hospital without a mask as the radioactive cherry on top.
Nearly destroyed are our lungs, which are being continuously brutalized by multi-nightly joint breaks after our realization that we had likely survived Miss Rona, phlegm aggressively stalking up to our throats and making us cough while our boyfriend looks frustratedly on.
And then, our heart, slick and chewy and beating too hard. We desperately long to be in our own space, frequently reminded of our homesickness by small inconveniences like not bringing enough socks, even though we’re currently living in a gorgeous Tudor with more rooms than we need and a lush yard and a fireplace of marble and wood that is constantly flickering and warming and comforting. We are getting annoyed with people whom we cherish most, including ourselves, and trying not to spend too much time on Instagram, which we are failing at.
Now, it’s May.
Still no chance in sight of getting tested for COVID-19, and homesick to the point where we’ve noticed we’re talking less.
We haven’t been able to taste or smell anything for about three weeks, maybe a month. When it started, it was less frustrating and more weird. We just stopped eating things we liked and only ate garden salads (lettuce, carrot, tomato, sometimes avocado) because they were healthy and spicy ramen because we could taste it (feel it). Now, as smell and taste both slowly creep back to our repertoire of senses, it’s less remarkable and more irritating. We’ll be reminded of the losses multiple times a day when we start to make a meal before remembering that we can’t smell it and won’t be able to taste it. It’s odd to have to still eat food without being able to enjoy it, which also completely negates food’s romantic comfort. Unfortunately, it doesn’t negate hunger.
We skipped the last mental health webinar, the third out of four, and we’ve been picking at our skin more than ever. Usually pulling out our hair strand by strand is our go-to, but there’s something about peeling the same regrown scabs off of our legs that serves as an irresistible reminder of a semblance of consistency that was once present in our life.
We figured out a way to get antidepressants, so at least we have the relief of gained access to the thing we need to ingest daily in order to be able to function at the absolute bare minimum level, without an iota of assistance from our psychiatrist, the one near Union Square, who is an unbelievable dickhead.
What our eyes prefer now is scanning the suburbs for the biggest leaves, tallest trees, and brightest flowers. The joy of television has almost fully disintegrated, most programs losing meaning or at least significance, except for The Midnight Gospel, a show viscerally reminiscent of an acid trip, which has become the only thing that can keep our attention.
Throat clearing and coughing have increased, but it’s our own fault. We purchased a one-hitter box handmade from spalted cherry wood and were miraculously able to procure more weed to smoke nightly, and, now more often than not, daily. At this point, we need to get high in order to get out of our head and remain sane. Alcohol has lost its charm; it only makes us sadder.
We are attributing a lot of our pain and confusion to the new place in which we are living. Suddenly, we’ve left our cozy apartment in the most bustling––and infected––city in the world and entered a quiet, suburban home in the midwest. This house isn’t mine, we say. We can’t stay here. We want to go home.
We love this house that has been so graciously offered to us with big rooms and a dining table and appliances that work and the yard wherein our dog can run around and chew on the kind of grass he likes and a fancy couch with down pillows. But these worldly pleasures are equally rivaled by our extreme loss of independence and inescapable need to rely on our boyfriend and his family for things for which we haven’t relied on people since high school: the house isn’t ours to smoke in, so we are constantly stepping outside through the doors, each of which is rigged with a loud beeping notification when opened or closed to which the dog reacts noisily; delivery of mail to the Tudor has been rerouted, and we are guiltily relying on another relative to collect our packages and letters and notify us when they arrive; the loud, ticking clocks aren’t ours to temporarily take the batteries out of, so we write articles exclusively in noise-canceling headphones streaming white noise; the car isn’t ours to drive around in. Our boyfriend insists it’s fine, but it’s not our vehicle, and it just doesn’t feel right to use it.
Even if it did, where would we go?
But, when we leave our physical location behind and speak to those we love, they remind us that it’s not the where, but the when. That house sounds like a dream, even though it’s not yours, they say. I’m glad you’re not in Queens right now.
And we know they’re right.
My body and I are hurting. Our back hurts more than usual, we are having vivid, scary dreams, sometimes our eyes cry in the morning, and we eat almost exclusively at night. But, right now, it’s likely we would be this way no matter what.
Right now, everyone is experiencing the whole world as a new place, and it’s going to take some time to get used to it.
Featured image by Oscar Rodríguez Amado