United by Staying Away

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My friends and family are scattered all around the world. Our realities are usually very different — there is little to no overlap in our day-to-day events, weather, political news, even holidays. Today, however, we are all in the same boat. It has been bewildering and bizarre to observe the lives of my friends and family unfold against the backdrop of deserted streets, work from home guidelines, and empty shelves in grocery stores.

In southeastern US, my ex-boyfriend is battling the coronavirus. His disease follows the well-known pattern — dry cough, difficulty breathing, persistent fever, worsening of symptoms on days 7-9 followed by gradual improvement (fingers crossed) — but his test came back negative. I wonder what the false negative rate is for the standard COVID test. Do we even know? My ex’s boss is making him come into office this coming week, although this will likely delay recovery and lead to the further spread of the virus.

In eastern Europe, my family is waiting out the quarantine in the countryside. For once, I’m glad that my home country’s government is a semi-dictatorship: at least they can implement radical measures to prevent the spread of infection faster and less hesitantly than western governments. It was my dad’s 50th birthday last week. We had been planning a big celebration; I was supposed to take a week off to fly across the Atlantic and spend time with him and the rest of the family. Instead, I woke up early in the morning and Zoomed into a shared family call.

In the UK, my friend is starting a new job. She is lucky she was able to get this position — she hated her previous job, but without the work visa (which is tied to the employer) she and her partner would have been kicked out of the country. Facebook showed me a cute picture of her in front of her desk at home, with a monitor and a plant, along with a caption, “First day at work.” London has been on quarantine for almost a month now.

Elsewhere in Europe, another friend is trying to leave an abusive relationship. She managed to escape to another city, despite the fact that travel is virtually impossible. She misses her abusive boyfriend, and a part of her still wants to build a future with him. Right now, she has enough sense in her to stay away (plus, she can’t physically go back). Imagine if she had to self-isolate with him.

In central Asia, my extended family is only now starting to feel the impact of the virus. As soon as the country registered its first cases, the government closed down the cities. Cars with loudspeakers are patrolling the streets, broadcasting the message to stay at home. In the capital’s center, it’s the military trucks that are doing the patrolling. No private cars are allowed, and the public transportation is closed down. My cousins walk to deliver groceries to my grandma.

In northeastern US, I have been self-isolating for over four weeks. I am lucky that I can do all my work with just my laptop and will likely continue to get paid uninterrupted. I try to go on walks when it’s sunny outside, and my boyfriend goes out to get us groceries about once a week. It’s funny — we didn’t even use the boyfriend/girlfriend terms before the quarantine. It was supposed to be a casual relationship, and now here we are, spending time together 24/7. We cook meals together and watch TV in the evenings. Sometimes I feel guilty about how much I enjoy our quarantine routine.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the life of every single person I know. It is scary to know that we are all at risk — but this shared awareness has also given me an opportunity to connect with friends and family on a new, deeper level. Just like them, I am adjusting to this new reality of self-isolation. Just like them, I alternate between obsessively checking the news and trying to go about business as usual. Just like them, I continue to face other, non-pandemic-related issues in my personal and professional life. We are all under quarantine — and yet the act of staying away is a powerful force bringing us together.

This blog post was contributed anonymously. It is part of a series attempting to share different stories of individuals as they experience the coronavirus pandemic. Please be respectful of the views and beliefs of others if they are different than your own. If you have a story you would like to share (anonymously or not), please feel free to send me a message or comment here.

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