The big punchlines of the coronavirus crisis so far are toilet paper and sourdough. Bread baking is the cliché that launched a thousand memes. “How did the pandemic become the Great Caucasian Sourdough Bake-Off?” they joked on Twitter.
It occurs to me that the portion of the American populace that got the biggest chuckle from the breadfest of 2020 — the comic spectacle of coastal elites trading sourdough starter in hasty back-alley exchanges and displaying photos of triumphal loaves on Instagram — may not know why we were all baking in March and April: It wasn’t because we were trend victims, but because, in the places hit hardest in that first wave, we couldn’t get bread any other way.
Have we really forgotten the closed supermarkets and broken supply lines so soon?
In the spirit of New Year’s accounting, and things we want to remember, I present you here with 10 flashbacks from lockdown — a collage of moving images, in impressionistic order:
Scene one. A moment that I hope will eventually shift itself out of the “humiliation!” category of memory and into the “laughing about it” category: the day in December when I yelled at my children while unmuted during a Zoom meeting. One kid was standing by my right shoulder demanding a vanilla milkshake from John Papas Cafe, the other was by my left badgering me for the iPad password . . . and 39 public-health supervisors, in home offices from Great River to Albany, heard my snarled response, a chiding that went on for a full 60 seconds before I realized that a colleague was gently clearing his throat to get my attention. At least I had my pants on.
Scene two. June. Working ‘round midnight in our guest room on a podcast about what it’s like to be a volunteer emergency medical technician during a pandemic, and having to halt recording because the Euro-techno music and tequila-fueled bellowing from the neighbors’ dance party was so loud it came thumping through the closed bedroom windows. Turning the light on inside the closet and sitting cross-legged on the floor among the shoes, pressing start again on the recorder, but the hysterical shouts of partiers downing shots of Don Julio 1942 still piercing the closet door and filling my headphones.
Scene three. My first official coronavirus call on the ambulance. Being scared in a way that we aren’t scared anymore. Scared as you are scared of a monster, an alien. Speeding off to Southampton in the back of the rig, noting the appearance of the patient — waxy-pale, sweaty hair, shivering, learning to recognize that as the Covid Look. Holding a basin for the patient when he threw up. Later that night, having a nightmare in which I tried to tilt my body away from the patient as I held the basin and little, springy, animated spike shapes — with sticky suction feet — glued themselves to my clothes, springing back instantly as I brushed them off my arms and chest.
Four. Cajoling my kids into their old playroom to watch the “Disney Family Singalong” on April 16, so we could belt “Let It Go” from “Frozen” for old-time’s sake in an uplifting moment of togetherness and optimism, only to have them sneer at the screen and wander away, leaving me sitting alone on a beanbag chair singing “The Monkey Song” from “Jungle Book.”
Five. Passover Seder with my ex-husband and the kids. Intended as a monotony-breaking feast and edifying cultural experience. Enlisting them in the making of haroset. Laying the table with our best gold-rimmed Copeland Spode bone china. Then, while I was at the oven, my 11-year-old son helping himself to two full glasses of Seder wine, announcing that the room was spinning, running into the living room, attempting to vault over the couch, and toppling head-first over the coffee table.
Six. Getting a delivery from Cromer’s Market, unpacking brown bags of groceries in the chilly yard, and dipping each packet and box of food in a warm pail of water-and-bleach solution before taking the food inside.
Seven. Drive-bys. A silent drive-by memorial service in Sag Harbor with a half-mile of cars in slow procession past our friends’ house as they stood in the front yard. A drive-by “thank you” to the workers at Southampton Hospital, who stood outside in personal protective gear as lights flashed and sirens whined on fire trucks and ambulances as first responders circled the block, honking and honking and honking.
Eight. Daffodils. Waiting for them to bloom, needing some yellow in the gray gloom of early spring. Walking the dog among the daffodils on Dayton Lane, and dragging her by the leash to the other side of the street when a blond jogger chugged into view, huffing and puffing. The dangerous exhale of strangers. Carrying an old drafting table into the living room as a makeshift desk for my daughter and placing a vase of yellow daffodils on it in April.
Nine. Coming home in the rain to discover two overstuffed shopping bags from Round Swamp Farm, filled with homemade meals and groceries, with a note pinned to it saying it was for my mom and her husband, Chris. The women of Round Swamp. They drove around town giving away thousands of dollars’ worth of groceries to elderly customers — the greatest kindness during the darkest hour.
Ten. In the very first week, when we woke astonished, getting an email from an old friend in Budapest, Peter Josvai, asking me to use my podcast equipment to record in English his script of poetic narration for a short art video he had made about the disappearance of people from airports, parks, cinemas — the transformation of the world, the emptying of the world — overnight between March 11 and March 12:
The virus taking over our public spaces,
all of them, everywhere,
from Australia to northernmost Norway,
Really, and physically, everywhere.
Although it was happening at molecular scale, it was immense.
It changed our world from one moment to the next.
I used to love being at the airports, ever since I was a kid.
I loved traveling, loved culture, loved humane communication,
Art and beauty, music and friendships and all.
I couldn’t believe what had happened
It took me some time to even admit that it actually had,
that it had actually happened.
The world had changed
it was already a different world that morning
I only didn’t see it.