Dispatches from isolation


I had a friend in college. One of those brilliant, troubled types. A writer and a chemist. He used to make his own drugs. Ordered the  ingredients online. Mixed them in his bedroom. I remember sitting with him upstairs in Bewley’s one afternoon. He told me about roaming around at night, sleeping outdoors.

On the grass in Stephen’s Green another time, describing how it felt when all the colors and sensations around you melded into one. He came from a family of high achievers. His older siblings with their diplomas in frames all over his sitting room.

For his birthday once, he invited a small group of us to his house. We played Balderdash and Piffle in his bedroom. Then he brought out some tubes of paint, and asked us to fling colors at the wall. For years, I had this brown woolen cardigan with a small yellow paint stain that I couldn’t get off. His mother drove us home at 3 in the morning.

“If you had to choose,” he asked me once in Café Sol on Dawson Street. “Between never seeing anyone again but having the Internet. Or seeing a small number of people and not having the Internet, what would you choose?”

Naturally, he was considering the first. And I said, I mean, I know where you’re coming from.

We were young and stupid and dealing in hypotheticals.

It’s been around two weeks now. Most of it spent right here at the dining room table. My laptop and a cup of something. Often, with candles too. Little things. LSH works in the kitchen. He likes the bar table. He’s used to standing in his office. Suits me well. 

“So, we haven’t A/B tested that yet,” he says through the wall. The apartment is now filled with the voices from his conference calls.  Sometimes he comes out and his face is all different. He doesn’t know it. More self-possessed. A little further away than normal. A sense of purpose. His world is in our kitchen now.

Another day, he’s on the sofa, his head hunched over his phone in a professorial manner. I creep up behind him. The closer I get, the surer I am. I know those shapes and colors! I know that concentrated, contended expression. This is what middle-aged Germans do on the train after they have completed all the Sudokus in their flimsy puzzle books.

“You play Candy Crush?!” I say. I am beside myself. I had no idea.

A friend recently asked if there was anything that still surprised me about my husband. Sure, I’d said. But I hadn’t been able to think of a concrete example.

“I only just downloaded it,” he says. “It’s actually pretty good!”

“There’s no need to be defensive,” I say. “It’s just that all of a sudden, I feel like I barely know you.” 

I resolve to play Kebab world again. Make time, for the things that matter.

When we venture outside together, I am insufferable.

“Stop scratching your nose.”

“I wasn’t scratching my nose.”

“You absolutely were. You do it all the time.”

“Stop treating me like a 5-year-old.”

“Stop acting like one.”

“I think it’s because we can laugh at ourselves,” LSH says in bed one night. “I think we defuse arguments that way.”

“So you think that’s why it works? Because even though we are very different we can both laugh at ourselves?”

“Yes, Katzi.” He is tired. He does a good impression of my incessant questioning. Do you think I’m a good person? If you were an animal, what would you be? What two people would you most hate to be stuck in qurantine with? I am maddening to live with. But so is he.

Taking out the bins and hanging up the laundry have become thrilling activities. Sometimes we fight over who gets to do it. Occasionally, we do it together. Slowly, we are becoming better people.

I’ve been writing more. The other day, I was having trouble focusing. Felt all tingly and restless. I brushed my teeth. It changed everything.

“It’s easy to forget,” says LSH. One of the reasons I married him is because he is kind.

I haven’t had a haircut in much too long. I no longer wear makeup. I slouch in front of the computer in the same green cardigan every day. I am startling to look at.

bad hair

Social isolation has made me startling to look at.

In the outside world, people are dying. Across the road, in Rosmann, people line up in a neat, sad, socially distant line.

I listen to music really, really loud now. Sigur Ros when I’m writing. LSH says I hum along, really loud. He hears me through the door. “You must know you’re doing it,” he says.

I do.

The da-da-DING of Whatsapp notifications punctuate our days. We are not alone.

We chat on Zoom with five friends in Dublin. All of us in our sitting rooms or bedrooms. In this strange thing together. They tell us the street traders at home are selling masks now. My friend’s three-and-a-half-year-old teaches us some Mandarin he picked up at preschool.

Watching the news is always bleak. Never more so than now. But I indulge in small pleasures. Examining the travel books on the financial correspondent’s bookshelves. A medical expert’s spice rack. A political analyst’s balcony.

The clocks go forward.  “Look,” says LSH. He points out the window. We are on the sofa, watching Tiger King.  It is 7 o’clock. Still bright. 

I go to Edeka to buy ricotta. It is remarkably cold. I stock up on the essentials: triple chocolate chip cookies and a jar of kale.

Inspired by a friend’s kindness, I scan through a box of Lindt chocolates separately. “For you,” I tell the cashier. “As a thanks.”

Her face changes. I struggle to key in my pin number with my disposable gloves. I step outside.

It is snowing. The day after summer time began.

A winter wonderland. Thick, fluffy flakes, like you see in picture books.

I watch them swirl over the empty playground. Choosing which daffodil to land on.

I return home, disinfect my phone, put the ricotta in the fridge.

LSH is in the kitchen. Looking out the window at the snow.

playground

 

 

17 thoughts on “Dispatches from isolation

  1. I want to go to Bewley’s. I want to go to Cafe Sol. Too bad I’m 6000 miles away (and they’re probably closed — I was only in Dublin for a few days but it’s hard to imagine no socializing on the street).

    Berlin’s great, too, but to hell with the springtime snow.

    When the mood turns edgy, I’ll tell you about my college friends who used to make their own drugs back in the 1970s. Good times 🙂

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  2. “Notes From Underground “ Love it! What a situation we’re in! Somehow feels normal and freaking insane, simultaneously. No excuse now, Kate, finish that novel! “One person can’t change the world!” Said the guy in Wuhan, eating a bat. Stay safe, and see you on the other side!
    Robert

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    • Haha, your comment made me laugh out loud. Read it earlier as I was making my spinach and ricota lasange. Thanks for your encouragement – you know, I’m getting there. One painful page at a time 🙂

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  3. “Examining the travel books on the financial correspondent’s bookshelves”….I’ve been doing the same! 2 days ago an MP from the conservative ruling party here in the UK was talking on the news from his home. Behind him was a large collection of books. The only spine I could make out was in large letters….HITLER. Says it all really.

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