I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I wake up at 3 at 4. Sometimes unprovoked, sometimes when the neighbors across the street turn on their floodlight and my bedroom windows glow silver behind the curtains, crosshatched with the veiny limbs of the tree in the front yard. I rarely try to will myself back to sleep. Instead, I rise and read or write until I drift off again. I pet Walter, who snores or purrs or snurrs beside me undisturbed. I’ve always had an unsettled affection for 4am, going back to the days in which I was more likely to see it coming from the other side. There’s a long, dark quiet to the hour. A touch of menace before the first notes of birdsong, the last dark shadows before the pale of dawn. The world of the inbetween.
Broadly, I think I live in the world of the inbetween. In between plague and protest, between denial and despair, between dread and something not quite like acceptance, but maybe its second cousin . There are people marching through a pandemic for justice in masks and just across the road are barefaced revelers, queued up for brunch cocktails, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. In between there’s me in the house, living roughly the same version of quarantine life I have for the past ninety-eight days, occasional trips to the supermarket aside.
At the beginning I thought the quarantine would be an inbetween too. I guess it is, but the parameters are, if anything, more unclear. It used to be I was waiting for it to be safe. I was waiting for a curve to flatten. I was waiting for a cure. Now? I don’t know what I’m waiting for exactly. All those things, to be sure, but with a big fat if and an asterisk because are those things even relevant or possible? I’m waiting to rejoin the world. I miss the world. Mine feels quite small, no matter how many nights someone drops by the deck for quick chat or a socially distanced drink. I’m waiting for each new sign of reckoning with collective horror show of history. I’m waiting for what comes next. I’m waiting for July. I’m waiting for August. I’m waiting for my still-living grandmother’s forthcoming funeral. I’m waiting to see how long it takes before I get COVID. I’m waiting to see if I can wait it out. I’m not sure I’ll be able to. I’m waiting to make sure I don’t give it to anyone else once I do. I’m waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.
It’s comforting to think that most of the world is similarly muddling through the inbetween, but I’m increasingly aware that this is not the case. Remember when we were all this together? How tragically hilarious did that end up being, right? My close friends, my neighbors, my social network may mostly be keeping close to home, save the occasional well-masked foray through a march or to the outside part of the garden store. We feel like rebels when we sit eight feet apart on people’s driveways and go home to use the bathroom. My town passed a mask ordinance. I don’t remember the last time I saw a human being inside a public space unmasked, but holy hell, do I ever live in a bubble. And I hear reports from even inside the bubble that people aren’t or don’t and I’m like, “Have I just stopped seeing? Am I just blind to the world outside the inbetween?”
Outside the inbetween the world is churning on. Here in Limbo, a place I understand to contain a Jimmy Cliff record, a thing I could never master at the roller rink and maybe some unchristened, medieval Italian babies if you’re Dante, nothing much is cooking save the six or seventh pot of chickpea curry I’ve made since March and a snurring cat. It sounds relaxing but it’s not really. Life in the inbetween is still too variable and undetermined. No matter what you do, you may still get buffeted around the in wake of everyone else’s decisions. You can follow the rules. You can wear your mask. You can barely leave the house in months and the numbers will still go up. You can talk at length about four centuries of white supremacy, in as much or as little detail required, and still you run into someone you kinda liked from high school on social media who wonders why they have to take down all the monuments. “I mean, what next? Will they rename Washington DC? It’s a slippery slope.” On some level, life in the inbetween is all about making peace with not knowing and trying not to be bitterly disappointed when you’re unhappily surprised. It feels like a waste of time. It feels like there is nothing, really, you can do. And the inbetween is like, “Oh hey, you’re just figuring this out? You’re adorable. Have a cookie.”
I want to end this on a hopeful note. And a hopeful note less ambiguous than “I think we’re headed squarely for another lockdown that will be largely unenforceable because at least half of the world operating outside the inbetween will refuse to respect it and the government doesn’t care.” So here you go: The Supreme Court did something beautiful yesterday. Change—actual real deal, long time coming change—feels like it’s in the wind. Peaches are in season. And most of us, many of us, here in the inbetween are doing the best we can, even as we keep trying to do better. It’s not enough and it won’t get us out of here tomorrow or next week or even next month. It won’t fix the world. But I guess it’s something.
Picture today is of one little corner of the world I miss, taken during a dusk so beautiful I literally cried, in Riomaggiore, in 2016.
As of this writing, 4, 260,420 have recovered from COVID-19.