Prisoner of Gorham Avenue

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the day the world changed due to the pandemic. I feel like I’m still living in March 2020 with spring just arriving. Instead the calendar reads “2021”. Somehow I’ve jumped ahead in time. I’ve lost twelve months. It’s almost as if last year only existed in my dreams, or more accurately, my nightmares. I fell asleep in March 2020 and woke up in March 2021 like some new-age Rip Van Winkle.

Nothing has changed in the past year and yet everything has changed. The in-between months were just a blur of faces on screens. For so long everything was covered up under a COVID-19 haze. Nobody was going anywhere or doing anything. No birthdays, no anniversaries, no celebrations, just endless newscasts about numbers and death. Every day. For a year.

The horror became real last March when the governor declared a state of emergency due to the virus. The company I work for didn’t hesitate to create a work-at-home model to keep employees safe. I adjusted quickly. I didn’t want to be out and about while there were invisible contagions in the air. The novelty of working from home was great – at first. Now it’s been a year. Now it’s the norm. The “new normal”. I’m not only working from home. I’m shopping from home. I’m going to the movies from home. I’m spending my free time at home. I couldn’t leave here if I tried. I’m not even sure what still exists outside these walls, if anything. 

But I know exactly what exists inside these four walls. Me, myself and I. I’m here with my computer screen, my window to the world. But even the internet has become boring. After a year, Facebook has lost its appeal. Most people are only posting photos of memories on their timelines from pre-pandemic days. Twitter is full of stories of front-line medical workers telling tales of terror from their Covid units. For a change of pace you can read about people who have lost loved ones without being able to say goodbye. Or you can watch those who survived unscathed waving to their elderly family members from nursing home parking lots while their loved ones wave back at a safe distance away behind brick and glass and masks, some of them not even sure who or what they are waving at. 

An entire year gone. I could have used the time to catch up on my reading but nothing held my interest. I could have written my own book with all the time I had. All the time in the world. But what good was all that time when no one knew what would happen next, or when and if the virus situation would ever end. It’s hard to concentrate during an apocalypse.

In the beginning of my time in quarantine, I forced myself to take walks or ride my bicycle just to get outside. The experts said experiencing nature was therapeutic. The pristine stillness of a walk around Spot Pond was a comfort of a sort, but the silence of the woods around the Fells was deafening. Passing strangers could be carriers of a life threatening virus, mask or no mask. It’s hard to say “hello” or “good morning” to a stranger when they move ten-feet away from you, glancing with suspicious side-eyes. I always managed a cheery “Hello!” to retain some semblance of normalcy. On most occasions I was greeted with silence. 

Most days I was home alone while my wife went to work at Home Depot. The big-box hardware store was deemed an essential business during the crisis. Virus or no virus, people still had to repair and maintain their homes, especially since there was nowhere else to go. My work days usually ended early since I had no distractions. I was thankful my daily deadline at the newspaper occupied my mind so thoughts of the pandemic couldn’t creep in. But they did. Especially on gray days looking out my window at bare trees and empty streets.

The few times I had to venture outside out of neccesity filled me with mixed emotions. Small family gatherings were fraught with danger. What if someone from outside the family bubble decided to show up? Who knows where they’ve been? Are they taking as many precautions as I am? Mundane chores like grocery shopping became a matter of life and death. Carefree errands were dictated by masks and hand-sanitizer and worrying who used the shopping cart before you. Did the coughing cashier look feverish or was it my imagination? Was the bagger with the sniffles really touching all my food? I just wanted to get home safely so I could wash my hands for an extra twenty seconds. 

Time passed. The holidays came and went. My family and I did our best keep traditions alive. We went through the motions with no emotion. My wife’s birthday was an awkward Easter Sunday Zoom call with family member’s faces frozen on a screen. My birthday came next. I don’t remember celebrating. I’m sure I did something special.

The most productive thing I do on a daily basis is take care of my houseplants. Like me, they are stuck here, rooted. Not going anywhere. I received a gift over the holidays – a bird feeder to attach to my upstairs window so while I’m working, I’m greeted by some sign of life, a sign of hope. During the day I’m Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz, a Black-capped Chickadee the only friend I see on a regular basis. In the evening, I’m Ray Milland in Lost Weekend, eating dinner in a wine-fueled haze trying to numb the nightly news by screaming “Make it stop!”.

An entire year gone. Just gone. A year of being too tired to begin anything new. A year with the walls closing in on me no matter how much I love my house, my street, my town where you can’t see anyone or do anything. A year I’ll never get back. I wouldn’t really want it back anyway.

2 thoughts on “Prisoner of Gorham Avenue

  1. Scott, You are a wonderful story teller. Please keep up the great work.
    Your favorite cousin, now living in Medford.

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