When D.C. schools close today, we knew it was coming. The entire country of Italy, where my husband’s family lives, is now completely locked down. The virus has spiraled out of control, especially in his region of Lombardy, and no one is allowed to leave their homes unless it’s an emergency.
Earlier this week, as deaths mount in Washington State and California, large gatherings began to be canceled here — field trips, senior parent meetings, ACT exams, and school musicals. Businesses told people to telework. Colleges across the country sent students home.
On Saturday, when the public library announces it’s closing for two weeks, I drag my kids there and practically force them to gather stacks of Goosebumps, The Princess in Black, and Maze Runner books. Then I float upstairs and ask the librarian for books on creative writing, which I need as much as another two weeks of no school, but I can feel myself wanting to wrap up in things. As if books were blankets in a winter storm.
Before I head down to check out, I grab three more books on composting and edible landscaping, and then spot Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft on the Friends of the Library sale cart. I drop $2 in the slot in the tan metal box and slip the book in my purse.
With my weekend schedule swiped clean of the Masquerade Night school auction and cub scout den meeting, it was easy to justify to a solo outing to a thrift store on Sunday morning, a shopping trip that might be prohibited soon. I push around grubby carts with broken wheels tangled with human hair, and in filthy dressing rooms try on dozens of knit tops and pants, a chore I both love and hate. “I won’t be home for lunch,” I tell my family. “Everything is 50% off and there’s no one here.” When I get home, I leave the four paper bags of clothes and box of candles, juice glasses, and picture frames in the trunk, and walk in empty-handed. Maybe neighbors think I was going to see a sick friend, instead of what it looks like — hoarding.
In Washington state, where my friend Melanie is already home with her kids, cases rise to 769 including 42 deaths, and are projected to double every six days. In California, it takes five days to disembark 3,500 people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, a floating coronavirus hive, to bus to military bases for quarantining.
“Buy new plants” suddenly seems like the next most urgent task especially with spring only a few days away and school-less days ahead, so I take the kids up to the plant store to get a new Paw-Paw tree, thornless blackberries, coneflowers, and topsoil, even as Italian friends and relatives urge me to #stayathome. The virus is ravaging life in Northern Italy. Overwhelmed doctors and nurses in collapsing emergency rooms are leaving people to die on mattresses in hallways because there just aren’t enough respirators and beds. No one is allowed out of their houses. It’s a nightmare, my husband’s cousins and friends say.
As we drive home from the empty garden store in traffic smooth as a ribbon, I feel naked. And ashamed of my need to clothe myself.
We pull into our gravel driveway, and the kids help me unload the creeping phlox and candytuft, catmint and purple sage onto our front walk. Later I rotate the pots so people won’t see the price tags, including my immune-compromised friend who brought us a basket of toys the morning we moved in nine years ago, making my consumerism less obvious.
Even with all the meditating and yoga I do, I still think I need to add to myself, as if I would disappear if I didn’t keep acquiring, accomplishing, doing.
And yet how ironic. Feeling whole doesn’t involve grabbing and reinforcing. It’s more of a letting go, a dissolving of the boundaries that seem to separate us from everything and everyone else.
How hard this is to do, however, when the earth feels like it’s going to stop spinning and we’ll be forced to be naked, to be judged as we are, before we’re ready.