He had woken from a deep sleep on his left side, curled inward, his right arm wrapped tightly round his upper torso. His face, bent forward severely, smooshed against the crook of his right elbow. The familiar smell of his skin, both sour and sweet-smelling, filled his nostrils.
The insomnia he’d experienced early in quarantine had, in May, been replaced with night-sweats. Cold sweat freckled his skin and during the night had dampened his bedsheets, which now, in early early morning, clung to him with a cold air of devotion.
As he leaned up in bed, all the intoxicating sleep seemed to drain into his right shoulder and arm and left him with a feeling of both numbness and sharp pain. Rubbing his limp arm and feeling a dark lethargy drain from his senses, he walked to the bedroom window.
Looking out, the blue-gray light of dawn was arriving and slowly illuminating the quiet streets below. During the night he’d left his windows open at the west and east ends of his apartment and the cross-breeze of brisk spring air cooled the sweat from his body.
The air smelled of damp earth.
His arm slowly began to reanimate. The rush of blood to his muscles and tissues was intoxicating and overwhelming.
It was not unusual for him to be awake this early. He’d spent years waking before dawn, before the town quietly came back to life. For a long time, mornings had been associated with hope and promise.
He contemplated that now, because of the virus, there were many others like him: awake and sleepless, companioned with only their thoughts, and feeling—as he did—a needling dread that everyone had gone somewhere far away.
In truth, they had gone away—most sheltering in place, but others, he sadly contemplated, had gone away psychologically, emotionally withdrawing and anxiously reverting inward. And, most tragic of all, those who had slipped from life into death.
Knowing in his own way about clinical depression, loneliness, and the fragility of human connection—he reasoned that the imposed solipsism that the virus ushered in was nothing new. Loneliness, he understood, was an absence—a lack of intimacy and connection.
Yet it had an undeniable presence in contemporary life that—even before the virus—at times seemed all-consuming. He’d witnessed the grit of loneliness in the guarded eyes of his neighbors before the virus. Now he saw that forlorn blemish in the eyes of everyone.
The last two months he’d spent alone self-isolating in his apartment.
He was lonely for the intangible, multifarious connections that pass between people.
For much of April and early May, he couldn’t focus on tasks at hand. He was tired, but he was also experiencing insomnia. He was nostalgic for recent memories, yet—gripped by listlessness and loneliness—he’d begun to forget why he had any affection for his hometown to begin with. Normally one with a strict diet and scant affection for food, in the first month of isolation he experienced a constant, anxious, gnawing hunger that he quelled far too often with carbs and comfort food. Social media was a stream of dislocated experiences, way too many pics of bad-looking bread, well-intentioned silver linings, and shaming. And the country was being run by a feckless, gassy, narcissistic authoritarian.
In movies, a lone figure—a smudgy, stoic presence on the horizon—was all too often conveniently approaching from the distance. The hero riding into town.
He could use a hero right now. It’s an exercise in magical thinking, he understands that.
There are some who think this multifarious phenomena will, in time, have a humbling effect on people. Certainly this historical moment is seeping into our pores more than the grand strategies of political leaders and policy makers.
He wants to believe beauty can be reckoned from any event. Or, if not beauty, something resembling hope. Silver linings. He doesn’t know what compels him to make this romantic assumption—and then he remembers: the past. He wants to believe all the fragments of sacrifice and suffering will collect into a meaningful form.
Early on in isolation there were times when a needy and hopeful doubt would worm into his thoughts and his mind would muse that perhaps this was all a dream.
Like a dream, things and people were surreal; familiar, yet eerily distanced and ghostlike. And like a nightmare, there was a loss of autonomy and the subsequent attempts, pursued in vain, to barter some semblance of control, certainty, and normalcy. The virus and its socio-economic devastation was like a nightmare sprung maliciously to life; a dark, hulking form emerging with gnashing teeth from the wilderness.
He thinks often of Pieter Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death. And, like many, he’s thinking also of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. His father has a print of the painting hanging in his home. There is another eery classic hanging in his father’s home: Munch’s The Scream. His father was out of town and when he visited the home to do laundry, the paintings unnerved him now more than ever.
In one painting he saw loneliness and entrapment (look closely at Nighthawks and you’ll notice the diner is absent an entrance or exit). In the other, awe and terror. Both, when he collected them in his mind, seemed all too representative of the virus.
His father was out of town and recently when he was checking on the house, he stood staring at The Scream and could’ve sworn he heard, emitted from its gaping maw, the sentence: “We’re a long way from home.”