My New Normal

Apparently, misery really does love company
06 Jun 01

Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

The phrase “Let’s Stay Home” adorns my wall, faux shiplap and felt flowers surrounding chalkboard lettering. Was I channeling Nostradamus last year when I purchased that decoration on clearance?

As both a writer and borderline hermit, I tended to be in pseudo-lockdown even before COVID-19. “Why do I have to put your socks in the hamper and your Monster cans in the bin?” I would whine at my husband. “Because I’m the one who goes into the world,” he’d say pointedly. True. He worked elsewhere. He braved the outside in search of pizza, gas and cat-soothing-hormone diffusers, while I held down the fort, washing socks, sorting recyclables and tearing irate cats off each other.

Now our new normal involves haunting this apartment 24/7. We’re pale, nonessential ghosts bumping the walls, taking our temperatures, unable to grasp the passage of time, reliving and reliving. Dreamlike. Did I check my email? Have I taken a bath this week? Wait — did I take a bath today? Have we fed the parrot? (The parrot says no, but he now knows about Cheez-Its and no other food exists in his beady eyes.)

My husband was exposed to the virus at work early on, so we stuck out our 14 days of quarantine next door to my parents. My dad was a champion of not interacting. It’s one of his superpowers. Give him a fox terrier, single malt, and online videos of people riding Trains of the World, and he’d be set in the bunker until the new robot overlords dug him out. My mom tried. Occasionally, we’d find a pie outside the door. The world comes to you. And slowly, a new normal.

Through isolation, I’m learning to be more social. I figured out video calls. We still play cards with Uncle Jim every Sunday. (We prop up his cards facing the screen and he dictates which to play. Occasionally signals get crossed and things go very wrong, but hey — whist isn’t for the faint of heart.) Writing groups, ukulele practice, role-playing adventures, movie nights — through video, you’re always accessible from the comfort of home. A blessing and a curse. All this high-tech communication means the extroverts are coming for you. There’s nowhere to hide.

Uncertainty is the new normal. A dozen eggs incubate on my kitchen table, handed to me by my mother, who had a hankering for chickens. We had chickens when I was a kid, but I never hatched them. Nowadays, the internet provides a multitude of opinions on the process. Anxiety dogs me. Will they die? Get infected and explode? Hatch basilisks instead of chickens?

The new normal has many of us revisiting, or discovering, a closeness to nature. Just after WWII, 50 to 80% of US vegetables were grown in victory gardens. Now, seeds are popular again. Gardens are back. Bees in my fridge await perfect weather. They’re newcomers to this strange situation too. Most hibernate peacefully, but a few emerged during transport. (Have you ever received a package of awake bees? It’s like … receiving a package of awake bees.) They’re chilling in the crisper until all this uncertainty blows over. Some days I’d like to join them. But I’m here for the duration, haunting, video chatting, hatching, writing and awaiting the next turn, better or worse. Pass the snacks.

Categories: Humor