During the first few weeks of quarantine, when I was falling apart all over the place, all the time, with such wide and varied peaks and valleys, I worried I might get be turning into a teenager again, I kept my brain together and myself truly off the precipice with a little gin and a whole lot of exercise.
As a person who has never met a darkness she couldn’t lean right into, I accepted some years ago that the whole exercise as curative isn’t just complete bullshit shilled by shifty characters who hang out shirtless in bike shorts and talk incessantly about protein, but actual truth. I started the very long walk thing in my late twenties, which morphed into a running thing in my mid-late thirties (I’m pretty sure I staved off the worst of a major depressive episode in the early 2010s by running a lot). I’ve run more or less over the last year depending on how much my left knee hates me at the time, but I still go and go and go. The difference in my mood with exercise vs without is palpable. So those first weeks, I’d take off in the afternoon after work, or in the gaps between projects and conference calls, and go, like, 5, 7, 12 miles. Mostly in the expanse of woods behind my house, but sometimes doing entire circuits of greenways–the rough perimeter of town. If I saw a trail I didn’t know, I’d go down it. I’d check out streets I’d never walked down. I found at least a half a dozen neighborhoods I never knew existed (and I’ve lived here for eighteen years). Most of the time I didn’t see many people, sometimes there would be a few. We would let the other pass at what was usually about a 10 foot distance, wave, and move on. I’d listen to music and podcasts. I’d daydream and ruminate. Sometimes I’d talk on the phone. Sometimes I’d drift into that back-of-the-wardrobe liminal space from childhood, where I could imagine that a certain spur of Carolina North trail might terminate somewhere impossible. By the time I got home, I’d feel like I could breathe again, probably because it’s hard to read the COVID tracker and walk at the same time.
All of which is to say, between March 15 and April 12 my iPhone reports that I (mostly) walked/(let’s be honest, occasionally) jogged somewhere around 170 miles. That’s not actually that much mileage in the grand scheme, but it does come out to something like 6 miles a day. And, as I sat around shaking my head, in those early days, at reports of my fellow North Carolinians traveling way too far from home, I never considered my long distance perambulations were also being counted in that cell phone data. I mean, I was in the woods, mostly. The woods by my house. It wasn’t like I was driving to keg parties at Crabtree Valley Mall or whatever I imagined those other hooligans were up to.
Since then, my daily walking distance has decreased a bit. Not because I had a sudden attack of conscience (though I have started wearing a mask when I’m walking outside through the middle of town, or on reasonably crowded greenways), but because I settled into relative apathy that comes from realizing that things will probably suck indefinitely and maybe it’s okay for me to take the occasional day off and just eat garbage and watch old Jude Law movies because the roaring battle between The Economy Must Not Fail Death Cult and the Extremist Apocalypse Anchorite Martyrs are so deafening and so ripe with hypocrisy it’s hard to take either seriously ( I mean, the heads of big business forcing their employees back to work and lobbying state governments to reopen are probably not themselves going anywhere near a newly opened Chipotle in Georgia on opening day. And at least some of the ladies lobbying your HOA to have cops circulate the neighborhood and fine people who stand in their own driveway without a mask are also having their massage therapist/manicurist over for a biweekly treatment. Seriously, trust me on this one).
I am still walking though, more than a mile or two away from my house, almost every day. And every time I do so, I guess that cell phone data is reporting back to whatever New York Times Columnist wants to school southerners on their lax social distancing and then vex the local authorities who feel like they have to do something about it. So. Even though I’m not throwing parties, or hanging out with my family or shopping at the hardware store. Even though, I haven’t driven far enough to put gas in my car in about eight weeks. Even though I’m not having my hairdresser over for touch-ups, though I miss the salon terribly and I’m so seriously hungry for a haircut that I’ve dreamed about giving myself a buzzcut at least a dozen times over the past month (don’t worry, Mom, my completely realistic concern about my chinless, no-necked puffy melon head with the giant moles suddenly without hair would 100% stop me long before any “What The Hell, It’s The End Of the World and My Internal Picture of Myself Sometimes Resembles Charlize Theron” rash decision would be indefinitely delayed by Amazon ruling clippers an inessential delivery). Even though. Even still. I am part of the problem. My long walks are a cheat. A definite cheat. And, if I’m completely honest, they haven’t been the only cheat, just the most regular. And, if I had to guess, your long walks (or long drives or long front yard/back porch conversations) may not be your only cheats either.
So, what you might defend as falling under guidelines may look completely indefensible to someone else. What seems like perfectly normal behavior to you might make someone feel vulnerable or put them at risk. What you see as a complete dereliction of moral responsibility may be something much more innocuous, much more understandable and much more necessary for someone else’s survival. We’re all starting to go a little stir crazy. And the more stir crazy we get, the easier it will be to ignore the community/unity rallying cries and just start acting like assholes. Which is a terrible idea, in general, and, in particular, at a time when most of humanity are feeling at least a little angry and sad and terrified and so overwhelmed with grief and uncertainty and not sure that they’ll survive or even if they want to.
We need each other desperately. We need to cooperate. Let’s try not to tear each other apart. The virus (and the federal government) are doing a fine enough job of that without our help. What comes next will unlikely satisfy anyone. In an ideal world, we’d be striving for the least sucky of undeniably sucky situations for the most number of people. As it is, we’ll be very lucky if things don’t tilt into absolute nightmarish misery for all but a tiny few. What we can do for each other here is all we’ve got.
So do the best you can and keep in mind that most people are doing the best they can too, even when the eff up. And they will. Because we’re human. And if we need to build a virtual confessional for Pandemic sins, then so be it. I’ll start :
Bless me, Carrboro, for I have sinned. I take long walks. And three weeks ago for no good reason other than to buy a case of beer and a wedge of fancy cheese before a virtual book club, I went to the co-op with a cardigan sweater tied around my face, and as I left, I thought, “This is what will go on my tombstone. Here Lies Alison Fields. Died of Plague Because of Irresponsible Beer Run. What a Complete Schmuck!”
Photo today is of maybe the best tree in Orange County, which I encountered on one of my early long walks, back when it was (literally and figuratively) pretty bleak out there.
As of this writing, 1,037,845 people have recovered from COVID-19.