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Courtney McMahon

April 2020


Quarantine Daydreams 


Lately, I have been waking up on my own, before my alarm goes off. Since I no longer need to commute into the city for work, I can afford to sleep a bit longer. Even on days that my eyes open before 7, it still feels strange and luxurious— a foreign concept to sleep as much as I need and proof that my body knows exactly when to get-up. Yet, I cannot quit that alarm. How will I separate Monday through Friday from Saturday and Sunday if I do not set an alarm? 


Many days I feel uneasy knowing I could have done “so much more,” had I forced myself out of bed sooner. It’s a feeling that’s engrained in me. I cannot remember a time I wasn’t thinking about the “more” I could have done. But this morning it is not the “unease of more” that comes over me. This morning I awake feeling heavy with anger. How did it get here? I don’t have room for anger. Why doesn’t it realize it’s not welcome, and just turn around and leave? 


I have no right to be angry; I am too fortunate to be upset. I am employed; I have a beautiful apartment filled with meaningful things; I have friends that check in on me; family that loves me; I have money to buy groceries and movies to stream. I have a washer and dryer in my hallway, for fuck’s sake. But when I walk the dog in the evening, my block is empty. There is no loud music filling the streets— there are only sirens now. And I no longer know what to believe or where to look or what to watch. I worked so hard to get here; I don’t want it to slip away. I’m afraid and the fear is making me angry.


The reality is, our current state of affairs doesn’t give a shit about my self-improvement projects. I do not get a pass from all this due to the progress I have made. I realize, I am not enlightened, and I am certainly not free. I caught a glimpse of an ex, on a zoom party last night and I felt my face go flush and my hand start to shake— I am human, and I am fragile. I wonder, can I be grateful and furiously angry all at once? Can these two things coexist? 


I get out of bed. I walk to the kitchen and pour the coffee that was made before I got up. Coffee always tastes best when it’s been made for you. This is a fact. I start writing a list with two columns: one that is my personal to-do list, the other for work. It’s important that my list is handwritten because there are few things, I find more satisfying than the sounds of a sharpie dragging across a task, to indicate it’s been done. This list makes me feel less anxious; this list makes me feel like the world isn’t ending. As I write I reassure myself that I am a being who thrives in routine— a strict schedule is exactly what I need right now.


I get distracted before my list is complete; I am already off my meaningless schedule. So, I decide to eat some breakfast. I make rice cakes topped with hummus, avocado and hot sauce. Then I top those things with shredded carrots. I like the crunch atop the already crunchy. It’s delicious and I am pleased with my innovative decision. I never would have had time for this brilliant invention if had to rush to get the subway. Lately I put hummus, avocado and hot sauce on everything. Maybe it’s a phase, maybe it’s a way of life — time will tell. I eat this, along with the coffee I poured and topped with vanilla almond milk. 


While I am eating, I am thinking about what I will cook later. I always found comfort in cooking, but in quarantine I find the act a necessity. I need to cook almost as bad as I need to sleep until I wake up. The act of cooking is therapeutic to me. I love tasting the food to see if it has been seasoned right; I love plating the food and resting the plate down. I love that my food makes someone else feel warm and full. I realize, cooking food and feeding others is how I show love. I realize this love-language runs through my blood; passed down from my mother and my aunt my grandmother. I close my eyes and picture each of them separately but together in my mind — such beautiful faces. I recall each of them in kitchens, wearing aprons, about to prepare love, the way I now prepare love. I wonder, why I often choose to feed people that are incapable of meeting my needs. I realize, I never state my needs. 


In a moment I am back to the coffee and my breakfast creation; I make a decision right then, to change my mind about the fear, which immediately allows the anger to subside. I decide that these present moments are actually quite good, and this is one of many lessons I am meant to learn. I will start living in these moments I am being given and to throw caution to the wind. I will not be afraid of the unknown or of things out of my control. I will not draw conclusions today, about the future of my feelings. 


For now, I will just be here.


I blink and start to think about collar bones — the way fingertips trace collar bones. I think about the cold, thin, top of an ear and the warm, fat bottom of an earlobe. I think of strong arms wrapped around me. I think of the way fingers intertwine when one hand is held inside another. I think of how lovely touch is and how we’re all lacking it. But not just right now. No, we were lacking it already and for far too long. A life without loving touch, is no life at all. 


I am making lots of progress, crossing off only the things that fall under “work” on my to-do-list— confirmation that my priorities remain somewhat skewed, even during quarantine. I still need to run and meditate and write and draw and care about everything in the world that is more important than this bubble I am in. But before I do all that, I snuggle the dog. 


I love this fat pup. I feel so grateful that I have this weird fuzzy creature to look after; that he looks after me. I can’t believe I have had him since he was eight weeks old, that come July he will be 12 years old. My God, so much has happened and changed in 12 years. And this weird fuzzy dog has been with me through it all. I think of all the things I could have done better for him. He should have had a yard, he should have had more walks, gone on more car trips. I shouldn’t yell at him when he pulls me on our walks. I should have only fed him organic and brushed his teeth more. I should have given him a dog sibling. I wonder, are real parents— parents of children— thinking and worrying about these same things? On a more significant scale of course, because they are raising humans that will need to go out into the world and be accountable? 


I think of the miscarriage I had when I was 32 and I wonder if I will ever be a mother in this lifetime. I close my eyes and I imagine myself with a small child. He is a boy, with big wide eyes. We sit next to each other — his legs, too short to hang off the edge of the couch. We are sharing a book, but I am making up the story because he is too young to know the difference and its more fun this way. He is fascinated by every word I say. The words I say hang in the air between he and I. He looks up at me in awe and amazement trying to catch each phrase. I cherish this moment because I know his imagination is capable of running wild. He is precious and our love is precious. He is curious and I am curious too. His chubby little hand holds the pages; I like his chubby little hands. In this imagined moment, I realize that this chubby, curious phase will pass as all phases pass and we will move through other phases together. Eventually he will be stubborn and strong and question authority and ask “why” to anything and everything presented to him. This will make me frustrated and proud all at once. One day he will be equipped to handle this big cruel world. When that day comes, I might sit and think of things I could have done differently but I will also feel proud knowing that if that much is true, I will have done my job. 


I am fiercely independent, but I have never wanted a child outside of partnership. I am not built that way and I am not afraid to admit it. I cannot see my son’s father when I close my eyes. So, I pause and start to wander someplace else. 


I am alone, on the open road— on the longest road trip. It is quiet but I feel like I am living very loud. I have a list of places that I want to visit and a sharpie to cross them off with. But I grant myself the freedom to change course and look at unplanned sights that stop me in my tracks. I need the solitude; I thrive in solitude. I take in every landscape, every roadside attraction. I savor every diner coffee I sip. I love every diner I have visited on this trip. Even the ones filled with locals who sneer at me. I have always loved diners— they remind me of Saturday’s with my father when I was small. They remind me of turkey Ruben sandwiches and western omelets with cheese and a side of toasted rye. They remind me of the commencement of adventure filled days. They remind me of hard conversations. 


I feel nostalgic living in this future-daydream. I take photos of the diners I stop at and revel in them as if I were taking in the beauty of a national park. I enjoy the solitude so much, that I need to remind myself I am a people person; that I am curious by nature. I gently nudge myself to combine these two talents and start having conversations with the people I meet along the way. I ask them questions. I want to know what makes us the same and what makes us different. I want to meet these people and keep moving ahead; knowing they will change me along the way. I will be changed because of them. I write about it. And then I run. 


I go on long runs when I find a trail and short runs when I find a park. I do not care about how fast I run or how far I run. I run how I feel. When it is a clear day, I appreciate the sun and the clouds and the warmth on my body and when it rains, I savor the sound of the raindrops and the chill in the air. I wrap up my day thinking about the places I have visited, the food I ate, the diner coffee I enjoyed and the people I met along the way. Sometimes these thoughts fill a page with words and something they just create a memory. 


I realize, this is story of my life: a want of togetherness and a need for solitude. Or maybe it is, a want for solitude and a need for togetherness. Perhaps it depends on the day.  


I have crossed off everything on my work list, but the workday is not over. I am not in either of these future scenarios I just imagined. Instead, I am just here again, right now. The weather clears up, so I make a run to the store. It’s hard to keep six feet apart because this is New York City and the stores are fucking small. I am not as worried about this distance rule, as much as the others are. You can sense who feels anxious and uncomfortable. I want to hug these strangers and tell them we’ll all be ok (even if we won’t). I wish I could help them, but I don’t know how. I realize that these people don’t need my help. If they needed help, they would ask. 


I fill my bag with an appropriate amount of wants and needs— canned goods and gummy bears; veggies and potato chips. My bag is so heavy when I leave. I wish there were someone who could help me. Someone who could meet me halfway and share weight of my wants and needs. The option is there to call and ask, but I am stubborn; I can do this on my own. 


I get home and wrap up my last call for the day. The soup I made earlier in between meetings and daydreams, is done. It smells like spring, summer, fall and winter. That’s what we will have for dinner. It will be good topped with avocado and hot sauce. I’ll make a spinach salad too. I love the way the vibrant colors look in my big blue bowl. I love my big blue bowl. 


I decide that a run isn’t needed today. My hip still feels tight from yesterdays’. I will take a long, hot shower and I will meditate in the shower. Two things I can cross of my personal to-do list— brilliant. Then I will get dressed — that’s three. 


“Be here,” I remind myself. And so, I write. I write like water flows and wonder where the fuck it came from. I question the creative process and how it works and then I think it’s just a wave I need to ride. I realize, I haven’t made the space for riding waves, because I have been too busy rushing to make the subway and being present in meetings. I the waves I need to catch require space and time and holy shit that’s exactly what this quarantine has allowed me— space and time. Space and time and the wherewithal to realize when the wave starts to come up, I must catch it and ride. 


There is nothing “more” I need to do today. Except maybe have a slice of banana pie; banana pie and tea. 

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