Wissot: Weird people are used to this
You are practicing social isolation for the first time. I am not. I’ve always found it easy to not be with other people. It’s the way I’ve lived my life.
As a child, I made few friends. I used to believe I didn’t know how. That wasn’t true. I knew how. I just didn’t want to. I preferred my own company.
When I was 8, my parents joined a neighborhood YMCA for the summer because it had a pool. They thought it would be a way of getting out of our stiflingly hot and humid Bronx apartment.
My father, mother and sister went every day they could. I never went once. I was preoccupied with playing a fantasy baseball game I invented involving player cards, a ruler and a button. I’d hit the button with the ruler and where it landed on my bedroom floor determined whether it was a single, double, triple or an out. If the button landed on the window sill and stuck it was a home run.
I stayed in my bedroom all summer and into the fall. After school as the daylight dimmed, I turned on the room lights for night games. I ate supper in my room brought to me on a tray.
I was one happily weird kid.
As I got older, I left my bedroom and made friends. I played on basketball and baseball teams. I liked the social connections school provided. I became girl crazy. I behaved like everybody else but I didn’t feel like everybody else. I became anxious after a few hours with people. I felt the urge to pull away and return to the privacy I craved.
Perhaps the period of my life where I felt the most peace and serenity was when I was in my late 20s researching my Ph.D. dissertation. I would ride my bike early in the morning to the university library and return home late in the afternoon. I spent the day stuck in a carrel with a pile of books and a slew of notecards. It was blissful. I could read and think and write for hours at a time. I didn’t have to converse or socialize with anybody.
I lead a fairly normal life today. Normal for me. Abnormal for you. My wife Alyn helps me be social. We have a close-knit group of friends who we have maintained relationships with for decades. We like going to dinner with other couples. We enjoy parties and holiday gatherings.
I find the socializing stimulating but only up to a point. After several hours, my comfort level diminishes and I long to escape to the safety of solitude.
We left our condo in Vail Village to go back to our place in downtown Denver the week before the COVID-19 virus hit Eagle County with a gut punch. If we are going to get really sick, far better for it to happen in Denver. I would have felt guilty if it happened while we were in Vail.
Not surprisingly, my life has changed very little since a shelter-in-place order was issued a month ago. I’m following the same routine that I always follow. I read. I write. I run. It’s almost identical to the life hamsters lead by running in a cage on a tiny hamster treadmill except for the reading and writing part and the fact that I don’t do my running on a tiny treadmill in a cage.
Having Alyn with me for company prevents my abnormalities from imprisoning me in my own mind. Because she is around to discuss the news, stream movies and share chores, I can direct my thoughts away from my thoughts.
We are both well aware of how fortunate we are. We don’t have work that requires us to leave our place. We work from home. We know that if you are a health worker or a police officer or a delivery driver or a garbage collector or a janitor, you don’t have that luxury.
We are not worried about paying our bills. We aren’t like so many families facing a financial crisis caused by a national health crisis. We are also empty nesters with no elderly relatives to care for. We are the elderly relatives. Our life together is very pandemic-friendly.
We know the worst is yet to come. We know the death toll will rise to unconscionable numbers. We also know this will end someday; we just don’t know when that day will be.
But when that day comes, I will, like you, rejoice and be thankful to be alive.
And then I will have a good laugh at my expense knowing that sheltering in place is what I have been doing all my life.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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