When the stay-at-home order was enacted, I became concerned about coming down with a serious case of cabin fever. Thoughts of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining started running through my head. As the days dragged on, would I slowly descend into madness? Would I begin to hallucinate? Would I remodel the bathroom with an ax? Or would I go in the other direction and use my confinement as an opportunity for self-improvement? After one week the direction was clear. Fortunately, I don’t own an ax.
There is a striking difference between choosing to stay at home and being ordered to do so. Because no matter how comfortable your home may be, after a while you begin to feel like Luke Skywalker trapped in the Death Star trash compactor: the place is dirty, the walls are closing in, and the only way out requires defeating an invisible “Force” no one seems to fully understand. Just look at the somber social media posts of celebrities, isolated at their lavish estates with nothing to do but lounge by the pool or detox in the sauna. They can’t even muster the strength to apply makeup. I should have known it would be bad. I remember reading that after Martha Stewart served five months of house arrest, she described the experience as “hideous” and “worse than prison.” If a lifestyle guru with a mansion full of enough culinary equipment and crafting supplies to open a home-goods store hates being stuck in her own house, what chance did I have?
Feeling sorry for myself has long been one of my great pleasures. So after two weeks of sulking, and worrying that I might end up having to put a roll of Christmas gift wrap next to the toilet, I decided to email some long-distance friends and share the horrors of my confinement. The responses were chilling. “My father-in-law has been diagnosed with the virus. He’s not going to make it,” one read. Other emails, many from friends who are veterans of the hospitality industry, told of lost jobs and the frustrations of navigating the intricate mazes that led to unemployment benefits and small-business loans. One friend wondered if he should sell his car in order to pay his mortgage. It was the first time anyone had asked me for financial advice.
Reading the emails made me feel like a self-centered jerk. I was working, and I was safe. So were my fiancé and my kids. And even though my mom, who is eighty and lost in the wilderness of dementia, was asking me every day—“Did you know Donald Trump is the president?”—she was safe, as well.
Right now some people are bored and inconvenienced while others are living in a state of fear. And countless brave souls are risking their lives to keep the world from completely crumbling. I feel incredibly lucky that my biggest annoyance is the weight I’ve gained matched with the beard I’ve been trying to grow is starting to make me look like Jack Black. But even though the effects of this virus are impacting us in different ways, we all share something in common—a yearning to escape.
Illustration by Timothy Banks