Days Without Name: On Time in the Time of Coronavirus
Heidi Pitlor Tries to Find the End of a Friday Night
A few weeks ago, while I awaited results from a Covid-19 test after a significant uptick in my asthma and a general feeling of sickness, I quarantined myself in a friend’s studio apartment for eight days. How lucky I was to have gotten a test (right place, right time)—and to ultimately receive negative results. I returned to my twin 13-year-olds and my life at home, my asthma symptoms lessened, if not gone. At this point, Massachusetts had been issued a “stay at home advisory,” and even if it hadn’t, social distancing had become imperative.
During a shutdown, the things that mark our days—commuting to work, sending our kids to school, having a drink with friends—vanish and time takes on a flat, seamless quality. Without some self-imposed structure, it’s easy to feel a little untethered. A friend recently posted on Facebook: “For those who have lost track, today is Blursday the fortyteenth of Maprilay.”
As someone who works as an editor and writer from my attic office, on my own schedule, I’m accustomed to this kind of set-up—but also the isolation that comes with it. When I’m not on deadline and my days aren’t that busy, time can drag and ennui can set in. Any writer or editor knows that one of the challenges of working from home and spending nearly all of one’s waking and sleeping moments there, is punctuating one’s time, differentiating moments so that they don’t all bleed together.
Giving shape to time is especially important now, when the future is so shapeless. We do not know whether the virus will continue to rage for weeks or months or, lord help us, on and off for years. We do not know when we will feel safe again. And so many of us, minus those who are gifted at compartmentalization or denial, remain largely captive to fear. We may stay this way if we do not create at least the illusion of movement in our lives, our long days spent with ourselves or partners or families.
Last Friday, my kids were lying on the couch, watching God knows What on YouTube. I sat across from them, scrolling through twitter. Another night, another pantry meal. I decided to order pizza, not unusual on a Friday night for us, but slightly riskier now given the free-floating microbes in the world at large.
My daughter suggested we binge watch Love is Blind, a reality show in which contestants meet and fall in love and even get engaged without seeing each other. It is addictive, if not particularly educational or enlarging in really any way to a young mind. My instinct was to say no, but I thought a moment. It was Friday night. We had made it through a week of staying at home. My daughter had seen no friends. My son had helped organize the spice drawer. But primarily, we now knew terrible statistics and guttingly tragic stories, and knew that many more terrible statistics and stories were to come.
“Ok, let’s do it,” I said. And then, “Let’s eat all the dessert too. We’re celebrating the fact that we got through this week.” My twins looked at me. “Really?” my son said. They knew better than to further question what might be a momentary lapse on my part, and they made for the freezer, the box of Trader Joes mini “Hold the Cone” ice cream cones. Reader, we ate them all. We then adjourned to the master bedroom for a long evening of wonderfully vapid TV. The kids skipped their showers. No one brushed their teeth. Bedtime went out the window.
The result of this shameless self-indulgence was that that night, unlike every previous night since we’d begun “social distancing,” felt special and different, like a small celebration during a time when there is not much to celebrate. I decided then that every Friday we would celebrate in whatever way we could, at least until we felt safe in the world again. This might only entail take-out Chinese and gorging on Ben and Jerry’s, forgoing the laundry and having a food fight. The sky’s—or the four walls of our house are—the limit.
I’ve started attending virtual dinner parties with various groups of friends on Saturday nights, and hope this ritual continues. Sunday nights resemble PC (pre-coronavirus) life: laundry, work planning, a regrouping after the weekend. And each weekday has its own new shape too, especially now that the kids have online school sometimes. For the moment, my fear about what might come feels a little more contained. There are small things to look forward to, distractions and moments of real connection, silliness and relief and gratitude.
The news will get worse, of course. People we know will inevitably die. As I write this, there are about 4,300 cases of coronavirus in the state, 842 in my county alone. By the time you read this, these numbers will of course have multiplied. And although the pandemic is a deeply rattling, unsure moment, unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes, if nothing else, time in the time of Covid no longer seems quite so eternal.