Guest writer: Madeline Squamish, Canada
Guns, Germs and Feels: An Account from One Month of Self Isolation
Self isolation. Quarantine. Quarantini. Bored in a house in a house bored. Novel virus. StayHome. Exponentially increasing. Flatten the curve. Flatten the curve. The curve.
My brain is flooded with new lingo from this era. I’m back in the second grade in spelling class learning about how words are concocted. Mrs. Ritchie puts a “Good Job!” dollar store sticker next to a 10/10 score. It’s peeling, but I rub it back onto the paper just to feel the bump of achievement at the tip of my finger. The high fuelled by doing well.
I’ve aged during this strange time. Like I’ve literally had a birthday. My champagne birthday turning 25 on March 25th. This year was a special March 25th, despite it being my day, because the federal government of Canada implemented a self-isolation plan for returning travelers returning from abroad.
Being a Canadian in the US, I felt personally addressed by this. To celebrate my birth, we day drank. Opening beers had become second nature. I could open bottles with other bottles, rocks, lighters, spoons, edges of decks, my own teeth if it came down to it. It was a good party trick. Sometimes when I get drunk, I feel invincible. Other times I’d feel incredibly depressed.
The freedom of not being in control alleviating the self blame. My partner Mitch planned a special day for me, the theme was 25 things for your 25th! Complete with writing poetry, answering questions about each other and making a Pilsbury box cake. Funfetti.
Truly one I’ll try my best to remember the day after.
Auto-correct thins the word cocktails. The mind still gets its fix and gets loose off these watered down potions. Alcohol sales during this time are soaring. “The novel Coronavirus also known as COVID19 has affected people around the globe,” the news anchor says. This is the original job where professional people wore comfy pants because you didn’t see them from the waist down. I know this because my parents used to own a corner store before I was born and a famous CBC News anchor would come in in the mornings with her hair sprayed, smart jacket on, and fleece PJ bottoms layered. Yes- apparently their voices do sound like that off screen too.
This is how professionals that are lucky enough to have their jobs work in the spring of 2020. From a computer screen dressed smart from the waist up and even smarter from the waist down. Moving out of frame from their conference call to sneak a beer, or shotgun one spilling all over their silk/satin pajama pants. The truly stealthy will even mute their microphone when performing the deed, but some don’t even care to hide it anymore.
I’d always told myself I could never work in an office, but now that they can afford liquid escape and work from home, I find myself envying them for the first time. The cool thing about being tipsy is that it doesn’t discriminate by class and neither do viral infections apparently.
The British Prime Minister in Intensive Care Due to Coronavirus Symptoms. America is not Meant to be Shut Down. The CERB for Canadians is taxable. Pandemic. State of Emergency. Lost Your Job and it’s Not Your Fault. Now is a Good Time to Invest. Porn Hub Premium is Free!
From a young age, I’ve liked to think of myself as a word surgeon. I have the most horrible memory and before auto-correct, my child ego was hugely wrapped up in handing in perfect papers with no spelling errors. This anal behaviour is precisely why I now wake up at four in the morning to write gramatically nonconforming poetic nonfiction.
Anyways, if you take the “dem” out of pandemic, you get panic. The prefix “pan” means everything (like in the ultra continent Pangea). “Demic” is like broken or everybody. So we’re in a state of everything broken.
I sit in Tom’s dining room playing The Sims on my laptop. The dining room table has six seats, but it could fit eight around. This house is huge for one person. I could be screaming in the basement and nobody upstairs would even know it. I like that fact. I like it here.
It’s just me and Mitch’s dad, Tom and the white tail deer that visit the backyard and munch on the perfectly cut grass. I make Tom and myself in The Sims and we interact normally; we even become “close
friends” in the game. This later manifests to some truth irl.
We had to cut a rock climbing trip short because of an apparent viral outbreak. Mitch went down to Tulum to close up shop for the business we worked for there. I came up near his hometown in upstate New York early because they were going to restrict travel for Canadians into the US a day later. A border fluid lifestyle and having different citizenships from one another complicate our love life.
When we fold our passports together to hand over to the border security guard, you can hardly distinguish between the two hues of passport blue. A meer pantone away. The day after I got into the US, the borders were only allowing essential travel. Being American, the travel restrictions didn’t apply to him which is why he had to take on the gruelling task of closing up shop alone, but it was what it took for us to be together.
I’m sitting in the front seat of Tom’s car watching the nothingness of upstate pass us on our way to get Mitch from the airport, which has now become a taboo place. Every couple kilometres, there’s a mailbox. The properties are huge out here. Simple, structurally sound homes with lawns that require hours of attention weekly if not every other day. We exchange few words.
I like Tom, but I am worried that he doesn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the fact that I probably have the virus from living in a communal dirtbag hub in Mexico: climbing rocks and then directly hopping on a flight to New York: the epicentre of the virus in the states. We pass my favourite store called Discount Guns and Ammo. I’m not a gun enthusiast, but seeing a discount arms store is about as novel for a Canadian as the virus is for the world.
Mitch and I cling to each other when he walks out of the airport. Four hours, let alone four days, is the longest we’ve spent apart in six months. It’s kind of fucked up romantic accepting that you’ll both get the virus together if it means you can physically be together. We never discussed it, but both accepted it.
Two weeks go by in New York. We left Tom’s property once to get groceries. We are now living off miso soup because it’s all we have and we don’t want to go to the grocery store unless we absolutely have to. Tom has a stash of PBR beers that I dip into every other night to slink away from the reality of house arrest. I swear he knows and I swear he doesn’t mind.
Things get worse outside and inside. The curve has yet to flatten. More terms are released. My brain’s liver begins to fail as it processes. I get dizzy. I cry almost every day. I worry for my family in Vancouver. My immunocompromised dad. My finances and jobless state. One time I collapsed from the anxious shaking and Mitch had to cover me with a blanket on the beautiful hardwood floors. I had fallen and refused to get up. I tried to cry, but I was running on empty. He was in the next room over, but he felt so far away.
Two weeks passed with no symptoms. The Canadian government kept asking that its citizens return and I knew in my heart that it was time to go. Say bye to Mitch for who knows how long. The guardian between me and myself as I slowly deteriorated. He was the spine of our relationship and I, the scoliosis.
I try to remember his laugh now. Nasal, light and so easily distinguishable. The kindness in his exhausted care giving. Letting me win at cards although he won’t admit it. How I had sapped him of his vitality. We part.
His blue Ford minivan leaves the airport unload area before I’m inside. I feel like a lone half of an empty pistachio shell. After everything he’d done to be with me, he knew it was time for me to go too. I don’t know how many months it will be before I see him again. I cry and a kind stranger asks me if I’m okay. I’m instantly sobered by the fact that I am being observed.
After two weeks inside, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be scrutinized. Somehow through the moistness of my tears, a part of me hardens, crusts, and sheds the exoskeleton of who I once was. It still lingers somewhere in Syracuse, New York. Decomposing, but present.
I brave the airport one last time. Pay extra for a window seat because who knows when you’ll see the world from this height again. I have a few beers on the plane rides back and a few in airports to pass the time during layovers. They say the elevation in the sky gets you drunk quicker.
There is nobody on the planes.
Goodbye New York. Hello Vancouver.
My brother came and got me from the airport. As kids, we were always taught that blood runs thicker than water and we’ve always been close, evolving types of close, but close. As adults, that’s really translated to him helping me out frequently. I haven’t had a car in years after my van broke down and quite frankly my family has been my personal storage and moving service more than 5 times in the past year as I feed my addiction to indecision.
He sat in the front, I sat in the back wearing a plastic rain poncho, gloves and an N95 mask all in an attempt to not get my germs in his car. I put my personal bags in plastic garbage bags. Nothing of mine touched his things scattered in the trunk. Not his ski boots, sweaters, Lululemon work paraphernalia. We made small talk through our masks.
Dad’s health is improving. Mom’s bored. We all are. Unprovoked, but desperate to talk to somebody, I tell him how horrible the anxiety has been. How hard it’s been on me and Mitch’s relationship. The lingering depression.
He nods along with my words only pausing when I pause. He drives from Vancouver to Squamish: the usual way on the Sea to Sky Highway. I remember when I lived in the city and this drive was beautiful to me. It sparked awe and excitement. Being on it meant I was headed out on a fun outdoor adventure. Now that I’ve lived up here, the novelty of the drive has worn off and has been replaced with memories. The side of the road where I pulled over to pee once while making eye contact with an eagle. Anvil Island and the hike I did with a couple friends years ago back in university. Different rock formations that have become kilometre markers. This spot where I pulled over in a borrowed truck to pick up those nice hitchhikers and offer them granola bars.
I was home.
There is a familiarity of being in places unfamiliar at this point. I’ve lived in more addresses than my age. I’d met a lot of nomads in my time, but it had never previously occurred to me that I was maybe one of them.
It hit me now standing in front of what was apparently my new home. A pleasant red house in a quiet family neighborhood. My room is one of three in an upstairs suite.
The landlord seems to be an honest, kind adventure man that lives downstairs. I knock a couple times and nobody answers. I figure I live here, so I might as well just let myself in. I wrap my hand with my sleeve in a feeble attempt to keep my germs off it and open the front door. My brother watches me standing a couple metres behind. The gentleman in him probably wants to help me lift my bags up the stairs, but he can’t risk getting sick because he lives with Dad. We agree that it’s best for him to stay outside.
Two people who I assume are Kelly and Rory (a couple) come to the door -as close as advisable by world health authorities- to greet me. They uneasily check in with each other via eye contact as they show me to my room.
Seeing their shared fear of my germs makes me miss Mitch. He was the only person that was eligible to mingle with my germs and is no longer a candidate for physical affection. For every step I take towards them lugging my heavy bags, they take two steps back, unable to help, but they enthusiastically tell me where the sanitation products are. They’ve thoughtfully put some in my closet. Kelly’s left a few adorable plants in my room.
There is a jar of her homemade apricot jam, books, a mini fridge and basic kitchen supplies. I’m going to be cooking in my room on a gas stove to isolate the best I can. They tell me great things about the house that I won’t experience for two weeks. It gives me something to look forward to. We all half heartedly laugh and cut it short to sigh. It warms my heart how welcoming they’re trying to be despite the fact that I am a stranger moving in during a global pandemic.
My parents met us during the move to drop off groceries, my old yoga mat, basic supplies and a
Subway sandwich made just the way I like toasted and everything. There is no booze in the supply drop off. The three of them don’t drink and the assumption is that I don’t really either.
I haven’t seen my mom in months and a knot in my chest tightens when I can’t hug her. My dad stays in the car, smiles sadly and waves at me. He hands my mom an envelope and gestures towards me. She leaves it on the ground in between us, steps back, and I step forward to retrieve it.
“Happy Birthday Maddy!” the white envelope reads. Inside there is $300. I think I’ll cry, but I’m running on empty. My brother’s car follows behind. I think we make eye contact through his rearview mirror, but I’m not sure.
I learn to really like Rory and Kelly just by eavesdropping on their conversations. They can’t eavesdrop on me because I don’t speak, so they still have no idea who I am. They’re the type of people that have watched two Tiger King episodes in two days in a climate where the general public is consuming the Netflix series faster than toilet paper. Their self control is honourable.
They are talking about their cats one day when I sneeze. They pause their talking. I feel ashamed. They continue their conversation as I sanitize my laptop.
Plateau Crescent. What a beautiful name for a street. It’s a dead end one so it’s very quiet. The only reason I chose it is because they’re the only people that would take me, but I lucked out. Locked in, lucked out.
Federal Quarantine Act. Essential Service Workers. Marijuana Dispensaries are an Essential Service. Stick to a Schedule. Facetime Loved Ones. Stay Positive. Together We are Stronger.
There’s this little crevice in my brain that excretes rage when I am told to “be positive”. It has been a defect for as long as I can remember. I think I just hate being told what to do especially if it’s good for me. The bypass for this defect is tricking myself into being positive without telling myself to be positive. I meditate, work out, journal, habit track, play video games and begin to feel better.
It’s been one week in self-isolation in Squamish. I am already halfway through the government’s orders in their plan for returning Canadians. My friend Drew moved into the other empty room next to mine. We sit with our legs dangling out our second story windows. They are at least a couple metres apart. We talk about past and future adventures into the cold evenings. He gets the mail for me and leaves me 3D wooden puzzles at my door. I can’t give him anything, so instead I try to make him laugh when we talk. We share a bathroom and I sanitize everything after I use it. Door handles. Toilet seats. Shower curtain. Soap.
Sometimes I sanitize my own things like floss and my toothbrush handle. I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve with this, but I do it anyways as a ritual. We leave the door closed so the cats don’t get in and cross
Every time I go in there, it’s a roulette as to whether he’s in there pooping or not and vice versa. It has added a lot of excitement to my life recently.
For the first time in my adult life, I am squirming in my discomfort. I am being still. Albeit it’s not by choice, but it’s still still. For so long, I’ve used travel and adventuring as a way to escape reality. I’ve shed prematurely and left layers of my skin in so many places. An offering to the hunter as I ran from the terror of being in once place. Now running is no longer an option. They call this the exposure method. When somebody is forced to be exposed to their biggest fears to experience the consequences are minimal in comparison to those concocted.
Learning to sit and stay.
The freedom of not being in control.