By Patricia Bunin
When I was five and had to have my tonsils out, I thought it was the worst thing in the world. I counted to almost six and I was asleep. When I awoke, no more tonsils but my mother was sleeping on a cot next to my hospital bed and a bowl of ice cream was on the tray stand.
The worst thing hadn’t happened yet.
It would be 70 years later that I found myself counting the steps from the doorway of my husband’s den to his empty lounge chair. Seven steps. It took me seven nights, one step a night to make it to the chair. I continued this ritual night after night trying to dispel myself from the notion that one night he would be there. But the cancer that took him was not about to return him.
The worst thing in the word had happened and, although I had promised George I would be OK, I was no longer sure that was possible.
On the night that the Shelter in Place order was announced to safeguard us from the coronavirus, my chair ritual was still an ongoing presence.I had been self quarantined with my grief for so long that at first it hardly seemed to change my life.
I’m a writer, used to working from home. My Someone to Watch Over Me, had left me with an empty chair. What did I care about not being able to touch anyone when the only one I wanted to be close to was gone. What did I care about the virus?
Then I started talking to George about it. In his last months we ended each day by sharing what we were grateful for that day.
Dear George, I’m grateful that you were not here to go through this. Just listening to our president make an ass of himself every day would be enough to give you a heart attack, even if you hadn’t already died of liver cancer. On the other hand, you would have been such a fun quarantine mate. Trying out new recipes with the odd things that come in my online grocery orders. Our food supply is shrinking from hoarding. Everyone is panic buying. It would be a good time to invest in Charmin. Toilet paper has become like gold.
When I watch the news I think about the horror movies you liked to watch. That’s what life with this pandemic has become. A scary movie that you can’t stop. One that keeps writing a new script every hour of every day.
Many of those dying from the coronavirus are in nursing homes. They can not have visitors and the caretakers are dropping from the virus like the pick up sticks we used to play when we were kids. One wrong move and the whole lot goes down.
It’s a blessing that both our mothers are gone. That’s how life is now. I’m grateful for dead mothers and a dead husband. I donated some of your shirts to Beth up the street, who is making masks for the whole neighborhood. She said men’s dress shirts were particularly good for that. So I kissed a few of your favorites goodbye. Maybe they will cover the faces of some blonde cuties, like the ones you professed to go for in your youth.
I will not be able to go to Riverside National cemetery to visit you on our anniversary like I did last year. A stay at home order is still in affect. The gardens and beaches and public spaces have been closed. No Pasadena Pops at the Arboretum this summer, no romantic walks in Descanso Gardens like we used to take. It makes me sad for the young lovers who will not experience this.
The one that would hit you the hardest, of course, is that the theaters are closed. Our community theater group was unable to perform at the Pasadena Playhouse this year on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The spring musical has been postponed for a year, but they are doing a virtual performance. Songs and monologues from our past shows.
I am doing our scene from The Twilight Zone. “The Shelter” seems very appropriate right now. So for two minutes, on a virtual stage, I can be your wife again.
“When you have to learn you will,” you used to say.
I’m finally becoming at least mildly tech savvy. It’s survival. Life on a small screen. I hear your voice every time I struggle to get onto a zoom meeting. My grief group is now meeting online and my last two doctor appointments have been on telehealth. Our temple streams Shabbat services. I even attended a zoom funeral for a cousin in Florida. You would love all this life online stuff.
So many people are really struggling with not being able to work because of the quarantine. We share food on our block and donate to food banks. I do not have an abundance, but I have enough. I have developed a new respect for enough.
The freeways are so bare, even I could drive on them without being nervous. With everyone at home, no one is driving to work.
As you predicted, when I had to learn I did. About new technology. About living through a pandemic. About loss. I’m still learning.