The dogs bark loudly at the sound of a key turning in the front door lock. When Davis enters through the door, Monkey jumps and spins in circles in uncontainable excitement. It seems to me that the arrival of my brother is a surprise for the dog, despite the fact that he is the only person who has come and gone through this door in the past five weeks.
“Don’t touch the dog until you’ve washed your hands,” my mother, Sarah, calls from the couch. Davis is already at the sink, washing his hands furiously. His long, dark hair is in a bun on the stop of his head. His hands are dry and ashy from being washed so much. He bites his nails when he is stressed – a habit he and I share. Now, his nails are very short.
“How’s my little germ vector?” Davis coos with affection, scratching Monkey’s ears with his clean hands.
My mother is cooking salmon – a special dinner, thanks to our sole event of leaving the house this week. Wearing masks and gloves, we had waited in line for the supermarket with six feet of space between us and the people around us. This distance of six feet, a recommendation from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in response to the novel coronavirus, is echoed in all parts of the country, in all ways imaginable. There are signs on the doors of stores, there is tape on the ground where there are lines, there is chalk on residential streets, they say it every day on the news.
It is the middle of April. Three months ago, the novel coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China. Now, more than 2 million people are infected, and it has taken the lives of more than 150,000 people in the world. It is in Nevada, in our corner of the word, and it has changed the lives of the entire world – including us.
“How was work today?” Sarah asks Davis. She opens the oven and the room fills with heat.
“The water’s still dirty; we’re still cleaning it,” Davis responds, removing his glasses and wiping the steam with his t-shirt.
Davis works in a water treatment plant. In the majority of the states in the US, any business which is not considered “essential” has had to close. In a period of 4 weeks, more than 22 million people filed for unemployment. However, because his work is “essential” in the eyes of the state of Nevada, Davis continues to work. Still, he is not calm in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the history of the US since the Great Depression. Before the crisis, he had two jobs, and since Nevada has closed all nonessential businesses, he has lost one of his jobs.
“My work hours are so limited now, sometimes I think it would be better to be considered unemployed. At least then the government would pay me something,” he tells me with a sigh. “I have to pay rent; I have to go to the supermarket. Life can’t stop completely. Eventually the money I have is not going to be sufficient. And the national government doesn’t want to help me.”
Although coronavirus is a global crisis, the response of the United States has been fragmented and ineffective. The first case of coronavirus was discovered in the US on January 20, 2020. While other countries did all that was possible to stop the spread of the virus, the president demonstrates every day in the news that he does not agree with the top public health expert in the US. The central government of the US gave the responsibility of containment to individual state governments. The only national action that the country has taken is one stimulus package. The stimulus package gives $1200 to citizens, and eliminates the medical costs associated with coronavirus for all.
“Only $1200, one time? $1200 is not enough,” Sarah explains to me, “For someone, maybe with $1200 they can pay their rent. But after that, what are they going to do? The government should support the people more, but they won’t.”
After dinner, I wash the plates while my mom puts away the leftovers in the fridge. She always cooks too much. The fridge is so full, she has to play what she calls “refrigerator jenga.” She tries to organize the food in five different ways before she can shut the fridge. Davis listens to a voicemail out loud. In a world of bad news, this voicemail gives him more.
Before the crisis, he was in the process of changing his medication for depression. Davis was diagnosed with depression in 2015. For 5 years, he has tried to find a medicine that helps him without side effects, which are sometimes worse than the primary problem. He always says that his medicine works “good enough.” My mother always says “‘good enough’ isn’t good enough;” my brother always rolls his eyes. The doctor tells Davis he is unable to change his medication at this time. He needs blood tests, and it is too dangerous to go to any medical institution. It seems that his happiness will have to wait, like so many other things.
We are not the only people who have to wait for something. The whole world has stopped in one way or another. Events large and small, with importance to one family or the whole world, are postponed. Our cousin postpones his wedding. In some states, primary elections are postponed. The Olympic Games are postponed. No one knows when ‘normal life’ will resume. For now, we adjust to this ‘new normal.’
On the table there is a mountain of board games. Before all of this, we had not played them for as long as I can remember, but now we play almost every day. The games were hiding in a corner of the garage. After one week in quarantine, Sarah took them and put them on the table. They were covered in dust, but we remembered our favorites instantly. Since that day they have not returned to the garage. They stay on the table. Tonight, we choose Yahtzee. My mother’s favorite.
Sarah has stayed in her room all day, and I have sat in the yard. There is a walking path directly next to our yard, separated only by a fence. I watch the people that pass. Alone, with their dogs, with their children, with their husbands and wives. Each person with their closest people, the people that they are quarantined with. I understand that their experience is at once the same and completely different than mine. When the sun sets, I return to the kitchen. My mother is already there, cooking. We haven’t seen each other in 7 hours. It seems to me that this is the longest we have been apart in weeks.
“What’d you do today?” I ask her.
“Nothing, really,” She sighs, “less and less every day, it seems. And still, the days pass.”
In a manner which Sarah describes as “impossibly slow and impossibly fast at the same time,” April passes and May arrives. In the mountains of Nevada, the snow is melting, and with the warm weather, hope is growing throughout the country. The president wants to ‘open’ the country. While the opening of the country is a source of hope for some, it is a source of fear for others.
My mother talks to herself while she reads the news. Today the number of coronavirus cases in the US surpasses one million. Still, today the beaches in Florida are full of people.
She shakes her head, her ponytail bobbing. When her hair is pulled back, you can see her grey roots. Usually she dyes her hair, but these days there is no reason to do so. Tears appear in her eyes. Her anger and fear is justified. Although she is retired and has financial security, coronavirus presents other threats to her.
No one understands the novel coronavirus completely, but everyone is certain that it is much more dangerous to be sick if you are older than 60, or if you are immunocompromised. We celebrated her 60th birthday in October. Furthermore, 10 years ago, my mother had breast cancer. She fought hard, and she won. Only then – after the cancer had disappeared – only then did she tell us that she had had cancer at all. Her autoimmune system will be compromised for the rest of her life.
“There is nothing more selfish than going to the beach to have fun, knowing your actions could kill someone.” Monkey senses that she is upset. My dog sits next to Sarah. She puts her head in my mother’s lap.
Now, my mother has grown, and her children have as well. Now she shows us her fear. Maybe it is because she is more comfortable, maybe it is because she cannot hide in this time of crisis. There are not many places to hide when we are all sharing the same house all day every day.
In our house, we have created our own world, with our one spaces. My home is the yard. Here, I sit all day. I watch, I listen, I observe. I know exactly over which mountain and at exactly what time the sun sets. I notice when it changes by a matter of minutes. With the distance between me and the rest of the world, I feel a closeness with this place.
The weather warms; businesses begin to open, and our mountain of games moves to the table outside. When it gets dark out, we play by the light of a lantern. We create events out of daily routines – we have brunch every Sunday, complete with formalwear and flowers on the table; we go to the supermarket on the other side of town for a change of scenery. No one knows for how long life will go on like this. We learn to live with the uncertainty, but not everyone does. There are protests against quarantine. College students throw large parties. People travel because flight prices are cheap. Every morning, my mother reads the news and shakes her head.
The days pass. More than 4 million people worldwide are infected with coronavirus. My brother enters through the front door. More than 33 million people in the United States file for unemployment. The dogs bark. More than 272,000 people worldwide have died from coronavirus. Davis washes his hands. More than 1 million people worldwide have recovered from coronavirus. He scratches Monkey’s ears.
“How was work today?” I ask, although I already know the answer.
“The water’s still dirty; we’re still cleaning it.” •