Brady said we ought to keep a journal of this time, so when people ask, ten or thirty or fifty years from now, “what was it like,” we’ll be able to say: it was like [x].
Assume a susceptibility rate of y, and a transmission rate of n. Solve for x.
It was like the quiet before the storm, only we didn’t truly believe in the storm. Not yet. We believed in it the way we believed in Jupiter, or Pangea. Something glimpsed through a telescope.
We believed in it the way we believed in hurricanes. A potential catastrophe that lived in doppler radars and images of far-off destruction. We remembered Sandy. We remembered walking to work for a week. We remembered the bars in our neighborhood were open almost immediately after, and that they were packed. We remembered standing knee-deep in water in a Red Hook basement, pulling up stacks of cardboard. It wasn’t cardboard; it was wood. Disaster always happened in other places, even if those places were only a mile or two away. We felt ashamed of this belief but we did not shake it loose.
Two weeks ago, people started cancelling vacations and non-essential business travel. Coworkers returning from Japan and China were asked to self-quarantine.
A week ago, certain teams in my office started to work from home.
On Tuesday, we learned that the virus had reached the building across the plaza.
On Wednesday, we learned that it had reached Conde Nast, thirty-three floors below us. That was the day the subways started to empty out.
By Friday, we were all working from home. It was a beautiful day, sunny, unseasonably limpid. The playgrounds and park teemed with children, with parents in athleisure. The restaurants — especially those with outdoor seating — did brisk business.
We believed in it the way we believed in the snatches of apartments we saw behind our coworkers’ faces.
Saturday night was when the atmosphere perceptibly changed. The restaurants were still busy, but the sidewalks were quiet, the roads nearly free of cars. We debated canceling our dinner plans, decided not to. Once we’d arrived, we second-guessed ourselves again. There was strain on the faces of the waitstaff; the tables, spaced far apart, had the appearance of islands. We would not go out to eat again, we decided.
By Sunday, the decision had been made for us.
We obsessively checked the daycare app for the notice that it would close.
We thought that in a better world, anyone who wasn’t able to help fight the virus in a professional capacity could stay home with their loved ones without having to worry about work, and that the people who were fighting the virus wouldn’t have to worry about their loved ones being cared for. We thought that this is why socialism exists.
We obsessively checked the New York Times, which suddenly felt like a local paper. We obsessively checked Twitter.
The city’s school system — the largest in the nation, whose student body includes over 114,000 homeless children — closed first. Where would the children go? What would they do all day for the next month? We thought our own worries were selfish and small, though they didn’t dissipate.
In between all this obsessive checking and planning and hand-wringing, Irving started to scoot himself backwards. Peregrine learned about rhombuses and the color purple. I made decks. Brady went to Home Depot. Irving sat up on his own without immediately kanting. I ran around Fort Greene park. Peregrine mastered the phrase “construction site.” Brady went to Home Depot again. Irving got his 6-month shots. I read The Sparsholt Affair and wondered if it was at all out of line to equate how students at Oxford in 1940 went about their lives with how I and other New Yorkers were doing now: incrementally, half-blindered, but not without an underlying sense that the remainder might come on all at once. I read Sweetbitter and remembered with aching clarity that first fall in New York, the headiness and joyful belonging, the sense of a destiny immune to any large-scale deux ex machina. I listened toTaffy Brodesser-Akner read a passage from Love in the Time of Cholera. I thought about Eliot’s yellow fog. I thought about Meditations in an Emergency. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot ahead.