I’m sitting here at the dining room table, and there are things to do (two bags of groceries to unpack, thank you notes to write, an overdue doctor’s appointment to schedule, a 20-minute yoga video, a few emails, plus Babygirl is about to be on break from Zoom and she will want a snack and she will need to know what the PLAN is for the after-school hours…) but instead of tackling these items as I had intended, I’m kind of paralyzed.

For one thing, it just started raining, unexpectedly, which is throwing a wrench in the aforementioned after-school planning (see : outdoor activities only), and then I started reading multiple articles about the pros and cons of impeaching Trump during Joe Biden’s first 100 days, and then (perhaps in an unconscious attempt at escape) all I could think about was how I would love to get a tofu banh mi from the Vietnamese coffee shop near my old office, but they are no longer open on any kind of schedule. How many commuters need coffee and a donut or an egg croissant or a quick banh mi these days? And then I started worrying about that family, whoever they are, and their little shop on the fringes of Chinatown, which has been gated the past few times I’ve driven by…

Where are they now?

And then I felt sort of defeated. (See : If You Give a Cat a Cupcake.)

The kids somehow cajoled my husband into buying a pack of Klondike bars the other day (highly uncharacteristic on my husband’s part, but certainly we can agree that nothing is predictable anymore), which they now enjoy every morning at snack time, for better or worse. They laugh at the packaging: “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” As you unfold the silver wrapper, it throws out an absurdist answer: “Play hide and seek alone.”

I mean, that’s actually depressing, says Babygirl.

I glance at the makeshift fort she erected in the living room yesterday by stringing a tablecloth between two dining room chairs, the better to read alone, or play alone, or sulk alone. Hide alone. Sure is, I reply.

It’s disjointed, looking back, to have chronicled this experience so occasionally. We were on lockdown, then we weren’t. We didn’t make plans, then we did. Then we had some fun. Then we allowed ourselves to feel optimistic. Then we rumbled with some hard truths. Then we felt optimistic again. Then a lot of people — a lot more people — started dying again. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise, but is nonetheless shocking and sad. Then we were on lockdown again. And still are. The year turned over and…the alarm clock goes off and we get out of bed and put on our masks and take our walks and log on to Zoom again. Write a careful meal plan to minimize trips to the grocery store. Bundle up and go to the beach on a 50-degree day. Sit with a friend, on opposite ends of a deck in the chilly sunshine, and drink wine from a can while the kids skateboard. Sprinkle in a horrifying January 6th insurrection to SHAKE THINGS UP and remind us, just in case we forgot, that we are living through history here, people! This is not the moment for complacency!

These events are so huge, but sitting at the dining room table, the world can feel so small. Some days, in the echo chamber, our collective hearts and minds feel small too. When I think about it, I have an almost physical response, like this lockdown is literally making me smaller. I want to stretch, gather, talk, listen, laugh, debate, travel, taste, try! For nearly a year we have been growing in confinement, and sometimes I am afraid I have learned all I can learn inside these walls.

Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, anything you aren’t already living through yourself, sheltering in your own tablecloth fort.

So. Back to the banh mi, which still has me thinking. Not about the banh mi (exclusively) but about people, what Mr. Rogers would refer to as the people in your neighborhood. The husband and wife who ran that place. The couple who owned (and are still trying to own) the spin/yoga studio around the corner. My favorite instructor there, who taught a killer hip-hop class on Tuesday mornings, Before. I think about how I cannot fathom ever doing a workout class again. I wonder what will happen to the workout instructors of the world. I think about the guy who poured the beers at the hot dog stand we used to like to visit on Sunday afternoons: I think about his hipster glasses, his kindness to my kids, the way he’d switch the music from some weird death metal to indie folk when we arrived; will he be back when it all reopens?

I think about the friend of a friend-who-moved-away-in-COVID, the younger gal who was so fun and expecting her first baby when the world broke. I assume she had the baby but I never heard, because our paths never crossed again.

I imagine that people who don’t live in cities often assume that cities are cold, isolating places. But in my experience the opposite is true. My whole life, I’ve stepped out my door and recognized face after face. Neighbors, grocers, butchers, security guards, trash collectors, fellow early-morning workout warriors…I’ve seen the same faces year after year on my walks to and from work, noticed them partner up, get pregnant. Age. Sometimes they simply stop being there; sometimes I can conjecture why. Sometimes I don’t want to.

There is a lot that I am missing these days. A lot that makes me sad. True friends and family I ache to see in person. People I would give anything to hug. I miss smiling at babies (I still smile, but I’m masked.) But perhaps an unexpected loss is simply this : I miss the old patterns, the old faces. Not every day, of course — there are new patterns! we must embrace the reinvention of our lives! — but sometimes, maybe when it’s raining and I’m a little bit scared and all I want is a tofu banh mi…I miss knowing I can walk up the street and find it there, where it used to be.

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