We're Staying Distanced, Thanks

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
video call with family during home quarantine for the Coronavirus
Artur Debat/Getty

On June 25, Teri Carter tweeted the that she and her family were staying distanced, thanks:

As for me and mine, we agreed. Our family remains agoraphobic recluses, thanks. As for “no gatherings more than 4 ppl total”? Is this woman insane? We’ve seen no one but our friend Joey from 12 feet away in our front yard since March, and my mom once in a while (until we figured out she was breaking quarantine, then we couldn’t see her anymore).

I have cut my kids’ hair. My husband cut his own hair. I never went in for pedicures or manicures. We have most groceries delivered, and when my husband must go out to the pharmacy or the grocery store or the pet store (can’t let my son’s frog collection go hungry), he goes masked, gloved, and distanced, and only to places that enforce mask rules and distancing. He leaves the house perhaps once a week. The rest of us rarely leave at all.

We’re Terrified to Stop Staying Distanced

We live in the South. Almost every day sees a new record high number of cases in my state. But that’s not all. We’re seeing record number of COVID-19 cases in the United States when the 5-day average is taken into account, according to Johns Hopkins University. This isn’t because of an increased number of tests, either — my state’s news source is careful to point this out. Our state health department says we had a 19.7% positive test rate the day of our record high. Johns Hopkins reports that the WHO, on May 12, said that before a country reopens, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive should be 5% or under for at least 14 days. Less than half of US states have met that goal for seven days.

My state has completely reopened everything from indoor dining to salons to churches to private Little League games to zoos. Some local municipalities have required masks in public; ours is not one of them.

We’ve Tried Opening Up A Little

We once drove an hour to what we knew would be a relatively unpopular state park. There were about ten people there. We thought staying distanced would be simple. We brought masks for ourselves and the kids. We knew the fresh air and sunshine were on our side. But a woman tried to tell me about an alligator. She began walking towards me and my six-year-old. She kept coming. And coming. It was like one of those zombie movies where the zombies won’t stop. I finally yelled, “Don’t get any closer to me!” She stopped about ten feet away, huffed, and mumbled something about how she was only trying to tell me about the alligator, god. So much for staying distanced.

I have not been out of the house since.

My husband has found a few ways to get the kids out while staying distanced. He takes them up to the empty parking lot to ride bikes. There’s a nearby stream where they can catch minnows, but only when it hasn’t rained (and in our state, there’s a summer thunderstorm every other day). When the water levels in the river are low enough, he sneaks out at dawn, takes a secret path down to the river, wades out to the middle of the goddamn thing, and fishes. It’s too deep to take the little ones, but my 10-year-old can manage it. They sneak back up before anyone can see them. It’s like a covert operation, and every time they go— especially when he takes my son— I’m anxious until he returns. “Did you see anyone?” I ask nervously when he comes in the door. “Was anyone there?”

For the First Time, We Ordered Food

A few nights ago, we ordered food from Door Dash. Since we’ve been so strict about staying distanced, it was the first time I have eaten a meal that we have not cooked since March 13th. We ordered our favorite fast food for a contactless delivery; my husband washed his hands after touching the packaging (every time) and plated the food.

It was a sense memory, a taken-for-granted memory, a thing forgotten and not missed until we had it again. We stared at each other. My husband said to me, “Do you remember our friend who grew up under the Iron Curtain telling the story of how they never had pears? And suddenly they had one, and it was this event, this glorious thing that she never forgot?”

I burst into tears.

Staying distanced has made me sort of nutty. And no, it doesn’t compare to growing up under the damn Iron Curtain and the privations thereof. God, they didn’t have Amazon Prime. But that sudden sense memory, of the food forgotten and the taste rediscovered: I felt it deeply. This was a food we picked up thoughtlessly, regularly, in between places, when the kids were hangry and needed a boost. Suddenly it had gone, and we hadn’t missed it while we were staying distanced, not really, not until it sat in front of us and we realized how much we missed it, how much we missed everything.

But we are still staying distanced.

We will stay distanced until there is a vaccine. We’re too worried about our children’s health to risk it. We will be here until after Christmas. We know that. We’ve accepted it in our brains, if not our bones. Unless my husband must go back to a full classroom and the point becomes moot, we will not leave.

How Will Staying Distanced Change Us?

A friend read one of my essays the other day. In it I said that we would eventually come out the other end of it, but I didn’t know how we would come out the other end of staying distanced. I didn’t know how staying distanced, in other words, would change us. I don’t mean will we wash our hands obsessively, or will I always carry hand sanitizer, or will I shy away from keypads (the last is likely).

I need to wake up very early in the morning now to keep my sense of sanity. Will that continue?

How will I react to Target? Will we eat out less? Will we spend more or less time together as a family? What will matter to us? What will have changed? Will I keep cutting my kids’ hair (probably) and will my husband keep cutting his own (I hope so, he looks like f*cking Russell Crowe)? Will he keep working out the way he does now (again, I hope so, see previous parentheses)?

While everyone goes out, while everyone says no more, too much, I can’t stand staying home anymore, we’re in it for the long haul.

Staying distanced is hard.

But we’re not sick.

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