Update from Italy: Day 11 of General QuarANXIETY

Photo by Damien TUPINIER on Unsplash

We’re in Day 11 of general quarantine here in Florence, although the real worry at our house began somewhere around February 20 or 21, when the Zona Rossa included a handful of seemingly very unfortunate smaller towns in the far north of Italy. Far, far away. How quickly the days fluttered forward, like the calendar in Citizen Kane or some other old timey movie where the passage of the fifth dimension seemed to warp and fast forward, then rewind. Our family has been on high alert since the week of February 18. Thirty-one days ago. One long month ago. Italian fatalities now outpace China’s. We lost a breathtaking 627 people today. The numbers keep going up. We knew they would, with the incubation period and the symptomatic progression. It’s just awful to see our worst fears unfolding. This wave will wash up everywhere.

The readership on my posts has plummeted. I suspect everyone in the U.S. came to their senses, stopped gawking, and made a shopping list, and are now coping with the same rapidly evolving set of circumstances that we most recently moved through. The first awareness, the curiosity, then wonder, the doubt, the denial, the jokes (THE JOKES, jesus, no more jokes please) baby steps, bigger steps, biggest steps, mass intervention, a playground cordoned off with laminated signs, AVVISO COVID-19 VIETATO ENTRARE. (Public notice, Covid-19, Forbidden Entry.) I have been thinking about what post might be most helpful on your timeline as you start moving more quickly into this future where we now find ourselves, a world that Spain and now France are waking up to, and the UK is not far behind.

The back and forth, the helplessness and worry, the funneling of all constructive energy into household chores, the increasing realization of what new world we’ve entered into, have all contributed to a diffuse sense of quaranxiety.

The symptoms of quaranxiety are manifest. I will here describe some of them.

You may wake up in the morning and forget what day it is. You will note the sun is shining and birds are singing, but you cannot go outside without a permission slip. You will look longingly outside. You will try, and probably fail, to refrain from checking too much news online. Your heart will sink as the fatalities from yesterday look even worse. So many. So many more cases ready to tip into the abyss. So many positives that might become severe.

You check in with your WhatsApp group but it does little to soothe the motor in your heart that is running in fifth gear. Your left eyebrow is still twitching. The kids have been out of school for over two weeks and the end is nowhere in sight, for them, for anyone. There is whining followed by a heartbreakingly tender camaraderie. There are occasional WhatsApp video playdates that your younger child can no longer manage because they depress her. She misses her friends so.

You make lunch. You own that laundry like it’s never been owned before. You start sorting out every nook and cranny in the house. Your inner farmwife begins to despair at a lambing season lost and the chickens refuse to lay. Your husband comes back from the grocery run with interesting choices because that’s what was available. You ask him, then beg him, to go to the grocery store less frequently, to reduce exposure for everyone.

Oh, you’ll do a little work. For ten minutes everything will seem normal, then the kids will start complaining they’re hungry and want a snack, or you’ll feel guilty they’ve been tucked away in some corner with a tablet for hours. For brief moments, lost in a task, you’ll forget the bigger picture. Then you’ll remember and it’s like someone punched you in the stomach, then made you swallow an ice ball. The army convoys taking bodies away. The cremations that can’t happen quickly enough to keep pack with demand. The families without funerals. The hospitals waving their own white flags. The doctors and staff lost to the virus.

Reading English language news last week was schizophrenic. We were living the reality, had been for two weeks, and the UK and US were making jokes about it, doubting it, hoax theories galore. The herd immunity will take care of things, said the albino banana. We’ve already taken care of everything, zero cases, said the radioactive yam.

The little heart that beats and beats, today for sure, tomorrow we hope. You begin to read books about the Plague in fourteen century Europe, and the citizens of Florence really sound sound … a lot like they always have. They pray. They plan pilgrimages, they give alms, they stay home, they worry. They try to distract and distance themselves. But disease seems to always nip at their heels, and luck doesn’t hold out for everyone.

And yet in the middle of this mess, some small miracles seem to be happening. Even though you are anxious and worried, you are somehow more relaxed. Your family is with you. The world is outside. People have been through things before. This is how history happens. Thinks are okay for now. Maybe history will find you more acutely tomorrow. You hope not, but what agency have we in all this? This moment, then another moment. There are ten rolls of toilet paper in the apartment. Now nine, because your eight-year-old has batted one into the toilet. It is okay. Every now and then you get a glimpse of beauty and truth and strength that, let’s face it, you didn’t see every day. You were just so busy.

You thought your heart was abuzz with bees
Filled with fear for the stings
but no! your heart was a hive, alive
Filled not with fear but honey.

Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash