A month ago at this time we’re in Palm Springs visiting Chris’s family. The “older cousins” sneak away to the closest bar, leaving their toddlers behind with the grandparents for a little adult time.
The bar is called, “The Tap Room,” a Coachella hot spot apparently. It will be packed come April, everything in the valley will be, people tell us. Our Uber drive can’t wait for festival season, he makes the majority of his income in those two weekends.
We continue to make small chat about music and upcoming vacations when one of Chris’s cousins’ casually mentions a spring trip to Italy that they may have to reschedule because it’s rumored coronavirus is spreading there and “they’d rather be safe than sorry.” What a bummer that would be, I think, but don’t say out loud. Is it really that bad?
“It could spread here too,” Chris remarks, “there’s already been a couple cases.” And then we take a moment to argue about whether it’s the flu or not, ramble off stats about deaths from other viruses, and then quickly move on to another topic and order another round of drinks.
It couldn’t be that bad.
One month later, when it’s time for Harlow’s noon walk we get on the elevator and I press the lobby button using my elbow. Since we moved up our closing date on our home and left Chicago in such a rush, we’re staying in my parents condo in downtown Lincoln before heading to Denver while we wait for things to… settle down? Become normal again? I’m not sure exactly, like everyone else, we’re just waiting and hoping.
The doors open on the second floor and a man wearing a mask, holding a box of small oxygen tanks waits to get on.
“I’m not sick,” he announces, a few weeks ago this statement would have seemed odd. Today, not a lot surprises me. “My client needs oxygen so I have to wear this.”
He steps on and I smile politely, while also instinctively reaching in my pocket for my hand sanitizer. The mask doesn’t scare me, a lot of people were wearing them in Chicago. But standing within six feet of someone, well that makes me a little itchy. It’s against CDC guidelines.
The door opens to the lobby and Harlow and I hustle off, I act like he’s pulling me, but it’s actually the opposite. Once outside I take a huge breath of air like I haven’t tasted it in a while, I’ve been doing this lately without realizing it. It’s a little chilly and the sky is still grey, but I hear the sun may come out later.
I’m surprised when I see a person crossing the street with a coffee carrier in hand. I thought all of the coffee shops were closed around here. Lounging in a coffee shop seems almost dreamy lately. Of course I don’t expect to actually sit in one right now, I’m not crazy, but picking up a coffee would suffice.
The few businesses that are still open downtown have signs taped to their doors that say, “If you’ve traveled outside of Nebraska in the last 30 days don’t come inside.” It feels straight out of an apocalypse movie. I’m not sick, I want to say. But I know better, I shouldn’t go inside anyway.
Har and I pass a shop that has a bowl of water of treats set outside and I’m not sure who’s more excited to see it- me or him. In a world that feels so isolated and different from what we knew just a few weeks ago this small gesture feels so… so normal. And I never knew how much I’d long for normal until it was taken from me.
We rush toward the bowl and Har promptly takes a treat, but not until he high fives me first. (His one and only trick.) I glance up and see the employees are watching from inside. They smile and wave and I do the same. There’s not a single customer inside. Other than me and Har, there’s not another person outside at the moment, either.
As we walk away I start to worry that I shouldn’t have let Har eat the treat. I know that dogs don’t carry the virus, but I’m still nervous and wonder if it was okay. I seem to second guess everything I do in this new world where I don’t know all of the rules.
Before our walk is over the sun peeks through the clouds and everything instantly looks so much brighter. I don’t know if it’s the long gloomy winter we’re just coming out of, or the gloominess that hangs over the entire world right now, but any feeling of sunshine feels extra healing. Anything in nature does, right now, actually.
When this is all said and done, I’m going to spend even more time outside. I’m going to do a lot of things.
Har and I ride the elevator back to my parent’s condo where Chris is working in the bedroom, jumping between conference and zoom calls all day long. I take off my coat and spray it with Lysol, I do the same with a paper towel and gently wipe down Har. Then I wash my hands, change into different sweatpants and settle on to the couch for afternoon emails.
I do my best to take things day by day, sometimes hour by hour, and not dwell on how long this will all last. I know that so much can change in a month. And I’m hoping that by the end of April we’ll feel more sunshine than gloom.