An apocalypse is brewing. The adult-toothed news anchors lunged at the television, eating their scripts and roundhouse kicking their directors, shouting at us civilians to stock up on Campbell’s Spaghetti Canned Pasta, juicy, ripe potatoes, and fresh baby corn before the Second Coming. So Mami and I, we trek to the Whole Foods in Union Square on a Saturday, tugging along an Ikea laundromat bag, mosquito repellent, dry figs, a yellow raincoat, and my brother.
Outside, the wind wonks plastic bags and spatters them in potholes. A wood duck hits an external car mirror and explodes into a carcass. The neighborhood Maine Coon who normally hides behind recycling bins abducts a squirrel. The biome warns of an omen of impending doom with a gaze as blank and pitiless as the winter sun and yet we trek on, complacent with the pandemic being a “just China-thing” at the moment but also feeling like the main characters in a Tom Cruise apocalypse film victim to dramatic irony. At the Whole Foods, Mami whispers for me to go find a few cartons of chicken-flavored Cup Noodles, maple syrup (the zero sugar one), and toilet paper. In the paper goods aisle, naked shelves, one homosapien, hauling away, in the arch of his elbow, the last jumbo Charmin Ultrastrong box. I sprint for the ramen and produce aisles, fearing that the Cup Noodles and alphonso mangoes were also licked clean, some primitive instinct mixed with the human-made buzz of impending catastrophe telling me that it’s either I gather half a year’s supply of food, or I perish.
After Saint Patty’s day, they canceled school until further notice. Ms. Superintendent bathed us in mineral rose water and assured us that the decision to close is simply a proactive measure made in conjunction with Health officials. Zoom University commenced on the next Tuesday. Mr. History and Ms. Math Teacher film themselves in front of a popcorn white wall stained yellow with cooking oil. In the background, their beagles and rottweilers bark at mailmen, their babies spit cinnamon oatmeal on the floor and throw forks at granite countertops, and their wives pursue their chatty Tuesday morning face mask routines. Mr. History waves the custom biker’s skin suit he mentioned being excited about getting a few weeks back, in front of his camera lens. I feel like a fungus.
It is strange to hear the voices of school people echo in my room, the holy chamber that I plop into when I come back from school and want to privately cry and sulk about a bad final exam presentation, or a failed Calculus test. An extension of my mind refuses to turn on my camera and allow school kids to notice the Valentine’s Day hearts pasted on my northern California coastline tapestry, the University of Chicago panorama hooked to my bulletin board, the photo booth reels documenting the times I painted my face like an e-girl and thought I looked hot, the “every evil plan needs an evil genius” sticky note on my eyebrow mirror.
Everyday, at 9:25 am, for fitness, I do planks, Russian twists, and push-ups on the hardwood floor of my room. My elbows and forearms burn into bruised checkerboards after day one and I wish for the mushy, marshmallow yoga mats stocked in my school’s fitness center. In Spanish, History, English, Physics, and every-other-class-on-the-face-of-the-planet, it’s worksheet after worksheet after worksheet. We are told that it is best to uphold the illusion of learning. So we turn and turn and persist.
Days mush together. I go blind to the distinct characteristics of school days, the weekends, classwork, and homework. I threw myself against the parlor window yesterday when I realized that I have not left the nine rooms of my house for a month. I used to plop outside at least twice a day to retrieve fresh mail, but the prospect of being in direct contact with corona germs has made me a prisoner of my own self imposed (and, in some ways, mandatory) hermitage.
I refuse to melt into a couch potato, binging every possible French film and bearded dragons National Geographic documentary, and so I occupy myself in writing narratives about spunky, free explorers and pulling the ears and legs of my brother (we fought the other day on who had the right to the last blood orange).
Meanwhile, the schoolwork piles, and the close proximity of college application season stirs anxiety. The SAT lords hung juniors over a boiling jug of magma when they canceled the March exam, and I roll whispered, selfish prayers to God at night, saying that I wish for this isolation to end so that I am not left to mellow the fear of my future in solitary confinement.
I want to poke my friends again but the mantra six foot distance, six foot distance, six foot distance, social distancing, please, degeneratoes (!), thrums a constant reminder of my mandatory desolation. Little celebrities try to tell me that they, too, are suffering in quarantine with their seagaia ocean domes and private spas and I laugh out loud at a screen.
I eat, tolerate school, lounge around in a blanket burrito, listen to the yells of those who are dying outside of my bubble (and, consequently, feel like a fruitless sack of meat), tune in for the daily address of the Coronavirus taskforce, and then sit and sit and sit and sit and sit. #QuarantineRoutine. All while the men on television lollygag, they’re so bumfuzzled. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy feels as if it is about to be loosed upon the world.
Author’s Note: This piece contains allusions to William Butler Yeat’s Second Coming, which is now in the public domain. This poem has been coming to mind a lot recently and, in my opinion, mirrors the rooted fear of the coronavirus pandemic perfectly.