At 30, I was put on bed rest for two months with the aim of preserving a twin pregnancy. I dutifully beached myself at 28 weeks’ gestation atop a double bed that grew smaller as I grew larger. My belly became so distended I turned it into a table; I once stood a Scrabble-tile holder atop it. I grew irritated by my husband: He could both get the sleep I so craved and fit into his underwear.
Once my preemies were born, I spent six more months grounded. My vulnerable babies turned green with acid reflux and howled with colic. I quit my job, clapped shut windows. I was afraid my neighbors would be bothered.
These were just the first three of my six — so far — self-quarantines in 46 years on this planet.
The fourth came with the H1N1 virus. Remember that one? Four months into my pregnancy with Baby No. 3, my uncle — a doctor — called to tell me the virus could corrupt the building of the baby’s DNA. The idea sent me skittering to my twins’ preschool; I breathlessly checked them out at the front office for the duration of May.
Eight blissful springs passed.
In my 41st year, I ignored demonic migraines until I went blind plucking a jar of Jif from a grocery store shelf. A terrifying emergency craniotomy was ordered, a gigantic tumor removed. Then, I was back in bed for six weeks: I was supposed to rest my brain in quiet. When I finally stood up, I was so weak I needed to climb the staircase on hands and knees.
Today, I’m again living through what I call the phases of quarantine. By Quarantine Six, I recognize them as I’m living them. I’ve swerved from denial — the coronavirus is an ocean away — to decisive action. We canceled our early-March spring break trip to New York City, setting fire to a wheelbarrow of cash. After that, for a bit, I felt safe: I was at home with my people, peaceful and purposeful. I became industrious, demanded that my teenagers write college admissions essays, purged closets, listened to podcasts. Like everyone else, I mastered Zoom. I felt resilient — except on the bad days when I wondered: How am I, a normal person, supposed to function amidst this horror show?
Finally, I shifted to acceptance — this, too, familiar from past experience. There was a new normal. I was almost okay with it.
But now Texas, my state, has allowed its shelter-in-place order to expire. This has pushed me beyond where I’ve gone before — a novel stage for a novel virus. I’m watching in horror as my beloved community squares off against itself: Historically, political and religious differences have been tolerated even in my bright red corner of the U.S. map. But today mixed messages from state government are interpreted in different ways, dividing people.
Before, we were all in this quarantine together. Now, individuals are pegged either as selfish foot-draggers or selfish risk-takers. The discord is palpable. Insomnia taps me on the shoulder at 4 a.m.
I’ve traveled through these phases before, and I’ve done it mostly alone. Yes, I’ve had family and friends by my side, but I’ve called the shots on my “reopening.” This time, I’m not in control.
Yet experience tells me — still — that we will emerge from this, blinking like light-blinded moles at the fast living that was once our hallmark. We will kiss the Earth. We will relish family. We will cry out in thanks to God, the universe, luck.
I know that this will end. I want you to know that, too.