I’m home now trying to recollect my walks at night in Long Island. The first walk was Tuesday of last week. Before watching the film, Burning, we went outside just before sunset. I was tired of staying indoors, and rules about going out after 8 pm are murky. We're told to stay indoors but there's no strict curfew. Only that you stay 6 feet away from each other. You're advised to stay home, but I think exceptions can be made if you're walking in a completely desolate spot. Also, if you need to buy groceries, but common sense dictates that you go when there are less people.
The sunset was giving its last vibrant colors before going for a slumber. I looked on mesmerized by the wind and the soft hues of the night near the marina. Behind the fence, near the water was a small house that probably served as an office for boats coming in. There was a large cylinder outpost next to the fence that gave me the feeling of being out at sea. The fence was closed and I couldn’t walk out onto the pier extending toward the water.
On any other night, I could imagine people walking around the marina, clinking beer glasses by the pub, but today everything was still and silent. Stores were closed though a few soft lights outside carried on.
Walking back to the car, I noticed stores had new signs about pick ups and ordering online. “Due to COVID-19 we have decided…” There were cars passing by, some stopping to take in the night, too cautious to step out. Were they passing hoping to see other human grapple with this masked new reality? A lady walked ahead of us talking photos of the sunset. By the time we reached the parking lot she was already getting into her car.
My hands feel dry from washing them and using sanitizer every waking moment. I’ve also graduated to using plastic gloves and masks. I wore a N95 mask yesterday for the first time when I met K. It felt like we were disobeying the world, having this underground meeting so I could give her some masks. She mentioned that the supermarkets in Jackson heights were crowded with long lines and people weren’t always staying 6 feet away. “Sometimes people look at me weird because I’m not wearing a mask,” she said. The other day my sister mentioned that people feel disgusted when they don’t see you with a mask; she felt she was being ostracized, I’m guessing by the passing grimacing stares she received at the Japanese market, but maybe that was her paranoia.
Let’s be honest, “the giving of the mask” was an excuse to see K and talk to someone else besides my family who seems content watching TV all day. She also seemed isolated, and I know she hates being stuck at home, not being able to hangout with friends. She was commuting to work until a week ago when they told her all work would move online.
“I hate staying at home. I feel like a couch potato— like a loser.”
These days leaving the house had turned out to be complicated; not only did I have to remember to bring my mask and gloves, but also I had to contend with my parents’ worries.
“What if she has it?" My mom asked.
“She didn’t have symptoms for two weeks and she stopped commuting to work. No one in her family is sick; they’re all quarantining,” I said repeating parts of it again and again.
I assured my parents we were both going to wear masks.
As I drove away from my house, I kept thinking back to their words, “Just hand her the mask and leave.” This virus has turned everyone into distrustful germaphobes (rightly so).
“Anyone can have it,” I kept thinking.
Driving away from Astoria, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary; people normally don't walk in this area on normal days, but the ones that I saw, were wearing masks with a few exceptions. I noticed no one was as the bus stop. Once I got to Jackson Heights there were a few more people walking, but most of them were wearing masks even though they were walking far way from each other. It was closer to 8 pm, so I didn’t expect to see many people out.
There was a weird energy in the air. We all shared this terrible knowledge that so far 900 people had died in NYC , with Jackson heights being a hotspot. I put on my mask in the car and some people outside were probably confused as to why I needed to wear a mask and gloves inside my car. The song on my spotify gave the night a futuristic feel—something out of blade runner. There was a guy on his phone outside on his porch. Did he wonder, “why is this strange car parked in front of my house" or was he just glad to see another human face? When K appeared by the passenger side window, we said hello and I handed her the mask. I only glanced at her face momentarily as she put on her mask. She opened the door and sat in the car. I kept the windows open. It was still a balmy night.
We talked about how we were feeling, the paranoia from our families, work conditions, and the reality of shopping for food during a pandemic. Her partner was worried that she was meeting me.
“Are you sure she’s not sick?” He had asked.
She told me her dad was still working, but he was driving to work and not commuting. She also did all the shopping for her parents. We drove to a nearby gas station. I still had half a tank, but since I was already outside, I thought I might as well. There wasn’t a soul by the gas station. On the machine there was a sign.
“Please use gloves. Thanks.”