Journal of the Plague No. 12: The Shape of My Days

Siamese cat and black mixed breed dog on grey sofa with assorted sweaters and stuffed animals
What is this dog doing here?

Since the 4th of July, Sophie the dog has woken me up most days at 4:30 am, as she’s become terrified of the night time and won’t usually go out after 5 pm. I thought initially it must be the noise and the dark, but she has no issue walking the in the dark at 5 am, with the traffic on the nearby highway, the sirens going off, the cars backfiring as people leave for early jobs, the motion sensor lights that go on as you pass them, and only the smallest amount of trouble with the man in our neighborhood who delivers the newspaper in his ancient Dodge truck with a dying muffler. I wonder, therefore, if her distaste for the evening has something more to do with smell—with the smell of the illegal fireworks and the smell of grills and the smell of burning things.

But I haven’t figured that out yet, or how to solve it, so she and I get up very early and walk for a mile or two, and then every morning we get home and I pray that perhaps I’ll have even half an hour—though in truth just feeding all the animals takes that long—to sit and eat my breakfast and drink my coffee and read my goddamn New York Times morning newsletter and look at my Facebook memories and see if anything has blown up on the Internet or in the world while I slept—but it’s rarely the case. Quite often I get a Facebook call from my son while Sophie and I are out walking wondering when I’m going to be home.

And so instead of my fantasy morning I instead get breakfast for everyone who’s willing to eat breakfast and medicine for everyone takes medicine and try to think of new ways to keep Sophie the dog occupied when she enters her morning manic phase, which involves searching the house for new treasures—usually inappropriate and often dangerous—to add to the collection in her living room bed and eventually I give up and take my coffee and the dog out to the yard, where we play Frisbee and I wonder why I bother to bring the coffee out in the first place, because it’s not like I get to sit and drink it.

Then we come in and do some dog training exercises, and I reheat my coffee for the nth time and explain to my son that it’s too early to text his friend about playing Minecraft while FaceTiming together, because normal people do not get up at 5 am, and it is barely 7.

Every day I start with a list of things I need to do, just as I did at work, though the list is a little different these days. I no longer run cash register reports but I do spend a lot of time on the household budget. I don’t order books, but I do place grocery orders online to pick up later. Every day there are administrivia tasks—filing my weekly unemployment claim on Mondays; people to email daily, though I can’t ever seem to get to them all; screen time and chores to negotiate with my son; Medicaid applications to fret about, even though there’s nothing to do right now but wait and see; all the assorted local elected officials I periodically contact with my thanks or with my suggestions; bills to be paid and to consider if there’s a way to lower.

And then there are the basics of running a household: every week I make a menu plan for dinners designed to incorporate our CSA veggies for the week, to incorporate some of the meat in our freezer, and to include one of the handful of things my son will eat. Every day I intend to dust the animal fur off the floor and to clean one other thing—my bathroom, the stove, the kitchen floor—and every day I usually fail, or get only part of the way through.

Often my son will take a nap mid morning, due to his early rising, and if I’m home and have no appointments, I do, too—it’s rather like having a baby again, where you try to sleep whenever the baby sleeps. But all too soon that’s over, even on the days when I get to take advantage of it, and we’re fully into online gaming with friends mode, which has been his primary form of socialization for many months now. For a little while a few of the neighborhood kids have been getting together in someone’s backyard or other to play for a few hours in the afternoon, but with the recent uptick in cases in our county, I don’t know how long that will last.

Some days are yogurt making days, some granola making days, some bread making days. I joke with people that I’m now in pandemic stage one, where it seemed like everyone had time to do all these domestic throwback things. I remember being asked to send in a description of what I did in my leisure time for a social media post for my work, and all I could think was “What leisure time?” I was either working from home or working at the library or taking care of my kid—and I kept a sourdough starter going for many years over several states in my 20s. It’s not a thing I feel a need to repeat. But back then I also did make all my own bread and granola and yogurt, and that part I do enjoy returning to now that I have, if not leisure time, time when I’m at home and can sometimes be a room away from my kid for a time.

Every week I fill out the weekly unemployment claim form, and it asks if I was ready, willing, and able to work the week of X-Y, and I always say yes, although of course that’s a conditional—yes, if childcare magically fell from the sky. Yes, if the hours were very flexible. Yes, if I knew more about what was happening with school in the fall—because honestly, I don’t know how our district’s current plan (calling for at home online instruction, though the governor has since issued an edict about how much schooling must be done in person, and it looks like we’ll be tied up in court for some time) would jive with anyone with a young child and a daytime job.

Today marked the fifth person I know who has or had COVID-19—one family member in a neighboring state; four in my immediate geographic area. Of those, one is, months later, still very week, undergoing multiple times a day breathing treatments, and having to rely on family, friends, and neighbors to pick up all the day to day things of the sort I now do all the time. I don’t—yet—know anyone who has been hospitalized or who has died, but I assume that is yet to come, just as I assume it will be a long time before I’m able to work again.

So that is how I spend my pandemic days now that I have no job outside the home. I am very fortunate: physically we are all in good health; my health insurance from my work got us through the worst of the crises in this house; and family, friends, and complete strangers have been incredibly generous in offering help. I also have some savings and nothing but mortgage debt, which puts me in a better position than most 44-year-olds I know.

Yesterday I was getting a much-overdue oil change for my car and decided to take a walk through downtown while I left the car at Russ’s for the job. It was eerily empty, and the shop windows were filled with so many Black Lives Matter and Say Their Names signs that it was notable when a business didn’t have any. I gave a few dollars to a couple of homeless guys (as I always do when I have them) and chatted with them (as I always do regardless of whether I have any cash with me or not) and realized as I was walking back to the shop that I should have asked them if they knew if there was a bathroom that was open anywhere, as I really had to pee. But I didn’t, and now I still have errands to do because I didn’t think to ask, and by the time I got back to my house to use the bathroom, there was no way my kid was letting me leave again.

I don’t think my story is representative. I wouldn’t interview me if I were a journalist looking for a take. But I wanted to record a bit about what I do each day for posterity, or at least for my own memory, for it is in these bits of daily life that I believe most of our history is formed.

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