By Dylan Goodman
“When we begin to experience the sacred in our everyday lives we bring to mundane tasks a quality of concentration and engagement that lifts the spirit.” – bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions
I can mark the changes of a year’s worth of living alone in quarantine by the abundance of silence. It did not used to be this way. Me, a queer Jewish unicorn with extroversion to spare, making it work in Brooklyn. In fact, I used to wonder if what I was missing in my twenties was an ability to sit still. Well, be careful what you wish for.
Under the pandemic, my life is slow now. I regularly fill my evenings with the time it takes to make dough from dollops of butter, eggs and flour. How the methodical kneading against the bowl can meld these disparate materials into a cohesive, sticky whole. I get lost in the routine of a baking recipe. It still feels like alchemy the way the same few ingredients, in slightly different combinations, make multitudes. A cup of bone-dry yeast, with some warm milk and patience, murmurs with bubbles – like dust into life. As much as I want to control the outcome, the ultimate ingredient is time, waiting for the right chemical reactions to create a change.
I like noticing the way the smell of my apartment blooms with sweetness once my latest concoction is done. Of course, it also helps me track my Covid status. That I still have the ability to smell, a luxury I didn’t even know to be grateful for.
I fill the quiet with thoughts, as well. In my notes app, I scribble down ramblings about the world, and how I want it to be better. I think about immigrant detention centers, and wonder that our government fears immigration by land so much because it’s a reminder that borders are not real. I wonder about capitalism, how the U.S. only values its citizens as much as we’re able to do a job, evinced by the lack of urgency around any kind of comprehensive stimulus. I wonder about the Covid vaccine distribution; every boyfriend I’ve ever loved and what they’re doing now; the white supremacy of America; abolition of the police; my own mortality. I miss my friends. I wonder if it’s so hard to date these days because everyone else is thinking about their mortality too, and the stakes of finding a partner feel unrealistically high. But then again, the reality is that 500,000 people (and counting) have died.
In the early part of the pandemic, I flew to Hinge in hopes of finding an apocalyptic companion. “Looking for a partner for the end of the world,” I texted one of my matches. He said, “Me too.”
We fell out of touch because I realized he only wanted me for sex. Everyone copes in different ways.
It’s hard to accept that this gap in my life where easy chaos used to dwell is simply gone, cannot be replaced. I miss the tumult. I miss being surprised.
My therapist, over Zoom of course, encourages me to go outside more often. As cruel as Covid can be, she urges that – in my precise situation – the mental health challenges of such immense isolation are beginning to wear me down. After all, I had only just moved to New York in the fall of 2019; and the world went into lockdown just as I was beginning to make friends. Those people mostly left.
The isolation is its own kind of loss. And it is particularly invalidating when the loss cannot be witnessed.
A part of me is writing to you right now because I want to be witnessed, and to let you know that we might be grieving the same thing. We might not be alone.
A year ago, both of my housemates left our apartment in Crown Heights under the impression that they’d be gone for “two weeks” – each packing suitcases haphazardly for last-minute tickets. Whether by denial or obstinacy, the thought to escape never crossed my mind because I didn’t know what I was running from. Hugging each of them goodbye in that faithful week in 2020’s March ended up being our last shared moment. None of us could have predicted that a microbe would upend the very fabric of what we consider “normal.”
Within that first week of quarantine solitude, I journaled, “And I want to live. It came rushing into me all these days alone. I want to live so bad. I want to survive. And this determination balloons my spirit and fires my soul.” Even though this statement came from a place of rose-colored adrenaline, the words still ring true, and I can say with defiance that, even when my world evaporated into fragments, I still find G-d in the absences.
What I mean is that one small brown bird landed on my sunlit fire escape on a Friday morning, chirping; and I noticed, remembered its shape even, and looked back into its eyes. I have since replaced chasing men with chasing fresh fruits and veggies at the Grand Army Plaza farmers’ market. I understand that taking the time to boil water and hear the gurgle of steam soaking coffee beans is equally as rejuvenating as that first caffeinated sip. When I see other people in my apartment pass me by, I try harder to extend kindness. One man on the floor below remembered my name to say hello as we passed each other in the hallway, and he chuckled, “We’re officially neighbors now.” It wasn’t revelatory or romantically charged – plus, I’m very certain that he is “a straight” – but it mattered all the same: the remembering.
So, even as I am grieving, I still have hope. “I want to live so bad” because the pandemic has reminded me that, in slowing down, I see that beauty never left, and there is so much peace to be found in stillness, in waiting. What I’m searching for as a twentysomething continues to evade me, but the grace of this collective pain is that I’m gaining the trust that I do not need an answer to be happy. Being is enough.