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The Shipwreck Rose: Quarantine Diary

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 13:29

Peak 2020 was reached at 3 p.m. last Thursday with a phone call from a young woman in the office at the John M. Marshall Elementary School informing me that my son, Teddy, had been determined to be a true contact of a positive Covid-19 case in the fifth grade, and that he would be required to quarantine for 14 days. Chatham County Superior Court Judge James Bass had just dismissed Donald J. Trump’s lawsuit over the handling of absentee ballots in Georgia.

What a day!

We mustered for quarantine. I sent Nettie to her dad’s house in Springs for the duration. Teddy and I would have two weeks of just us on Edwards Lane.

Teddy was installed in my big bedroom downstairs, which has its own bathroom and television, and I put sheets on the living room couch for myself, just outside the closed bedroom door, so he wouldn’t feel lonely.


Day One.

Later, still Thursday, I get a phone call from a member of the New York State Contact Tracing Initiative. I had been waiting for it: I work for the contact-tracing initiative, and have already peeked into our database to see who has been assigned Teddy’s file.

“Tyanna!” I shout merrily into the phone, when the contact tracer calls. “It’s Bess!”

I definitely scared Tyanna.

Quarantine is boring, even on Day One, and you find small amusements where you can.

Tyanna instructs me that Teddy should remain on the other side of a closed door for as much of the 14 days as possible. “A lot of parents do find that difficult,” she says.

Through the door, in the evening, I overhear Teddy nonchalantly talking politics with his 11-year-old buddies Nico and Leo, using the Discord app on his iPad. “People are saying Biden’s got it in the bag no matter what, because Trump can’t get enough electoral votes,” he says as they play Brawl Stars. “Biden is in the lead of the electoral vote, and there’s no way Trump can catch up, no matter what. So Biden won.”

Teddy says quarantine is fabulous. I bring him his supper on a tray.

Before going to bed, I step out in the yard in bare feet to set a Have-a-Heart trap for my nephew’s errant hedgehog, Queequeg, who was lost in August and last seen about a month ago, trotting in the driveway after 2 a.m. I put a hot-water bottle under the trap, to make it cozy.

All night, the sheets kept sliding off the living room couch, which is leather and hard.


Day Two. Morning; nothing in the Queequeg trap.

From my desk by the window, I watch our new neighbor, who appears to conduct business with wireless earbuds while jogging all over the village, slow his pace to inspect the Have-a-Heart trap that is sitting on top of a hot-water bottle under a tree.

Biden overtakes Trump in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Teddy has pasta pesto for breakfast.

Teddy is bitter to discover that Mr. Tupper and Ms. DiGate have planned ahead effectively for virtual learning, and that he is actually expected to attend school all day via Zoom.

Teddy has pasta Bolognese for lunch.

I wish I had someone to complain to about the joys of office politics in the virtual office space. Can we get a cartoon about virtual office politics? Can we get a “Cathy”-style cartoon about arguing with colleagues you’ve never met?

The first daily follow-up text arrives from Tyanna and the contact tracing initiative. I press 2 to reply that no symptoms have developed.

“Twelve more days of followup remain,” the text tells me.

Teddy is not allowed to leave the premises. He can go out in the yard, he can run circles around the house, rake the leaves, shoot at cans with a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, attempt to repair the old golf cart his uncle has left by the barn, do calisthenics, but he can’t walk the dog around the block or drive with me to the beach for a healthful perambulation in the residual summer air.

I spend my workdays leading a team that advises other parents with kids in quarantine to follow these rules. I can’t very well break them myself.

Teddy has cavatappi marinara for dinner.

The BBC News says that 114,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19 today.

After work I have a Facetime call with my daughter, in remotest Springs.

“Dad is chill,” Nettie reports.

“You mean he doesn’t force you to get off your phone and go to bed at a reasonable hour,” I say. “That’s what chill means in this context.”

“No, no,” she says, very loudly — so he can hear — while simultaneously nodding forcefully and grinning like a cat.


Day Three.

Nothing in the Queequeg trap.

It is warm, which is fortuitous, as we need to keep all the doors and windows open for maximum ventilation. I consider the ancient concepts of fresh air and healthiness; the Victorian concept of a miasma, and the vapors that might carry plague or fever.

At 11:30 a.m., Rudy Giuliani holds a press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping of Holmesburg, northeast Philadelphia. He is still talking when the Associated Press — as it has done since 1848, when the Trump family still lived in obscurity in the Kingdom of Bavaria — projects the winner of the election: Joe Biden.

Teddy and I go out into the front yard to do stretching exercises in the sunshine. The other new neighbor, the wife, drives by and waves just as I am leaning over my right leg, which is propped up on the bumper of our Honda, and my pants are riding down.

I press 2: no symptoms. “Eleven days of monitoring remain.”

Paul, my ex, comes to put up the storm windows on the house while Teddy reads “Auggie and Me” in the hammock and I take Nettie to a friend’s 13th birthday party on Merchants Path. An outing!

The birthday-party moms decide to ditch the party midway through so we can take the girls to join a car parade that goes honking down Main Street, Bridgehampton, and then honking up the Turnpike, making as much noise as possible — hazard lights flashing, teenagers screaming “Joe!” from the open sunroof — and then honking over to Sag Harbor. Patrons pour out of the restaurants. Lights are flashed on and off, on and off, behind the plate-glass windows of the stores.


Day Four. Nothing in the Queequeg trap.

I give up and carry the Queequeg trap back inside the house.

Still warm. More stretching exercises at midday, but this time in the backyard, not the front, as Teddy and I have both reached the stage where we mutually but silently decide not to change out of our pajamas at all.

A sparrow flies in through the open front door and whirls around the living room, banging into the windows, for a while before escaping.

Later, during a Zoom meeting, I watch from the window as our dog, Sweet Pea, saunters out the open front door and down the lane toward Main Street.

Teddy has ramen for dinner.

Am I failing as a parent?

Sitting in my makeshift bed on the slippery leather couch, I stay up until 1 a.m. laughing so hard I hurt myself as I read Twitter comments about Four Seasons Total Landscaping of northeast Philadelphia. I buy a Four Seasons Total Landscaping commemorative tote bag, with proceeds to the Senate runoff in Georgia. I fall asleep hearing the Smashing Pumpkins lyric “Today’s the greatest day I’ve ever known” in my head.


Day Five. Still warm.

The eagle that I saw circling over the East Hampton Star building on Election Day and then flying north up Main Street has returned. From the upstairs bathroom, I see it turning in the sky above the flagpole on the town green.

A news report on BuzzFeed claims that “furries” — people who like to dress as plush animals — are congregating at a virtual-reality version of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, dancing in their bear and rabbit costumes.

The attorney general of the United States announces that the Department of Justice will investigate “substantial allegations” of voter fraud. Allegations, yes. Evidence? Still no word on that by dinnertime.

The BBC News says that 105,930 Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19 today, including three who attended an election-night party at the White House.

In the evening, I leave Teddy alone in the house to walk the dog around the far side of Town Pond. It is dark around Town Pond tonight — no landscape lighting, far preferable in my opinion. I love the dark. I love the wind coming in hard from the south. Sweet Pea barks at the white mist rolling down Mill Hill. It’s quiet enough that you can hear dry leaves hitting other dry leaves as they fall.

I push numeral 2 to reply. “Nine more days of monitoring remain.

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