The absence of contact in Quarantine Land is its most devious challenge. I do not live alone, so I have more day-to-day contact with a fellow human being than many of us, but the isolation is felt even when one shares a house with a housemate/landlord, as I do.
The isolation from others and isolation with one individual can create an attitude of what can only be referred to as a pathological co-dependency (well, for me, anyway): at different moments, the housemate/landlord (who in my case happens to be a sincere, genial, perpetually direct and honest individual) can take the form of authority figure, warden, and then be returned to his normal, genial self, all in a flash. Perhaps I take on those forms within his mind, as well. At least I am aware of the effect of isolation on me, and I only respond to the genial housemate and not the figment in my isolation imagination.
When I described this phenomenon to a friend and started to complain about it, I forgot that the friend to whom I was complaining lives alone, is new in town, and is in the same sudden isolation but is isolated alone. My description of my complaint sounded to him like a restaurant-goer with a complaint about a free dessert: “I thought you said something about a free cheesecake and this is strawberry cheesecake! Why, this is an outrage!”
I apologized to my friend.
The absence of contact with the friends with whom I share hugs, towards whom I lean my head to hear quiet thoughts, or with whom I hold hands when we tell each other that things will be okay—and I have at least three friends to cover each of those three examples, so I am a blessed man—that absence is what depression feels like, it seems to me. I have found that my longstanding desire to escape troubled thoughts, to isolate, to hide, led me last week to pursue isolation from my isolation: I didn’t respond to text messages, did not appear on group video meetings at which I was expected, attempted to hide in plain sight—all in order to exert a sense of control over this uncontrollable situation, a global phenomenon that affects us all but from which I wish to be exempted.
A couple weeks ago, when the quarantine was a topic of discussion in New York State but had not yet been implemented, a friend and I ran into each other. We do not see one another very often, so a hug is a usual greeting. She put her motorcycle helmet down and sat next to me and started to turn towards me … she caught herself, stood, and moved away. A few minutes later, she said, “It’s so hard to remember that none of us can hug or greet each other like we’re used to until this is over. I started to go for a hug when I saw you.”
I replied that distance would be the most difficult thing to impose. It is. As I wrote the other day, “When all this is over, some of the things we used to take for granted will appear to us a novelties or great new ideas.”
Even hugs. Friends have long paid me the compliment that I am a good hugger, which is a sweet notion and I always thank them for saying so, but I have no idea what a good hug is or a bad hug. Aren’t they all the same? I do live with the fear that I will forget how to hug the longer this continues, and there are many friends of mine—nurses on the front lines of this pandemic, parents with sick kids—whom I wish I could hug right now and have hug me back and hold hands to tell each other that things will be okay.
All of my friends say the same thing as that, though, and that fact is its own hand-holding, its own hug, in Quarantine Land.
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For no particular reason:
The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 6 asks us to reflect on the word, “Hands.”
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