NEW YORK – “Home is wherever I’m with you,” the song rang out from the speaker. And the tears streamed down my face. In Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ jaunty tune lay my deepest pain. That after the end of my nearly seven-year relationship, I didn’t belong anywhere or to anyone anymore.
Have you noticed how this lockdown life has a way of holding up a magnifying glass to whatever you were dealing with before coronavirus?
In the B.C. era, I was lonely. Now isolation is mandated. My life felt small. Now I am largely confined to 500 square feet. I disliked New York. Now it's the only place I have.
When the relationship ended, I moved back to the United States after 10 years abroad. While it seemed wise to go “home,” it was not quite voluntary, and I struggled. I had truly enjoyed but also romanticized my life overseas. It felt expansive: new territories explored, new languages learned, the possibility of adventure around every corner, even (no, especially) at the grocery store.
Then I found myself trying to slot back in with old friends whose lives had spun in new directions. In the city of my birth, I often felt foreign.
Clearly, others are enduring far greater hardships than I. And yet, perhaps because we are all apart, I have that teenage, no-one-has-ever-felt-like-this-before feeling.
I am not alone, of course. We have been discovered as a cohort reflective of our times, all us women living alone. But, my brain shouts, let me explain to you why my circumstances are unique.
I have sought out friends who are also alone; it feels good to talk about this. But I find myself becoming angry if I find out they are not quite so alone as I am.
I don’t envy friends who are juggling working from home while wrangling small children. But a hug from a 4-year-old would be nice once in a while. It occurs to me that I will not touch another person until this is over. Hadn’t I read something about babies who fail to thrive because they are not touched enough? Are adults like that, too?
I don’t envy my friends whose partners have become their co-workers. But I wouldn’t mind a glass of wine at the end of the day with someone. A few weeks ago, when the restrictions in New York seemed to increase every day, I fretted about whether I needed to leave the city. I wished then that someone else was implicated in that decision, that we could make it together.
Everyone is in this together, I read all the time. Yes, sort of. But not really. No one is in it with me.
We are all struggling, that is true. But most of what I read is about how people are struggling with too much. For me, it is the opposite. Though we may shake our heads at our busy lives, we still valorize abundance. Emptiness is embarrassing.
There are places I can go. Each of my sisters has offered refuge in the suburbs. I may yet seek it. I know that staying is a choice, but it doesn’t feel like one. So little feels like a choice these days.
Just when it seems I can’t take it anymore, an old friend texts to ask if I am eating regularly and getting enough vitamin D. And there are Zoom cocktails and text-message chains with friends who should have already been on text-message chains. And I talk about intimate things with colleagues who were only casual friends before.
And I make a sourdough starter, maybe just to have something alive to take care of. It is expanding. Slowly. Maybe my life is, too. Maybe it had to get very small before it could grow again.
“ Virus Diary, ” an occasional feature, will showcase the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. Follow New York-based AP editor Sarah DiLorenzo at http://twitter.com/sdilorenzo