in this moment.
by Michael King
I was at a meeting, etching song lyrics into the margins of my notebook, when it dawned on me that things were about to change. Classes are very likely going to move online, we learned, and, it’s possible we may all move to working remotely. Murmured questions began to rise from the group, and – as if by instinct – I started writing a message to my mom and dad.
If we end up going to remote work for a month or so for coronavirus, could I spend that at home? I hit send, tilted my head back, imagined what life might look like: Dad’s cooking, Mom’s stories from work, the dogs alternatingly comatose and frenetic, late-night vanilla ice cream scoops in yellow bowls.
Funny the way time dissolves right alongside our notions of growing up. Thirty years old, and – at the first sign of danger – I was a toddler running back to his parents’ reach. From Mom: You never have to ask!
After the meeting, a smaller group of us was asked to stay. Our supervisors began to illustrate the reality: Not all students will be able to go back home, and we will need staff to be here for them.
A knot rose against my sternum, and I swallowed it down. Okay, I urged myself. Show up.
Outside the window, yellow sun poured over the courtyard, branches shaking with buds just on the verge of becoming.
Each day is a three-act play, all taking place against the same backdrop. I am the lone actor, giving a dynamic performance, conveying the entire story on my own.
Act one, morning, and I am pulling off a makeshift runner’s uniform. I am the embodiment of determination, of stubborn hope, of seeing the world for as long as my feet will carry me through it. I shower, wrestle with my hair, lose that battle, pull on clothes that could stand the test of a video chat. I put on a vinyl, dance a bit as I pour myself an iced coffee, check my email, scan my calendar for meetings. I do everything I can not to read news headlines, facts and figures and heartbreak and worry.
Act two, mid-day, beginning just as the department video meeting closes. We depart in scattered goodbyes, blurry hand waves to the camera, and suddenly the apartment is silent again. I stand, make lunch, realize I’ve reached the end of the to-do list. I start drafting a list of the things I could do in moments like these. I reach it, 5:00 PM, and realize I no longer have the luxury of heading home: I am here. I glance outside, decide to run again.
Act three, and I’m home, and it dawns on me that it’s been nine days since I was seen, in real life, by someone who knows me and cares for me. The thought strikes me while I’m listening to an upbeat song, the sun pouring its finale light into my apartment, and I surrender. I sob, cradling my face, until I am finished. I call my sister, and she asks how I am, and more tears come. Soon we are laughing, and then we are tired. I go to bed, turn the light out, and – before I surrender to sleep – I wonder how long this show will run.
When this is over, I will be something of an open wound. The air will feel fresh, and I will be always on the verge of tears.
The first time I see a show, surrounded by strangers, actors and orchestra conspiring to make my heart soar, I will cry. I will exist again in the time of art, experience it in real time among the anonymous sea.
The first night I am at the bar, my friends dancing and hugging in reunion, lights and vodka sodas and Ariana Grande, I will think of the weeks that same space sat empty, sighed, waited for us.
When I hug my parents, my siblings, not 700 miles away but within reach, my eyes will be broken dams. When I hear my nieces laugh, watch them discover the world with new eyes, listen to their developing thoughts. Seeing my best friend, saying something stupid and hearing his laugh echo in the room.
Mundane things will seem, for a time, like treasures: carrying a book to the park, having to weave through crowded sidewalks on my morning run, sitting at a restaurant and ordering a meal, looking out at New York City and seeing it alive again.
All of this I know. Even now, sitting beside the window to a world I cannot access. Outside, the Empire State Building is red, pulsing in heartbeats, waiting, waiting, waiting.