The Future Tense Has Been Taken Hostage
Times are weird, folks. My little village at the edge of Chicago has gone from “quiet suburb” to “ghost town,” and the ghosts are us, haunting our own houses.
Just under two weeks ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Somebody at Johns Hopkins University created an online tool to track confirmed cases and deaths. I refresh it daily to see the latest numbers. Ordinarily, that would be a weird thing to do, morbid even. Maybe it’s still weird, but normalcy has gone on hiatus.
The stories from Italy are particularly heartbreaking. Medical staff must decide which patients to treat and which ones to let die when they run out of hospital beds and equipment. Newspapers print extra pages to accommodate the surge in obituaries. Survivors can't comfort each other at funerals for fear of spreading the sickness.
Compared to that, my own problems seem trivial. I was supposed to be on my first-ever cruise right now, and being on lockdown sucks, but out there, a thousand people a day are dying.
Still, the little things feel the most depressing. I miss seeing school buses trundling down the streets; I am reminded of the eerily empty sky after America halted all airplane travel in the days following 9/11.
I don’t feel stressed out, in any overt way. I’m not obsessing or having panic attacks. My conscious mind says, “It’ll be OK. We have enough food and supplies. The kids are fine. I got this.”
But my subconscious keeps making a liar out of me. At night, exhausted, I fall asleep immediately, then wake up at 4 AM for no apparent reason, blood pumping like I’m about to run a race. At lunchtime, I seek comfort foods I haven’t eaten regularly since childhood: bologna sandwiches, PB&Js.
Things are simultaneously mundane and surreal. It’s disorienting. The very nature of the viral infection adds to the confusion. Some patients develop a fever and a dry cough; others have a runny nose and no cough. Some people, apparently, are completely without symptoms. Others develop such terrible pneumonia that they essentially drown in their own blood. How can the same disease be both asymptomatic and fatal?
Crossing events off my day planner, I fight back tears. I mourn the freedom that I’ve taken for granted my whole life, the ability to make plans and have things to look forward to. Then I feel silly, mourning something that’s gone only temporarily.
Yet this doesn’t feel temporary. There’s no end in sight. On March 13, my kids’ school district canceled school (in favor of e-learning) through March 29. Now that’s been pushed back to April 8. It seems extremely unlikely that things will be back to normal by then.
I alternate between solemnly watching the news and laughing about the absurdity of things. Laughing feels better. The longer this upheaval goes on, the more I see humor as a survival skill. I’m pinning my hopes on scientists and comedians, because what we need most right now are: (1) a vaccine, and (2) ways to make it through this period with our sanity intact.
For now, we’re all incarcerated in Present Tense Prison, and the future tense is off limits. We have to buy food at the commissary, and exercise in the yard, but at least the memes are free. The jesters will save us all.
In that vein, here’s my own recommended Coronavirus Playlist. Hang in there, fellow inmates!
- Virtual Insanity by Jamiroquai
- Whatever Gets You Through the Night by John Lennon and Elton John
- Nothing’s Shaking on Shakedown Street by the Grateful Dead
- I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor
- It’s the End of the World as We Know It by REM
- Just the Two of Us by Bill Withers
- Coffee and Beer by Steve Mardon
- Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks
- Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
- Alone by Heart
- Our House by Madness
- Can Love Stand the Test by Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley
- Don’t Stand So Close to Me by the Police
- Live to Tell by Madonna
- Red, Red Wine by UB40