I haven’t wanted to write anything original, new or personal for the last ten days because, frankly, I’ve been too stressed and lonely. The month-long solitary confinement has gotten to me. I have been living in a small, albeit attractive, apartment with no light, in a small town where one does not see other human beings. When I walk the dog, I often see one or two people in the distance, that’s it. I don’t talk to anyone; I certainly don’t encounter anyone. Over a month of this has me going bonkers. There have been only two very bad days, but those days were very difficult. Yesterday, I did see someone because I had a conference call and needed a functioning WIFI connection. Mine is on and off. Unreliable. A friend let me come over to use his. It was amazing how good I felt after just seeing another human, even at a six-foot distance! It convinced me that I should share my feelings in case others were feeling the same isolation from solitary confinement. So here goes….
I began retiring into myself about the 21st day into quarantine. When it happened, I was incapable of picking up the phone and calling people. I became a hermit. I could not write. I could not exercise. I could not cook. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was on my way. If this went on for much longer, I’d be in a dark place. I would look at both phones, consider using one of them, then shake my head, even if I felt a desperate need to hear a friendly voice. I have hesitated writing about the overwhelming physicality of isolation. I felt pain in my back and arms.
Still, I feel like my problem, if you can call it that, is so inconsequential, compared to what is happening in the world. People are dying and the people who are losing loved ones can’t even be with them when they lose them. More and more people can’t afford to eat. Small business owners are closing their doors in droves. Older people are signing up for food banks. Rural people are applying for donations of all basic needs, including food and utilities. People can’t pay their rent. We are facing our generations’ great depression. And of course, hospitals are brimming to the point that, in Spain, there are images on the news of inert, urgent-need patients, lined up on the floor in hospital hallways, awaiting admittance to saturated healthcare facilities.
How can I be so focused on myself? So, I retire further into myself and don’t communicate so ashamed I am of myself.
People don’t have enough money to survive. Many of the young people I know have lost their jobs. They have either recently graduated, or they worked in industries that are high risk, like Retail. My stepdaughter, Natalie, has been furloughed. The entire staff at her former employer, Macy’s, has been furloughed. I’m not sure that Retail will survive this. It’s probably the nail in the coffin for it – the department store business will have a tough time getting through this. Restaurants and bars around the globe will close by the thousands. Small service-oriented businesses that mushroomed in the new Millenia will disappear by the multitudes by which they grew. My friend’s son just lost his job, a day after he was confirmed in his post. My cousin has just completed seven years of advanced studies, a freshly minted Master’s in hand from the best business school in France. It will likely grow cold on the shelf while he waits for this period of terror and the unknown to pass. All these young people are the “lucky” ones. They have homes to go to: families who will take them in and feed them. I think of all the others who don’t; those who don’t know where they are going to scrounge rent for the coming month or buy groceries for this coming week.
With all this going on, how can I be so self-centered? The cataclysmic effects of COVID-19 have spread to so many people around the world now, beyond China and Italy, that frankly, it’s not worth mentioning my feelings. In fact, I’m ashamed of myself. I feel like I am being a spoiled brat. If I write about it, it equates to complaining about it. Hence, I remain silent and I am unable to write, speak, communicate via telephone, or have any honest conversations with any human beings. I emotionally freeze, basically. Whenever I’m asked how I am, I adopt a jaunty, happy voice and say I’m fine and go on to have a conversation about this and that, steering away from how I’m actually feeling, usually talking about something that I can use in a future blog, something that is usually unrelated to me, because I want to make sure that I do not talk about myself and my minute, inconsequential problems. It is much safer to dodge the personal. The carapace I have built stays intact that way. Because of my isolation, I am unable to finish a blog I’ve been working on for ten days. I just can’t pull it together. There are people I need to reach out to to interview to finish it but, I don’t dare call because I feel ashamed of myself. These are active people, purposeful people, people who produce, people who contribute. I can’t seem to finish anything I start. I feel too down to talk to those particular people. So, I’m stuck. It’s a Catch 22.
Then I realize that there is nothing truly wrong in my coronavirus universo except isolation, boredom and loneliness, like millions of others. I am another statistic. When I thought about it in bed this morning – when I had such a hard time getting out of bed- I thought that maybe it was worth writing about. I’m probably not alone, I thought, and maybe, others would relate. Maybe writing about it would be the catalyst to dislodge the boulder of lethargy that has me stuck. So, after a cappuccino, and then another, I lodged a lever under the boulder and pushed.
After ten days of this, I am breaking the silence. I am speaking out because I realize what it has done to me, perhaps, it has done to others out there as well. Perhaps, there are many people who are just about to explode with the feeling of being alone , feeling stress, feeling emotional, feeling just plain shitty about what is happening in the world and not being able to talk about it, one on one, to a friend and possibly giving that friend a hug at the end of a good heart-to-heart talk about it. Touch has all but disappeared from our universe. I am constantly squeezing the dog and he hates it. He likes to call the shots on the hugs. He’s much more of a licker than a hugger. I definitely prefer hugs and plan to do allot of hugging at the end of quarantine.
24-seven, I am tied up in knots inside. Stress is at an all time high, even though I am not under any deadlines except those daily ones I’ve set myself, like blog publishing, and the broader ones with economic consequences like to finish my apartment here so I can possibly rent it later in the summer and get back to Beach Haven for the 2020 rental season. That’s a bit of a question mark, since I don’t know how long the pandemic will plague the USA. It looks to me, as an outsider, like the Americans are not being very diligent about social distancing like we are in Europe. It could drag on a long time there if they don’t get more serious about it.
I go between not being able to eat and wanting to eat everything in sight. Luckily, I don’t have anything to drink in my apartment. I decided at the beginning of quarantine that I would not drink anything. Having a case of wine around was simply too tempting. Every time, I do my “big” grocery run at the Conad (the big grocery store at the edge of town, from where, I like to go on my longer walks), I loiter around the wine section. I move on, then saunter back, hesitating. I have a genetic predisposition to over imbibing on wine. I really want to top off my main meal with a bit of local Sagrantino or a good Tuscan Chianti, but I don’t, opting instead for sparkling mineral water with a whole lemon cut up in a big glass (I had to bring the big glass with me from France-I’m convinced that, in Italy, there are no glasses with greater volume than 6 oz.). The last thing I want is to end up like Aunt Jacqueline, lying alone in an apartment, unconscious and unfound, for ten days. In the 90’s, she fell into an alcohol coma after consuming the better part of what we assumed was a case of cheap Bordeaux. She’d been living alone for 20 years at that point with only Bordeaux’ as house-mates. They were everywhere – in bookcases, behind sofas, in the medicine cabinets, under beds, even in the garden shed. Her last five years after that – yes, she lived – were not pretty.
About isolation: No, I’m not being 100% honest. I am not 100% alone. My landlady sends me texts every day, usually jocular Buongiorno and buonanotte greetings, I speak to someone, daily, briefly, someone who won’t judge me for speaking the truth about how I feel, mostly a family member who won’t say, “you are disgusting for being so self-absorbed.” But the lack of contact with others for a social animal like myself is getting to be too much. I really need people. Even if I don’t have friends around, I just love the buzz of people, lots of them. City’s of them. Lots and lots of people. I don’t need to know them. I just want them surrounding me. I suppose that sounds superficial.
One of the reasons that I was compelled to move back to Europe was cafes. I love the cafe culture. The fact that you can sit for hours at a table and people-watch after buying one espresso for a euro floors me. I try to replicate the singular, wonderful feeling of being awash in humanity while maintaining my privacy. It’s one of my favorite things in life – seriously. Cafés are one of the reasons I had to move back. I know it sounds inconsequential, but I absolutely die for cafes. I can sit for hours and watch the human spectacle or work on my computer or read a book in the sun. It makes me feel great. I frequently visit New York when I go back to the States. Unlike many places, there are lots of cafes there. I always try to take in a few when there. Invariably, an unnerved waiter will shoo me away, bristling at me, “this table is reserved for lunch!” It will be 10:30AM, a safe time, I assume. Wrong! Cafes in America just don’t cut it. Having to eat something at a table – a meal – defeats the whole purpose of a café’s raison d’etre – just to be.
I really miss my café in town, Caffè Degli Artisti. It’s the one I go to daily for my morning cappuccino. Weather permitting, winter, like spring, I sit outside at the same table I sat at the first day I visited Città della Pieve, the table on the front corner near the town-center Conad grocery store, the one from which, one has the best view to take in La Rocca, The Parco Publico, The Hotel Vanucci with its excellent restaurant, Zafferano Pievese, and the Traffic Circle, a threshold into the town walls where on Saturdays, the outdoor market takes place. In the warmer months and during busy holidays, the stalls spill over and line the Largo della Vittoria and Via Vanni, stretching all the way to the spectacular Monastero Santa Lucia. I also love the one right across the street from Caffè Degli Artisti, the one everyone refers to as The Acme, go figure, mostly because it has a magnificent view and a large outdoor space where the kids have weekend raves (it has the cheapest liquor in town) and old men play cards by day for hours on end. In the winter, the inside is bathed in sunlight in the morning, so that it’s luminous and cheerful when you sit in one of the not-so-comfortable chairs at one of the ample tables to work (great Wi-Fi) or just daydream. Café Marconi is just across the street from my new apartment, the one that I fear will never be finished! A father and his sons rotate shifts, all of them, one friendlier than the other. They are very understanding about me using the bathroom since I don’t have one yet in my place – or they were until all cafes including theirs were shut down.
I am counting the days until my cafes re-open so I can encounter some human beings and jump start the Aperitivo hour again. I sorely miss it. I know my mood will improve and things will get back to normal when isolation becomes a thing of the past and the light returns.