Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The tree of solace

A tree in Brooklyn offers solace during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Karen Camela Watson

This essay was written on March 25th

 I have been home for a week. Except that one day I went out to do a story about my neighborhood.

Today is Wednesday.

There is a church bell that tolls on the hour. It’s somewhere in the back past the tree. I never heard it before. I’ve never seen the church. I will search for it one day.

Governor Cuomo says I should stay inside. I better do it. I don’t want to get sick. Now I’m thinking if I go out the front door there is a mass of virus-laden air just waiting to descend on me and infect my lungs. But I have to put out the garbage today. Or maybe tomorrow. They pick up early Friday morning.

If I go out the back though, where the tree is, if I go out the back door and look up, I am safe. No virus can get me there. It wouldn’t dare. The tree is there. Strong, unwavering, tall – super tall. Fearless. I could hide behind it if necessary.

The tree is my new lighthouse. If I can see it, I will make it through this coronavirus sea that just popped up out of nowhere. Who dropped a whole globe in a merciless, malevolent sea? Why? What did we do?

We are fighting to get out – reaching for light, gasping for air – striving upward so we are not consumed.

My new routine includes waking up. The virus did not get me overnight. Whew. I go straight to the back door, open and look to the right. The tree is still there. Nonchalant. Unworried. Makes me feel silly sometimes. Everything is quiet. Normal. I turn on 1010 WINS. 22 minutes is not enough, I leave them on. Then I go online to the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and every other major news outlet.

Numbers, statistics, maps. Opinions, predictions (Mayor de Blasio predicts a lot). President Trump, VP Pence. Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx. Briefings. More media. Then I have to stop.

Coronavirus has upended my world. Upended the globe. Hijacked us. The creepy up-close images of the coronavirus showing the “crown-like spikes” induce nightmares. I wish they would stop showing them.

It’s no longer Wednesday.

The days are starting to blur. I did put out the garbage yesterday. And again today. Today I went out to meet the guy delivering the wine I ordered. Never did that before. I don’t even drink much. Just social occasions, but those are gone so, maybe an occasional glass will help me concentrate better. I’ll see.

I checked on the tree today. Several times. Just checking. It looked fine, the upright sentinel. Unconcerned about me and my fluctuating human emotions. Dismissive of my attachments to it.  But I don’t care. I’m going to keep checking till this diseased sea lets go of us and kicks us off on a beach somewhere, then recede, off to mutate underground and return in years, decades or even a century. We will be ready for its descendant then. Immuned and vaccined we will be – impenetrable victors. We have to be.

We saw it coming, it seemed far away, manageable. We continued our lives, living, laughing, loving, then looked up. The nightmarish microscopic invaders had already lodged in our upper respiratory tract, spreading out, latching on hosts, determined to cause historic mayhem.

Just three weeks ago, during the first week in March (this month is long), my grad school class was at McSorley’s Ale House bringing to life, so to speak, Joseph Mitchell’s “The Old House at Home” reading. It was a fun, bustling, history-filled evening, with virus and restrictions far from our minds.

Last year I finally decided what I wanted to be when I grow up. I started out wanting to be a journalist when I was really young but got busy and forgot all about it. Now I’m sure. Also a fiction writer, designer, playwright, investor and so on, but mostly a journalist as a day job.

So after years of working in almost every industry in New York, and leaving each job for one reason or another, I applied to journalism school and now I’m in grad school in Manhattan with students who absorb tech while I still have to learn it cerebrally.

They are wonderful and helpful classmates though, who don’t mind answering all my questions; encourage it even. The school tells me I am now a multimedia journalist. Of course.

I live in Brooklyn.

I can’t shake the feeling that this coronavirus snuck up on us. How could it happen so quickly?

Right after the ale house outing, I was at Prospect Park the following week. A sunny, beautiful day with families and volleyball and sunbathing and biking and the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza open early because it was such perfect spring weather. The Botanical Garden was wide open with one tree in full pink glory, waiting for the others to catch up. It closed the following day.

Yes, sure people were starting to wear masks since February or so and we were keeping our distance from each other on the subway. Then schools, including my school, started closing in earnest during the second week of March. But it was all supposed to be toward an “abundance of caution” for two weeks or so. Being prudent while the city, state decision-makers and experts meet to confer and tell us how to proceed going forward.

Then everything stopped.

I’m stopping now for a moment too. I get anxious if I don’t check in on what’s going on after an hour or so. I get anxious if I stay on for more than an hour. I need to know. Yet I need to pull back.

President Trump and Gov. Cuomo are disagreeing about something again. What is the best way to fix this thing that seeks to destroy us collectively. Who has the answer. Scientists and innovators are working hard to race ahead of its onslaught and halt it in its tracks.

The growing grief I feel is profound sometimes. It goes in and out and stymies productivity for hours on end. Increasing alarm that what initially seemed like a badly written novel is now real and deadly. Lives being lost on the hour. Many others stuck on ventilators. Doctors and nurses and EMS workers describing war zone-like conditions.

What happened. What and how. I get dazed sometimes. Then I can’t focus. I listen to soothing music and pray for a miracle. Or several. I believe it will come. We are all working so hard to conquer this thing, it just has to.

On Thursday we had an 8-hour class on Zoom. It’s a class that simulates a full newsroom workday with anchors, reporters, producers, sound and tech people and camera crew. Wasn’t sure how we were going to pull it off remotely but somehow the professors managed to guide us through an adapted version, and we were able to have a remote newscast at the end.

I got to be an anchor once. It was fun. Mostly though, I’m on camera 2. I mastered that. Someday I will be ready to be a producer. I’m working my way up.

It was sunny, so for the first few hours of the class I was able to sit in the back with the tree to my right (it’s an evergreen) and two smaller, still mostly bare ones to the left. It was a little distracting as I tried to photograph a moving squirrel, then a cute bird, but didn’t get any good pics. I moved back indoors for the second half; it was getting chilly anyway.

It’s nice seeing my classmates again. I miss them. The first class on Monday was hard. We connected and had class as usual – as much as possible – then class ended, and the screen went blank. I stared and stared at the screen. No after class chatter, no bumping into someone from my other class and brainstorming stories.  No hi to professors or staff or any person. No person.

But I adjust. Continue to stay in touch by text and phone and sometimes email. Maybe Instagram. I don’t really get into all the other apps my classmates are into. Just so many apps for everything.

And I don’t miss the subway. I already only used it when I had to over the last few years. I am moving things around to set up a real home office that should help me be more productive. I even talked about learning how to make bread and cook fancy dishes, but I know it’s not going to happen. I make quick, light dishes when I get hungry then run away from the kitchen. Always been that way. I did buy instant coffee though. Trying to replicate that cup of coffee I get on my way to class. It’s something, it’s comforting.

I know it’s hard for the essential workers who get up and go out everyday and put themselves at risk just by the nature of their jobs. I am not complaining. I am bewildered. Like everyone else, I believe. We read about 1918. We read about other pandemics. I remember SARS and a bunch of other flu-like contagions. I remember the stunned trauma of 911: the sinking acceptance of what had happened, the long aftermath of cleanup and physical recovery, mourning the loss of lives, loss of innocence. Healing, moving on.

Now this. COVID-19 is such a dignified, official sounding name. Sterile, scientific, seeming removed from the actual grimy, insidious trail of this novel coronavirus.

But human beings win. We were designed to do so. Watch us focus our concerted best, most brilliant, heroic and compassionate selves on defeating a common enemy. Sooner than later, we will get our lives back.

 


Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

During pandemic, Rio de Janeiro residents fear police

Marina Guimaraes May 27, 2020

Recovering from drugs during a pandemic

Kyla Milberger May 26, 2020

  Covid-19 takes away the communal joy at Eid-al-Fitr celebration

Narkwor Kwablaa May 25, 2020

Beloved old school game sees boom in numbers during coronavirus quarantine

Michael Yang May 15, 2020

Coronavirus leaves the fate of some beloved New York events uncertain

Emily Glass May 15, 2020

South Africa’s lockdown exposes inequalities

Kathleen Taylor May 14, 2020

Churchgoers find spiritual growth through virtual services 

Harrison Tsui May 14, 2020

” I’m working with COVID patients tonight”

Margaret Guzman May 14, 2020

Singles connect on Tinder to fight quarantine blues 

Yaroslava Bondar May 14, 2020

Jewish traditions during a pandemic

Sydney Fishman May 13, 2020

The Bible and Coronavirus

Jonathan Sarabia May 13, 2020

Doctor uses social media to give advice and hope

Sope Aluko May 12, 2020

First Sandy, Now COVID: Lower East Side Activists Grapple With Construction for Climate Project

Izzie Ramirez May 12, 2020

Dating during a pandemic

Bessie Liu May 12, 2020

The last reponders

Shiyu Xu May 11, 2020

When the pandemic hits a shelter for abused boys 

Amanda Perez Pintado May 11, 2020

Portugal contains the coronavirus despite Spain’s woes

Catarina Lamelas Moura May 11, 2020

Warm weather brings crowds to Prospect Park

Bessie Liu May 11, 2020

New York coronavirus numbers continue to fall

Jonathan Sarabia May 10, 2020

Living through the pandemic while a loved one is behind bars

Amanda Perez Pintado May 10, 2020

Pandemic ends all high school senior year traditions

Jonathan Sarabia May 10, 2020

Coronavirus might have caused the death of many children who were misdiagnosed 

Ximena Del Cerro May 9, 2020

Farmers destroy staggering amounts of food even as food lines grow

Karen Camela Watson May 9, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic threatens border towns in Mexico

Sydney Fishman and Ximena Del Cerro May 9, 2020

Pence’s press secretary tests positive for Covid-19

Shiyu Xu May 8, 2020

During pandemic NYC tenants in limbo

John DiLillo May 8, 2020

Llamas could be coronavirus heroes

Catarina Lamelas Moura May 8, 2020

Lawmakers, Legal Experts Clash Over Much Needed Business Interruption Insurance Coverage for Small Businesses

James Duffy May 8, 2020

Rent relief in NY, JetBlue’s flyover and Trump’s valet tests positive for coronavirus in today’s news

Amanda Perez Pintado May 7, 2020

Coronavirus tears through the Navajo Nation 

Amanda Perez Pintado May 7, 2020

In Singapore, spaces close, but restaurants open

Yifan Yu May 6, 2020

Press secretary calls Fauci testifying before congress “publicity stunt”

Kathleen Taylor May 6, 2020

Harry Potter and the Magical Malady of the Movies

Ahad Sanwari May 6, 2020

Trump speaks to human loss, Cuomo lashes out at President’s comments

Catarina Lamelas Moura May 5, 2020

PPE in the city

Narkwor Kwabla May 5, 2020

Boring Politics is Good Politics – Especially in a Pandemic

Serafina Smith May 5, 2020

Stuck: Life under quarantine in Rio de Janeiro

Marina Guimaraes May 5, 2020

New York’s Emptiness

Maria Abreu May 5, 2020

In an Airbnb Room During Lockdown in Jamaica, Queens

Dayo Paul May 4, 2020

What Temporary Means: Portraits of family at home

Guillermo Manning May 4, 2020

Stockholm Stays Open

Tatiana Kireeva May 4, 2020

NYC now producing its own coronavirus test kits

Maureen Mullarkey May 3, 2020

Miss you, mom: Spending Ramadan together through a screen

Maznah Shehzad May 3, 2020

Life in front of a screen

Patricio Zenklussen May 3, 2020

Coronavirus and the Shincheonji

Bessie Liu May 3, 2020

It’s The Little Things

Sope Aluko May 3, 2020

Days In, Days Out: A doctor’s life during Covid-19

Elsa Benamouzig May 2, 2020

Contactless: Food Delivery amid COVID-19

Keighton Li May 2, 2020

Hasidic South Williamsburg Resists the New Reality

Leo Schwartz May 2, 2020

Solace in Suburbia

Susanne Schweitzer May 2, 2020