It’s all so much.
I hardly even know what I’m referring to anymore. The illness itself? The social isolation? The political unrest? The deaths? Every facet of the present state of affairs could fractal outward in a million other directions. I travel down those paths every day, in every moment of silence, every night before sleep. I am prone, staring up at the air between me and my ceiling.
It is Sunday, June 21st, 2020, 11:40 P.M., and I can’t sleep.
It feels like this will continue happening forever, or that the world will end this way. Those kinds of thoughts make everything seem so hopeless and hollow, though. I’m familiar with this type of fatalistic thinking, albeit in the context of my own mental health struggles. In this moment, I’m almost thankful for that; I have the tools to navigate this despondency.
Couldn’t things get better? I wonder. What would that even look like?
I pull my eyes shut and think.
I decide that I’m in a kitchen. I am in a kitchen with black-and-white tiling and dark stained wooden cabinets and a gas stove tucked between two faux marble countertops. I’m making spaghetti, and that my favorite song is playing on my phone, and that there are plants thriving in the window to my right that sits in the wall behind the kitchen table. Even just the thought of it relaxes my frayed nerves. This is where I want to be in however-many years, after the pandemic, after the world stops ending.
But I don’t want to be alone. I’m alone too often these days. Who would be here with me?
I conjure up the mental image of a daughter—my daughter, who I have daydreamed about having for many years. Her appearance changes sometimes, but there are a few staples: short black hair, ruffled after a long day of play, and wide blue eyes (maybe her other mother’s eyes, I think, whoever she might someday be).
She’s bouncing into the kitchen, notebook in hand and smiling, taking a seat up at the table and scribbling onto the paper, bringing a bit of life and joy to the scene. Maybe she’s an artist in this future? Who knows? The thought of her finding joy in it gives me hope, though.
“Hi there, Rose,” I say to her, smiling. She says “hi” and parrots my smile back at me.
Anxieties start to creep into my little daydream now. Will she run and play with her friends behind masks, six feet apart, or maybe not even in person at all? Will she know the fear that I do today? Or, even worse, will this disease be normal for her? Will she become numb to it all? Will the death and isolation become commonplace?
I very pointedly shove these thoughts aside. I am giving myself one moment of solace, and I will not let far-flung fears spin that out of control. If I don’t relax, I’ll never get to sleep. Knowing this, I force myself back into my little fantasy, and I choose to be in a good timeline.
“Mom,” Rose says to me, fiddling with her pen, “can I interview you for a project?”
“Of course,” I say. “What about?”
“We’re studying the Pandemic in history class, and we have to interview someone about it who lived through it.”
It’s music to my present-day ears to hear “pandemic” and “history class” share the same sentence, and it bolsters my spirits even more to hear the words “lived through it.”
“Sure, hon. We can talk now, if you want?”
“Okay!” She flips through her notes and then straightens herself, poised to copy down my answers. “The first question on the sheet is…did you quarantine? If you did, how did it affect you? If not, why not?”
“God, quarantine! It was awful,” I say with a laugh. I like to think I’ll be able to laugh about my experiences by then. “That was such a struggle.”
“I can’t imagine it,” she responds, curious and doe-eyed.
I keep talking to her. It soothes my heart to talk about it all in past tense, to hope that we use these experiences to make the world better, if not for us, then for her. For Rose.
Eventually my speech slows, the kitchen blurs around me and melts into a peaceful darkness.
I wake up.
It is Monday, June 22nd, 2020, and I have to keep going.