Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
I am sitting upright in bed, pillows behind my back. Jon is in the living room, dark through the open door, strumming my mother’s old guitar. These two rooms, plus a tiny dim kitchen and bathroom, hold the entirety of our lives. A cage for hamsters, a refuge.
I’ve been dreaming too much lately. Last night I was on a trip with my family, I got lost, my parents didn’t try to find me—there was no one on the roads or in the restaurants. Last week I was abducted by a spiritual cult while Jon left me in the car to go into a liquor store, they whisked me off into the woods and changed my name, and I couldn’t get to him, couldn’t tell him where I had gone. The week before that I was traveling again, in some far-off place, I knew Jon had left me but I didn’t know why. All of my dreams now are about getting lost, but also losing something. Surrounded by beauty, but lost. Trying so hard to get back to something familiar, or looking for something I no longer have.
When I wake up it is into what feels like another dream. That’s why. Being awake is not so different from sleeping. Today marks four weeks from the day we decided to stop leaving the house. Shortly thereafter the city caught up to our decision; all nonessential business closed, and people were ordered to shelter in place. Because nothing changed for us when this order was made, I didn’t fully comprehend it until last night: That even if we wanted to go out to a bookstore wearing masks, there are no bookstores. There are no record shops or jingling doors to walk through or bars with beers on draft. Everything is closed. DC is a ghost town now. No one leaves their homes. The entire city is dreaming, just like me.
The past two days I made an entire Seder meal for us and only us. Matzoh ball soup with chicken broth made from scratch, carrots and celery and a little jar of rendered fat that was sitting in the back of the fridge. Smoked trout and cream cheese with capers, baba ghanoush from an eggplant we grilled at the beginning of the week. Jon made charoset by hand, chopping apples, walnuts, dates, golden raisins into a bowl, sloshing them with red wine and honey. We tipped half of it into a jar and covered the lot of it with water, to sit and transform into mead. He then blitzed an entire horseradish root in the food processor, leaving our eyes tearing and our noses singed; and then I promptly set an entire tray full of hand-rolled matzohs on fire. A Passover conflagration, the flames as high as my chest, I blew and blew until it went out and Jon poured a measuring cup full of water on the blackened remains as the smoke alarms started up. We sat on the stoop, crying and laughing, our tiny uninhabitable apartment belching smoke across our backs.
Twenty potted plants bristle against the windows in my bedroom, green and red leaves straining towards what sunlight there is. I run my hands across the leaves daily, listening to them whisper against my palms. Jon is better at understanding their needs than I am, tells me when the little braided money tree is drooping or when the pothos vine is begging for water. I water them and water them and watch new little purple leaves form in their throats and along their underbellies, moving days at a time, the pace of plants. Thriving under suitable conditions, dreaming plant dreams. I feed a jar of flour and water in my kitchen that is breeding yeast and bacteria to raise and chew loaves of bread, feed a mat of cellulose floating in a jar of tea for kombucha, we put up jars of fermenting cabbage, carrots and beets, turnips and collards in brine. I feed and feed and feed us all, growing things through the labor of my own two hands—it is the only thing that does not feel like dreaming. Dreaming or creation are the only options we now have.
I do not wish to write about the disease although I will have to. I wonder, is anything else in creation as capable of shutting down a whole city? A whole world? The whole planet is dreaming right now, everything has stopped. We wear masks and gloves outside and stay away from each other, there is a space between us all. It floats through the air, reaching for new hosts; there is no choice but to treat each other as vectors. On trails in the patch of woods nearby I watch children zip to and fro behind the trees, I am ever-vigilant towards them should they pelt towards me. They are particles in a vaccuum, pinging, uncomprehending. Like the virus themselves. There will come a day when I admonish a stranger’s child, “Stay away from me, sweetie,” and they will look into my face with big, confused eyes. I am grateful not to have a child to manage right now, grateful not to have to explain, over and over, something so deeply unfair and strange. Children and dogs are built for running to strangers. There is no time for dreaming to them, they are too recent, too new. I tend only plants and bacteria, docile living structures content enough to stay put in a pot or a jar with the soil or flour I’ve given them, eating endlessly like cows. Like all living things they yearn to colonize new places, but this impulse, for them, is easily thwarted. I wish it was so for the virus.
No one I know has died yet. An old friend and mentor got sick and wrote about it but he is well now. My best friend’s cousin died mysteriously in his house. A beloved country singer died the other day, one whose songs Jon and I sing while he plays guitar. I marvel at how much has happened because information has spread faster than the virus. Everything out the window looks fine. No one I know is sick yet. We are braced for the impact of a wave we are told is coming. It is building, day after day, over the horizon, out of sight. I can barely feel the basso thunder of it beneath my feet, so low and quiet that it could be my own imagination. It could be one more dream: the threat of the impending, this faceless and bodiless thing that will lay my city to waste. A virus which is barely even alive, barely even a thought, a nightmare that my city has fallen into and from which we are waiting to wake.