We Can’t Comprehend This Much Sorrow
May 25, 2020 5:27 PM   Subscribe

History’s first draft is almost always wrong — but we still have to try and write it. "This year has been a blur, but I remember one day clearly: Sunday, March 8. It was the last day I ate at a restaurant, the last day I went to a concert (Red Baraat at the Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass.) and the last day I hugged a friend. It was also the first time I thought that I should begin writing about what was going on." Teju Cole opens his COVID-19 diary to all.
posted by Ahmad Khani (30 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
"...where the unscathed can’t quite believe the wounded..."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:39 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]

Huh, Teju Cole and I were at the same show.

This is good.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:46 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

I was at the Sinclair for Radical Face on the 7th. MA declared quarantine on the 10th. The virus had probably been in the area for weeks before we all self-isolated. My wife and I were talking with friends about how we thought it was coming East from the West Coast like it was a nor’easter carried on the cold winds from Canada. We didn’t realize until later that it probably came in from Europe.

This afternoon, some friends came by for 9 foot apart cocktails in our condo garden. They brought their own drinks. We ate our own food. We shared conversation. They said that the last thing that they did before quarantine was a spur of the moment road trip to Montreal. We thought that it was odd icebreaker for our times. What was the last thing that you did before everything changed?

I remember the week before, dealing with monitoring the Super Tuesday election traffic for my job, then taking the day off to walk around town with my wife. We got breakfast at a little diner that I wanted to check out. We poked our heads into the Museum of Fine Arts to check out a jewelry exhibit only to realize we had seen it a couple of months earlier. I remember there was talk about a quarantine or a shelter in place coming, but neither of us thought that this would be the last concert for a while. The last stroll to a museum. The last diner breakfast.

I remember getting an offer to take my oath of citizenship in February and asking to have it postponed so that I could keep working on ensuring that our systems were ready for Super Tuesday. It was rescheduled to 3/18 and postponed indefinitely on the 16th. It will come. Sooner or later. As all things will. It may be different than it was. But it will come. I have to believe this.
posted by bl1nk at 6:18 PM on May 25 [11 favorites]

What was the last thing that you did before everything changed?

I was at karaoke on March 10, on the same night that the Skagit Valley Choir was having rehearsal and everyone was coming down with it despite all of their precautions. I seriously must have gotten lucky that night since as far as I know nobody's come down with it that I've been in touch with. We had wipes in use for the last two weeks but otherwise were still operating as normal, singing in groups, etc. I felt the sense of impending doom, like this was the last time I'd ever see anybody. It technically hasn't been since I saw the DJ and his daughter yesterday, but I feel like I seriously may never see other people again otherwise. Definitely the last time I got to hug anyone or hang out with friends.

I have a list of the last things I did and the last dates that I saw various people. I have been journalling as well.

I want to believe, but every time I see another article saying there will probably never, ever be a vaccine and this is never going to end...

I'm gonna go get another drink.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:04 PM on May 25 [3 favorites]

I was back home in Seattle during spring break just as the city began shutting down. I was mostly hanging out with family and friends so I didn't notice the lockdown too much until I was driving north on I-5 to Shoreline on Monday around 5pm and there was almost no traffic when normally it would've been a parking lot. It reminded me of getting into Tokyo just after the 2011 quake and everything was eerily dark and quiet - in a lot of ways this whole experience has reminded me of 2011. I feel like the last decade of my life has been a series of escalating disasters; I can't remember the last time I felt hopeful for the future.
posted by azuresunday at 7:17 PM on May 25 [7 favorites]

I don't remember anything specific that we did in early March. We went into social distancing on March 12. I started updating my blog daily the next week and have probably written something 65/75 days we've been locked down. Link is in my profile if you are looking for reading material. We've accepted that we aren't doing anything that involves a crowd the rest of this year, and probably next year too, depending on when we get a vaccine or something else happens to cause the virus spread to be much less of a concern.
posted by COD at 7:21 PM on May 25

I have tried to write most days since starting working from home, but the last couple of weeks have been difficult. The count keeps going up and up with no end in sight.

I knew that I would be spending a bit more time at home, what I did not plan on was the amount of unrelenting rage at the government and economy that has set us up for such spectacular failure. This is like an airline crashing every single day and people are fine with it, they're wearing N95 masks as bikinis, they're arguing that it's all a hoax.

Maybe I should script something to just randomly type swearing for 1,000-3,000 words a day and call it good.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:42 PM on May 25 [15 favorites]

The last time I sat down at a restaurant was on March 14th — 314 Day, St. Louis Day — and it felt right to go to a local place. It was a Saturday at noon and we walked right up to the counter. Seoul Taco in the Loop I’m a Saturday and we walked up to the counter, no line. That was the first like, “we probably shouldn’t be here.”

That week at work we started to prepare to close campus to everyone. We worked two solid weeks of hell. Covid wasn’t really in St. Louis yet, except for two rich assholes who had it and went out to a dance after the state asked them to stay home. But we knew it was coming. At the end of the next week we had no students on campus, and that Friday there were three cars in the parking garage with mine. I had been taking lightrail, but for that two weeks I drove to work, and what could be a 40 minute in traffic morning drive was suddenly 20 minutes. That Friday, no one was on the road.

Staying home is fine. It’s fine. We have the space, we have a prettt sweet internet connection. The commute is nice. But all of it feels so futile, so pointless. I’m help desk, and every day I reset passwords and set up accounts and it all feels so pointless. 100,000 people are dead. What are we doing?
posted by gc at 7:47 PM on May 25 [15 favorites]

I haven't had a single close friend or family get infected with or die from COVID-19 yet. I remind myself every day that I've dodged a lot of bullets during this crisis. My parents are in their late 50s, my grandmother is in her late 80s. Two prime COVID-19 death groups. I'm lucky that my family back home in Western Australia had a government that was fully responsive and has now seen community transmission vanish. I'm lucky that my family in California are privileged enough to make it through without having to expose themselves. It's a Karmic debt that I'll never be able to repay.

100,000 people are dead. What are we doing?

Whatever we can. The world is made up of so many interconnected parts and it's on each of us to try and both stay alive and keep those parts moving as best they can. If you're not there to reset passwords and set up accounts then the people who depend on you can't do their job. If they can't do their job, the business starts to fail. When the business starts to fail more dominoes start to fall and the system has to again readjust itself precariously.

Even though I don't know it for sure and even though I don't get to see the results for myself, I just do what I can to stay home. You could say I do this out of faith. The faith that the decisions I make to not do things have a butterfly effect and let someone else who would have otherwise had to roll the dice instead come out guaranteed winning. It's the combined effect of all of these dice rolls being turned into as many automatic wins as possible that are going to save as many people as possible. People are starting to slip because masks are giving us a false sense of security. We need to be as economical as possible with our social interactions for months to come yet. Our mission now is to not fail those who don't have a choice or can't afford to be failed.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:14 PM on May 25 [19 favorites]

I was between jobs 2009-2011, sorta working on my own stuff but mostly wasting my life online, so life now is a lot like that time of being outside the loop: ~22 hours/day in my bedroom office, either at the computer or sleeping.

40M people have filed for UE benefits in the 10 weeks since early March, while the worst of the 2008-2009 layoffs were ~600,000/wk.

I really didn't think Trump could fuck things up as bad as Bushco did 2001-2007 . . . what's beating me down most is the militant idiocy we're seeing from the conservative side these days. It's like that "Get a Brain Morans" guy from '03 ^100.

I guess the current conflict is really a proxy fight on AGW, and, deep down, secular humanism.

Here's hoping the scientists and politicians were wrong and the doorknob lickers among us can return to their hobby.

I get a sense here in California that continued "Phase One" shutdowns are simply fiscally unsustainable, even though daily case #s are running 20-50/day where I am, vs. the 0-3/day when we were all sent home in mid-March.

If the epidemiology is the same in June vs. April (unclear as temps are hitting the 100s here now) either the March-May shutdown was an overreaction like the other side is asserting, or we're about to enter a very nasty stage of the pandemic.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:16 PM on May 25 [6 favorites]

One of the biggest problems is they only get one shot to reopen. If they reopen then cases balloon despite masks and social distancing and the state has to go back into complete lockdown they'll never get the sane people out a second time. It'll be a much slower rebuilding of the economy and more distrust towards authorities.

I really hope beyond hope that masks + social distancing will be enough for those that have to and those who choose to go out.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:21 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]

We took a low-key vacation that week. It increased our (and, in hindsight, other people's) risk, but it was so clearly a last chance before the crisis that we went ahead and did it, and I am glad that we did. The biggest stress was wondering if some sort of internal travel lockdown would be imposed and leave us stranded; we actually came back early because of all the speculation about that. We ate out a few times, but that was already starting to seem like a bad idea so we mostly just took long walks and felt subdued in the calm before the storm (though we had no idea how bad it would turn out to be).

Cole's writing is always really good and this is no exception, thank you for posting this.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:23 PM on May 25

If they reopen then cases balloon despite masks and social distancing and the state has to go back into complete lockdown they'll never get the sane people out a second time.

I would like to think that the sane people aren't going out right now, but the idiots are going to end up sick and/or dead just from this second wave that will inevitably come just from this weekend. Survival of the fittest? Darwin Awards? Who knows.

All the reopenings are about money, more or less. We are in no state in any state to be doing this at all and it seems pretty proven that people going into, say, churches, even with masks and social distancing, are coming down with it en masse. It seems pointless to open up for a few weeks and then everyone will have to inevitably shut down due to deaths again, but here we go.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:41 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

[Hey folks, gentle nudge, let's leave the general coronavirus-prediction blarg for another thread and try to steer this back in the direction of Cole's piece or diaries/personal observations/literature of this time.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:52 PM on May 25 [10 favorites]

I got dumped the same week that everything shut down. Covid19 utterly eclipsed the breakup. And since our relationship took place in a totally different world than the one we all live in now, it feels like those memories are from eons ago.

I’m at that stage where I want to start dating again. Dunno how THAT is going to work.

I was very afraid at first, there was so much uncertainty. Now, I’ve settled into the new routine. The status quo is...not great, but I also have become so hypersensitive to change that there’s a big part of me that just wants things to stay the same for a while. The devil I've come to know, I guess.
posted by rue72 at 9:50 PM on May 25 [11 favorites]

I've been waiting so much for new writing from Teju Cole and this is great. Thank you for posting. It's helping make sense of what's going on, even as we know but don't know.
posted by blue shadows at 10:06 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

The last thing in The Before Times was going with boyfriend to see Clan of Xymox on March 10th. Then my eldest daughter’s paternal grandfather died of COVID-19 on just a week later on March 17th and I no longer have a boyfriend because I’m a vulnerable person and he turned out to be a Covidiot.
posted by _paegan_ at 11:35 PM on May 25 [9 favorites]

What was the last thing that you did before everything changed?

Laughed with the checker at Costco on Friday, February 28th about how glad I was to get the Costco run done before “the flu” got here. The next day was the first public announcement of a C19 death in the US.

Generally speaking, my distributed family has done well and adhered to social isolation. But a couple weeks ago my California-resident 90-plus year old father in law fell ill with gastrointestinal issues and was hospitalized. He has tested negative for C19 several times. My wife couldn’t bear it and traveled to be there, in my view placing him, herself, and our family at risk: an airplane must be presumed infected, as it cannot be demonstrated uninfected.

I am expected to travel south as well, shortly. It’s totally unclear to me that my wife understands that she is asking me to kill her dad, but that’s exactly how I understand it. I am not happy.
posted by mwhybark at 11:50 PM on May 25 [5 favorites]

We were scheduled to move house 2 days after lockdown (we got 2 days warning), some stuff had already been moved, our lockdown was much deeper than California's - I went out once for a flu jab. We've lived in a house full of boxes for the past 2 months .... we started to come out about 3 weeks ago here in New Zealand and could have moved last week, instead we decided to get the house painted, get the wiring to charge the car put in etc, mostly to put some money back into the local economy to help get stuff restarted ..... we have one more week of boxes and then we get to move

As I said we locked down really fast and very deeply, and we started closing the border earlier, it seems to have ended up meaning we can come out quickly too.
posted by mbo at 12:54 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

One of the very last things that happened to me before everything locked down was somehow managing to get promoted at work. I say "somehow", but it turns out that management found my having a lucrative job offer from somewhere else a really compelling argument for bumping me up the ladder a bit. I felt a tiny bit mercenary, but not very sorry.

The other thing that I'm still kind of kicking myself over is that during that same week my boss was clearing out his storage room and gave me his old original PlayStation 2 and a massive pile of games. I forgot to bring it all home and they're currently sitting in my desk at work where I can't get to them. Bleah.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:23 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

February 29- my mother broke her hip, so the news from early March was a blur.

March 10- my daughters called to tell me they were being sent home from college. One was happy, knowing she would graduate; the other was in despair because she needs summer school to graduate.

March 13- my mother was sent from the hospital to a nursing home/rehab. They took her in, and then said we could not accompany her. That was a shock, and we made them bring her back out so we could explain it to her. Her stay was horrible, but at first we felt it was the safest place for her.

April 10- took Mom out of rehab, knowing it was not safe at all. She is 83 and fragile.

I am used to a life of solitude, working from home. Since the lockdown, I am coordinating three unemployed college students and intense elder care in two towns. I've been busy, but still holding the family away from the world, for the most part.
posted by Miss Cellania at 5:29 AM on May 26 [12 favorites]

But here, where everything is divided, where the unscathed can’t quite believe the wounded, the levity sounds like anything but solidarity. Covid-19 was initially heralded as a great equalizer, and there was some evidence of this in some countries. But it arrived in America and immediately became American: classist, capitalist, complacent.
oof. And being isolated from each other we can't see the suffering of others and instead turn inwards.

I will need to keep coming back to the other writings below this one, there is a lot to soak in here.
posted by freethefeet at 5:42 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

On March 7 I took my 15 year old out for brunch with some of my friends, to get together with some folks who were here from out of town. The conversation was already about coronavirus and we all were a little uneasy. That was the last time I hugged a friend.

Two months later, one of those out-of-town visitors, a woman in her late 50s, was in the middle of a "mild" but awful course of coronavirus. Her husband (55) had it much worse, should probably have been hospitalized, but stuck it out at home and eventually recovered. His brother and his elderly mother also had it too. The men had tried to get their mother out of an assisted living center before she caught it but were too late. It's now end May and they've all recovered, thank goodness.

These are the folks closest to me in my social circle who've gotten sick but they're geographically distant, 3 hours drive away. I'm in the Boston area and am well aware that many people much geographically closer have it. My two kids and I stay pretty well cloistered. Last Friday the weather was nice so we had a picnic dinner at a big local park and leaving the house for an outing felt like Christmas.

My college student moved home abruptly on March 21. His small liberal arts school in the middle of a city on the west coast is planning to reopen in the fall and I have no fucking clue how that's actually going to work. The only thing that makes this remotely workable in my mind is that he's in upperclass housing and will have his own bathroom. This is nuts. Having my kid go to college so far away in general was bearable to me because I have many friends in that city, where I lived for a long time, but now the idea of calling on friends to help out my kid in a pinch is a whole different thing. I hope he doesn't go. Putting off those conversations until later in the summer as things become more clear.

I got a cat in mid April. On one hand, nutty to add another mouth to feed in the household, as I'm pretty sure that the economy has not yet even begun to bottom out. On the other hand, God, he's great to have around. A new romance that looked great in February and March cratered out when the shutdown came on. Having a new pet around relieves a surprising amount of the loneliness and touch hunger. Being a middle aged cat lady ain't so bad.

My job looks safe for now but I'm acting as if it'll evaporate in the next year and trying to prepare for that eventuality. Spent some time getting ducks in a row in the event I sick out and my kids need to know how to deal while I hopefully recover. Got my health care proxy, HIPAA authorization, and living will in place, laid out financial information in a safe place. Stuffed the pantry.

I work in the pharma industry so I'm well aware of the efforts to find therapies and vaccines and that heartens me. I'm proud of the way Massachusetts has rallied and Charlie Baker is doing it about as well as anyone can. The federal response infuriates me on so many levels I can hardly speak about it. The US has more expertise in any and every area that touches this issue and we squandered all of it. ALL OF IT. So furious.
posted by Sublimity at 5:43 AM on May 26 [8 favorites]

I went on a really nice date on March 8 with my then-girlfriend. We were going to go to a craft fair and the movies, but I didn't think that was safe, so we had a picnic and took a long walk in the woods and then watched a movie at her place. I don't remember the movie, but I remember being entangled together on her couch, breathing together in time. I knew it was the last time I would be with another human or out of my house for a very long time, but she didn't really fully grasp what was coming, and I didn't tell her. I also felt sure we wouldn't last a lockdown; it would be the last time I held her close. It seems that I was unfortunately right. She walked me to my car and we looked at the stars. I cried on the drive home.
posted by k8lin at 5:45 AM on May 26 [13 favorites]

I went to a job interview up in Boston on March 13th. Traffic driving up from Providence was a dream. The interview went well, we made a joke of doing elbow bumps instead of handshakes, and they apologized for not giving me the option to do a zoom interview, everything had just moved so fast.

After the interview, I got Vietnamese food from a serve yourself buffet and met my partner who worked in Boston for his lunch break, realizing too late that a buffet was probably ill advised. I thought about walking around in Boston or something while I was there, but ended up just heading home.

That was Friday. By the end of the day on Monday, everything had closed, my partner had lost his job, the job I'd interviewed for had evaporated, and buffets had become a thing of the past.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:44 AM on May 26 [5 favorites]

I no longer have a boyfriend because I’m a vulnerable person and he turned out to be a Covidiot.

I'm so sorry. To go from relationship to isolation and losing the partner at the same time must be really hard. Let me know if you need someone to talk or just vent to.

Having a new pet around relieves a surprising amount of the loneliness and touch hunger. Being a middle aged cat lady ain't so bad.

I have a calico snoozing next to me in her cat bed on my workstation table. Both my girls have been really helpful during the isolation but Ginger is the one that spends all day in a vigil by me.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:58 AM on May 26 [4 favorites]

I started a google doc and quickly bailed on it as I realized I was just cataloging every possible symptom I think I might have. I'm in my 50's and in close to the best shape of my life but I've never been terribly healthy and am prone to catching everything so I just in general spend a lot time feeling things that seem like covid-19 symptoms even before covid-19 existed. I still wonder on occasion if we have already had a mild version of it but are operating on the much more reasonable assumption that we have not.

(My last meal out was for my birthday on Feb. 18th and it was a place I had wanted to go to for years - a Korean dive bar with chicken buldak. It was terrible. One of the worst meal experiences I have had in Chicago. If I had known the aftertaste of that would last for years I would have immediately gone out again somewhere good, or even just anywhere, the next day!)

So mostly I have just been documenting by venting/arguing on the internet and concluding disagreements by saying "Regardless, I will try my best not to kill you" in hopes that I can shame others into acting the same way by providing them a positive role model of social caring.
posted by srboisvert at 8:02 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]

On the 8th of march, which was a Sunday, my friend's partner had come over from their town for the weekend, and I went for a walk in the city with them and another friend. I'd just been prescribed, for various reasons, the innovative remedy of 6 months worth of gym membership with coaching, and the gym was really nice, non macho, full of all ages and genders and non-competitive and had already started making a difference. I'd been down and having nightmares/anxiety etc. since the previous summer.

It was cold enough for coats but a very gorgeous, sunny, blue kind of early Spring day. News had been coming out of Italy about the seriousness of the Rona but there was absolutely no official response in the uk yet. The gym was still open though people there had begun putting sanitiser on their hands and wiping down equipment with it. I was at that time more cautious than anyone else I knew, and we greeted each other - really fond friends! - by waving and vaguely kicking a foot at each other, feeling a bit foolish. Then we went sauntering.

There was a lot of glare that day, with the low-in-the-sky sun of Spring. I kept thinking I had a fly buzzing round my head. Then I realised it was a very active sort of eye floater, and I could see rainbows flashing round the edges of my vision. At one point I walked into a tree. And had to be extricated, it was all hedged with pokey twigs! But with good enough friends that it was a jokey story, not in any way an embarrassment. The pleasure of the company, the bright colours, the funny little alleys and details of the walk, is still with me. 3 weeks into lockdown my friend went to stay with their partner in their town, which was the wisest decision both of them could have made.

I spent the next day at the eye hospital, having looked up my symptoms. I was checked over and sent home, told that nothing too bad had happened but to come back if my vision worsened, and not to jump about too much. So the gym was out and that decision was taken for me. Now of course all the gyms are closed.

In the course of the week, my sight did get worse, Cheltenham Races happened, my kids got on everyone's case about safety and precautions, and it became clear our government is ... as it is. I found the photos coming out of Cheltenham scary. Utter dereliction of duty scary. So there was no way I'd go back to the eye hospital, which I could have done for the rest of that week. Spouse also developed a health thing just when the GP had stopped seeing people in person (they did this for about 3 weeks, 2 weeks into lockdown) so it has been grumbling on with telephone consults and photographs exchanged.

It was a long slow trundle into lockdown (apart from the shopping, that was frenzied) nobody had any idea what they were doing and then gradually, things solidified and systems and fail safes were put into place. So odd to see streets deserted and businesses shut, and now, quite jarring to see them not so. Oddly as well, my dreams have been all about meeting old friends, going back to old haunts, visiting my parents, and they've been soothing.
posted by glasseyes at 12:49 PM on May 26 [7 favorites]

The last time I was in the office was March 13. The last thing I did was thoroughly water my office plants, thinking about asking my boss if I could work from home the following week. Over the weekend, things changed rapidly and we were told not to come in on Monday. Despite being succulents, my plants are certainly all dead by now. It's so trivial in comparison to everything else about the virus, but it still makes me sad.
posted by randomnity at 12:50 PM on May 26 [8 favorites]

I had invited three wonderful ladies for lunch on March 8th. One of them worked in China, and March 6th, she told us she was very ill. March 7th, after I had bought all the produce for our lunch and prepared some of it, I had a fever and a cough that wouldn't go away. March 9th, I called work and said we had to prepare for a lockdown.
I didn't think I had COVID-19, but did I? I called for a meeting March 11th, and while I didn't have a fever at that point, I did feel off when I went there. We kept a good distance, and one of us joked about the whole situation. He was later diagnosed with the virus.
When I came home and checked my mail, I saw that the entire country had been locked down.
posted by mumimor at 1:33 PM on May 26 [3 favorites]

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