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

A tribute to the mask pioneers

Bohao Liu July 11, 2020

Air pollution in China rebounds to pre-COVID level

Hannah Zhang July 11, 2020

ICE takes aim at international students

Maria Abreu July 10, 2020

Chinese students trapped by new ICE policy

Zishu Sherry Qin July 10, 2020

New ICE policy adds more turmoil to the lives of international students

Shiyu Xu July 10, 2020

Lawsuits follow ICE policy barring international students who are taking online classes

Joanna Lin Su July 10, 2020

Economists say the US needs a bold, generous fiscal response. Congress is likely to disappoint. 

Ahmed Mohamed July 9, 2020

Overseas Singaporeans have pandemic obstacles to voting

Yifan Yu July 9, 2020

Proximity sensors and hygiene stations are the “new normal”

Joanna Lin Su July 9, 2020

 Tour ticket vendors miss the hustle and bustle of Times Square

Narkwor Kwabla July 8, 2020

Dengue outbreak could be a greater threat than covid in Singapore

Yifan Yu July 8, 2020

Corporate bankruptcy: ‘A story that’s not going away’

Gaurav Sharma July 7, 2020

Beijing reopens as the second wave of coronavirus dies down

Hannah Zhang July 6, 2020

Masks or no masks?

Bohao Liu July 5, 2020

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020

A second wave of the coronavirus creates travel woes in Beijing

Hannah Zhang June 29, 2020

Despite a few bumps, NYC is social distancing more than not

Joanna Lin Su June 29, 2020

Backyard music lessons

Madeline Gunderson June 28, 2020

Experts say ISIS exploits chaos of global pandemic to rebuild

Marina Guimaraes June 26, 2020

Cutting through COVID

Thomas Hengge June 26, 2020

Venezuelan government leaves residents stranded in U.S. during pandemic

Maria Abreu June 23, 2020

Vulnerable communities fear eviction as COVID-19 rent morotorium comes to an end

Jonathan Sarabia June 22, 2020

Beijing is China’s new epicenter for the coronavirus

Hannah Zhang June 22, 2020

Clock is ticking for NYC restaurants even as outdoor dining resumes  

Gaurav Sharma June 20, 2020

Michigan hair salons are back in business

Kyla Milberger June 17, 2020

Seafood markets in China lose business over new COVID-19 scare

Bohao Liu June 17, 2020

China resorts to street vending to revive its economy

Hannah Zhang June 16, 2020

The East Village is open! Well, sort of

Thomas Hengge June 15, 2020

My trip home during the pandemic

Zishu Sherry Qin June 15, 2020

Popular India Square “won’t be the same again” 

Gaurav Sharma June 13, 2020

Feds will not raise its key interest rate until 2022 and project slow recovery

Zishu Sherry Qin June 11, 2020

Despite pandemic, thousands of Syrians protest against government as economy collapses

Marina Guimaraes June 10, 2020

On the frontline of two deadly viruses

Narkwor Kwabla June 10, 2020

Bronx fish market struggles to stay afloat during pandemic

Daniel Girma June 9, 2020

Venezuelans leave behind a country in crisis only to encounter a new crisis in New York

Maria Abreu June 8, 2020

China promotes street vendors to reboot the economy

Bohao Liu June 8, 2020

For the developmentally disabled, COVID-19 brings new challenges

Kyla Milberger June 7, 2020

Giving food to Staten island vulnerable communities during the lockdown

Alpha Kamara June 6, 2020

Hong Kongers gather despite COVID-19 ban on Tiananmen vigil

Yifan Yu June 4, 2020

Army returns home after completing COVID-19 mission in New York 

Maria Abreu June 4, 2020

Ailana’s life in quarantine

Talgat Almanov June 3, 2020

Venezuela has another obstacle: the pandemic

Marina Guimaraes June 3, 2020