And if you can’t survive in this world, you had better make a world of your own. – Jeanette Winterson
Day 30 of quarantine,
Friday night was not a good night for me. In fact, all of last week was difficult. Outwardly, I probably appeared on edge, irritable, maybe a little drunk, but inside, I was a whirlwind. A woman breaking apart.
I guess it started on Tuesday. The first tear. When I didn’t make it outside once nor come up from the basement for eight hours. The rest of the week followed suit. I stopped making my bed and going for walks and putting on anything besides the grey sweatpants with the hole in the knee and a salvation army sweatshirt with the Kentucky Derby logo on the front. I stopped doing online workouts and making dinner and decided I was too weak, too far deep, to care.
By Friday I was drinking by three. I’d moved from vodka tonics to straight whiskey by seven and by eight, I just wanted to fight. I needed to let out the chaotic energy that buzzed within me. I felt like I was choking on stale air. Who was the first challenger? Let’s take on Jay. Then my sister. Then my mom. By the end of dinner, one by one everyone had left the table to get away from me. Then I left, turned on the shower and cried.
I hated myself. I felt sick and disgusted by the last week. This couldn’t last. This way of being. This was, as Martha Gellhorn would say, “the weakest way of living. To let it whip you.” I could have weeks, months, left of quarantine and if I keep going down this path, kept slipping into this darkness, I’d destroy myself. So I made myself a promise. Under the covers, a little bit drunk, eyes red at the rims, I told myself that next week would be better. I could start over. I could try again.
The next morning I woke up refreshed. I expelled the demon. I went for a walk, then the grocery store. I cooked vinegar braised chicken and coconut cake for my family. I watched a movie. I didn’t drink. But then Sunday came and the chaotic energy, the stale air, the choking feeling was back.
I locked myself in the basement by 9 am. After a few hours, I remembered I had a family video conference for Easter. Exhausted and irritated, I turned off my space heater, the small lamp illuminating my small workspace and climbed the stairs. As I opened the door from the top step into the kitchen, an onrush of energy surged through me. I think it was the adjustment of going from dark into light. Whatever it was, for a brief moment I remembered what hope felt like.
As fleeting as the feeling was, as quickly as my eyes and body adjusted to the afternoon light pouring through the kitchen, I felt as if I’d stepped from one world into another. A world where things were bright and expansive and filled with possibility. And I realized that’s what I was missing.
There’s still Paris and the smell of my Bulgari body wash from that hotel in Italy. There’s still the beautiful chair I bought at that Moroccan store in Brooklyn that sits waiting for me in the basement. There’s still tea and warm fireplaces and one day there will be days at the beach and trips to Europe and picnics in Central Park. And ballets and books and movies. There’s still Agatha Christie quotes and the magical worlds of Phoebe Waller Bridge and JK Rowling.
The only way I’m going to get through this quarantine is to create hope which I’ve always found by creating a world of my own. By surrounding myself in fantasies and daydreams and letting myself bask in the simple pleasures. To find joy and magic in the small things. A great line of poetry. A beautiful bit of dialogue. A pleasurable afternoon walk. A letter to a friend.
I need to rebuild my world every day. That’s what I need to do. I need to walk from dark into light as many times as I walk from the basement to the kitchen. The same way I did under the covers Friday night, I needed to remind myself that I can start over. Every day. Today can be the day I get back to my online workouts. That I go for a walk. That I wash my hair. That I can hope and love and rejoice in things again.
So I ask you this week to start dreaming again. To take your day slowly and with care. To admire all your body does for you. To enjoy your lunch and your dinner and a good book or film. And to remember that things are not as dark as they seem, and that this too, shall pass.