This essay by my MFA colleague Esmeralda Cabal is republished with permission from Understorey Magazine, where it recently appeared. Understorey provides an accessible and aesthetically beautiful venue that illuminates the life experiences f writers and artists in Canada who identify as women or non-binary.
Evenings of board games and laughter, intellectual discussions over dinner, days of drifting from reading to knitting to cooking elaborate meals and baking beautiful bread. Walks in the woods with my dog, the odd bike ride with my husband. Gardening in the sun. I had unrealistic expectations, perhaps, but this is what I dared imagine life in self-isolation might be, the four of us all together for the first time in years.
There have been elaborate meals—nettle risotto, roast leg of lamb, slow-roasted vegetables, homemade pasta. The bread has indeed been beautiful, thanks to the plethora of no-knead recipes out there now, and I’ve also made hot cross buns and nut loaves and cookies and yogurt. But discussions over dinner have often disintegrated into nit-picking and arguments, conflict over the Netflix account, and whose turn it is to walk the dog. Ah, the children are both home. Except they are no longer children.
I get it, life changed practically overnight for them, but also for us. The global pandemic caused us all to come to a pause and rethink our future in two-week blocks at a time.
Our daughter, at twenty-one, was in her last month of classes at university, about to graduate. The world was full of possibility. She had a few leads on jobs, a budding romance, and was looking forward to crossing the stage in cap and gown to collect her well-earned degree.
Our son, at twenty-five, was working and living with his girlfriend at a resort in the Rockies. It had been a cold winter and he was looking forward to spring skiing. They mapped out future adventures and dreamed dreams, their world full of possibility too.
And then, the new coronavirus we’d vaguely heard about became more prominent. It was proving to be more virulent than expected, more deadly than anticipated. The world reacted. We became familiar with terms like physical distancing, self-isolation, quarantine. Stores closed and we lined up for groceries, stocked up on hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes and toilet paper. The shortage of flour and yeast would come later.
There was the email from the president of the university—in-person classes were cancelled, graduation postponed indefinitely. Our daughter would finish her term, and write her exams, online. She and her friends lost their part-time jobs and, unable to pay rent, many returned home to different parts of Canada and the world. They didn’t have a chance to say good-bye in person. Some of them will likely never see each other again.
The budding romance came to an abrupt halt, the boy returning home to Ontario for the foreseeable future, our daughter staying in Vancouver with us. Now they talk and do crosswords and even workouts, all on Facetime. Love in the time of Covid.
The resort in the Rockies closed and staff were laid off. Our son’s girlfriend headed east, on a flight back to Ontario, to spend time with her parents. He drove west, to Vancouver, piled his stuff in our garage, and reclaimed his old bedroom. Their plans for another year or two of the wanderer lifestyle up in the air. Now they too are together but apart, connecting on Facetime. How to plan when he is here and she is there and everything, absolutely everything, is uncertain? Love in the time of Covid.
For my husband and me, life hasn’t changed that much. We are newly retired and had already learned to slow down and spend days together. We walk the dog, go on the odd bike ride, garden when the sun shines. Sometimes it feels like we will run out of things to talk about. Yesterday, we danced in the kitchen. Love in the time of Covid.
I love that our family is together again. And yet, I know it is not the adult children’s first choice. We are lucky and we know it—we are healthy, we eat well, and we have a comfortable home near the woods that makes self-isolation bearable, even pleasant. But we are getting cranky. It’s raining today and we are all inside. Whose turn is it to walk the dog?
© 2020 Esmeralda Cabral
Esmeralda Cabral was born in the Azores, Portugal and now lives, writes and cooks in Vancouver, Canada. She writes creative nonfiction and is a recent graduate of the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is currently writing her first book length manuscript – a memoir about returning to her home country with her Canadian-born family and her Portuguese water dog. Her work has been published in various anthologies, the Globe and Mail, and aired on CBC Radio.
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