Yesterday we passed the one month mark since we self-isolated in our Arlington, VA apartment to try and hide from the coronavirus. During that time, I have taken two walks for fresh air, sat outside my building once for 15 minutes, walked one time to the post office wearing a mask, and drove two miles to DC for blood tests at my rheumatologist’s practice – where I was the only patient.
For me, it hasn’t been enough; today on the third day of severe sciatica pain and back spasms, it became clear to me that I need to get more exercise, immediately. Being sequestered for weeks in a tiny apartment like an astronaut on a spaceship is not a normal condition for a human being. But on the other hand, maintaining social distance from other people in such an urban hot spot has to take precedence for V and I, who are both at higher risk to catch the coronavirus. My immune-compromised status has sufficiently scared us to just stay in the apartment, but the consequences of that for weeks or months on end are also undesirable. And so last night I was very pleased to discover on my 90-minute test walk (that I began just after 10 p.m.) that while others can have the sunny spring days, the nights are all mine.
Last night I walked with a mask for over 9,000 steps and never came within 25 yards of another human being. Places that are usually crawling with people were utterly deserted.
Cars were also few and far between, even on Highway 50. In 90 minutes, I saw two dog walkers, one jogger, four other people strolling (not together), and one person waiting at a bus stop. And that was IT. Busses circulated the city empty. A couple of cabs rolled slowly by, hunting for work. Cops idling in patrol cars were omnipresent.
I wore my Washington Caps sweatshirt and a mask to send a message to any opportunists looking for trouble: I’m local. And also, leave me alone. But I needn’t have worried. My masked image reflected back at me via the windows of empty storefronts was startling. I looked like the menace. I coughed once and someone crossed the street half a block away to give me space.
The night was cool, in the 40s. It felt good. With my keychain and attached bottle of hand sanitizer in one hand and my iPhone in the other, I felt like the empty city was just for me. I listened to tunes. I found things I had never noticed before – small green spaces and a hidden flight of stairs by the courthouse that I could use to get in my 10 flights per day. I made sure I didn’t so much as brush up against a bench or railing. It was the first time I have felt safe and free outside for weeks, even though the Life After People factor was mildly creepy.
Since my last post, we have learned that the Department will postpone outbound permanent change of station (PCS) moves through May 31 at a minimum. It is not safe at this time to have movers in our apartment to pack us out. It is not safe for us to drive across eight states under stay-at-home orders and to try to find food and shelter en route. And it isn’t safe for us to arrive in Ciudad Juárez, which currently has 82 cases of coronavirus and has seen 20 deaths. So our plan to start driving on April 25 didn’t work, and our backup plan to start driving on May 13 isn’t going to work now, either.
So instead we will keep teleworking and trying to accept the limitations and ambiguity that have completely changed the rhythms of our lives, perhaps for months. I have been trained to shelter in place for long periods, and I can do it. I will do it, for as long as necessary, with no panic, resentment, or anxiety. I tend to only lose my shit over the small stuff; in emergencies, I have so far always been calm.
I’m going to keep hiding from the virus, staying away from people, being vigilant in using Lysol wipes on my shoes, doorknob, keys, headphones, etc. when I enter the apartment, even when I just go downstairs to get the mail, or down the hall to dump the trash. But I’m not going to hide from my life, or let myself fall apart physically. I have to find a way to get what I need in this new reality while keeping physically safe and mentally resilient.
And so after dark from now on, I will emerge, to put a point up on the wall in my chronic fight against pain and inflammation. To enjoy the fresh air and the city lights safely, all by myself.
Someday, when things are different, maybe when we have a vaccine, we will let our hair down and toast the town face to face. This isn’t what any of us wanted when we ushered in the new decade less than four months ago. But it’s what we’ve got. Stay safe out there.