No one asked you to stay home forever.
And, yet, the death grip on permanence comes out to play in every comment section or neighborly conversation walking the tightrope of civility, ready to collapse into the raging waters of frustration and fury.
“Well, we can’t stay home forever,” like an excuse tossed into the wind as if it were breadcrumbs for gulls on a sunny day at the beach. Physicians and nurses beg, plead; scientists try to convince science-denying politicians of a truth they refuse to accept. “We are all in this together” slowly morphs into a melting pot of boredom, fatigue, impatience; the kind of impatience that makes a few months seem like an eternity and so, oh well, we tried, right? What can you do?
From here in Florida where no one even flinches anymore on days where daily Covid cases nearly hit 7,000, I measure each month of quarantine in missed milestones and chunks of my children’s childhoods that are gone for good. When it is one day safe to do so again, will my nine-year-old still desire to run across playgrounds with reckless abandon until the streetlights turn on as he did before the pandemic? Or will we have lost that part of his childhood – that fleeting, young childhood innocence — in exchange for getting to keep his life? Will my 4-year-old, who only had two weeks of preschool before E-Learning took over – ever learn to socialize outside of little boxes on a Zoom screen? Will she know the joys of crayons and classroom bulletin boards and sitting criss-cross applesauce alongside classmates on a rug listening to a story being read by a teacher whose warmth she will know firsthand?
We can’t stay home forever, I’m told, as friends begin to gather and cases continue to surge and people I’ve grown up with post obituaries of parents, of friends, of spouses. Names of children alongside gap-toothed smiles hugging the neck of a daddy who is no longer here to watch them grow, printed promises of a mother’s love that doesn’t end just because her life did. “I wish you were still here with me,” a childhood acquaintance of mine writes on social media about her mother, who was only three years older than my own.
But we can’t stay home forever. I pause each time over the implication that working to end a deadly pandemic is somehow more permanent than death. What even is death, if not permanence?
These lives lost seem to simply be a sacrifice for the thrill of the illusion of a normalcy we all want, but only some are willing to work towards. What happens if your child misses a birthday party, or dance lessons, or a Christmas dinner with extended family?
What happens if they don’t?
We must hold accountable our government leaders who have shunned mask wearing, distancing; turned their cheeks to constituents begging for assistance as their businesses have failed and their children grow hungry and mortgages go unpaid. As Americans, we have been left like unsupervised children in a fragile antique store, up to our own careless devices without leadership to ensure no one steps barefoot in the inevitably shattered glass shards all over the floor. We seem almost eager to run across the mess, violently, oblivious to the blood trail we leave in our wake. Most mornings, I feel the hopelessness as it rises with the sun.
We are the lucky ones, I remind myself on those mornings where the depression sits on my chest like a heavy sweater, the pins and needles of anxiety and dread quaking in my fingertips. As my family sits inside our living room for the eighth month in a row, we watch our unmasked governor on television, high-fiving folks in a massive crowd at a Trump rally before leading a chant of “CNN sucks” – and I think of friends forced back to work, the multifaceted depth of a life versus death ultimatum. The heaviness of this as it hangs on classroom walls which once housed children’s artwork. I hug my children tightly and my heart aches for all of the children who have lost parents, for the ones who are about to and don’t even know what loss is about to come their way. It’s like a surprise that no one wants but we must all remain on edge for, because our governor doesn’t care who ends up on a ventilator or dead on the floor from a heart attack caused by complications of COVID. He doesn’t care who loses their business or careers or home or life or mother or father. There are football stadiums to fill and college parties to be had, and, well, we can’t stay home forever.
We can’t stay home forever, insist friends who couldn’t even give it two weeks to slow the spread. I haven’t seen my mother for eight months and I sit up half the night wondering if I ever will again. The plans she had made with my children unravel then in my memory, one knot at a time, as I try to force sleep to come: the shopping sprees, the Legoland trips, the sleepovers with ice-cream and pancakes for breakfast, a summertime road trip that coronavirus postponed. My children sleep soundly, blanketed by a promise of When This Is All Over that I drape over their shoulders constantly so the coldness of the questionability never reaches them. As long as they are warm in their comfort, I am willing to let myself shiver with the uncertainty of the emptiness of my promises to them.
No one asked you to stay home forever.
No one asked you for your mental gymnastics routines with stuck landings and perfect ten dismounts on why your choices are safe, excusing away risks and selfishness in a way that you can justify on Facebook posts. Back pats and self-righteousness that could very well result in the loss of someone else’s everything, but you wore your mask, but that haircut was necessary, but it was just a small gathering of five or so friends on a patio and everyone has to do what is best for them.
And we can’t stay home forever.
So I hear.