Week 4 April 6-12

April 6-8 Monday-Wednesday

I’ve started walking most mornings and noticed that birds and animals seem more present.  For the first time in ten years on this particular three mile meander, I saw a chipmunk.  And he wasn’t hurrying away.  Neither was a robin who moved slightly as I passed by.  Have they realized their environment is now safe from the onslaught of the two leggers and four wheelers as we stay in place?


I am spending more time on the phone.  I talk frequently and extensively to friends and family.  These calls to Oregon or Ireland temporarily ward off loneliness.  When I was a teenager, I hated using the phone except for the many hours talking to my boyfriend.  My friends would call me almost every night wanting to know what I was wearing to school the next day.  Often I didn’t bother answering.    

Part of a short story found in my book, Jersey Dreams, describes that earlier time.

                  “It’s How You Play…”

        Not long ago, the Environmental Protection Agency listed my home­town as the site of the third worst toxic dump in the United States.  During my thirteenth summer, I was unaware of the hazards of being a teenager in Old Bridge, New Jersey.  What I remember is the smell of yeast from the Anheuser-Busch Brewery permeating the air and the color of charcoal on my bathing suit, sooty deposits from the lake a half-mile from my home.  My friends and I accepted these conditions as the natural state of affairs, occasionally unpleasant but not dangerous.  Now I wonder if some deadly pollution was being expelled by the Morehouse Chemical Factory whose man-made lake was our main source of recreation.  My mother, who still lives in the post-war tract home of my childhood, is untroubled by the government’s revela­tion.  She assures me that central New Jersey is- and always has been- a wonderful place to live. 

            That summer, the weather was perfect: warm enough to go swim­ming almost every day in the lake and cool enough for a sweater in the evening.  Each morning I awoke to hear birds call­ing to one another and to yellow light warming the knotty pine walls in the upstairs bedroom I shared with my sister.  Usually, I spent a half hour after breakfast choosing the clothes I would wear that day.  My friends and I all wore pastels that sum­mer: pale orange, tepid yellow, light pink, baby blue.  In the evening we used matching headbands to hold back freshly washed hair. 

            We never wore shoes until after dinner, priding ourselves on our ability to withstand the oozing asphalt roads that rib­boned their way through the housing developments.  When asked, I never said I lived in Old Bridge, but always replied, “Southwood,” confi­dent that the name of my development would be understood as a sep­arate dominion.  Southwood was the largest group of tract homes in the area, and the builders were quickly constructing new models with captivating names such as split-level or California ranch. 

            The summer before, I had accompanied my mother, with my younger brother and sister in tow, to the lake.  This year,  I went on my own, picking up friends along the way or joining them on the des­ignated spot to the left of the beach, where anyone from thirteen to sixteen was welcome.  We spread our towels or blankets in the direction of the sun, hiding our lunch in the shadow of a beach bag, and waited.  We waited for the older kids, mostly boys to show up; we waited for the lake to warm; we waited for mothers and younger children to go home.

My emotions are right at the surface as they were when I was thirteen. I watched the television newscaster, Chris Cuomo, who has the virus but does his job anyway. He made me weep.

April 9-12 Thursday-Sunday

Nature seems to be the theme this week. My vegetable garden which is almost finished lifted my spirits. I felt like my pre-virus self.

A immature Broad-Winged hawk landed on the branch of a favorite tree, a 200 year old ash directly behind the house. Hit by lightening, it shrinks each year. Once it’s mighty branches extended over the terrace providing much needed shade. Now that branch has gone. Each year, an arborist predicts it’s demise: each year it carries on and new leaves emerge.


Briefly, the hawk took refuge. Probably looking for the many rabbits that frequent my back yard. The teenagers frolic about chasing each other in mock combat or perhaps just play.

I read the newspapers, watch CNN, MSNBC, listen to NPR and weep again. President Trump’s crassness and unconcern for his citizens’ lives overwhelms me.  Now he’s saying that the Governors’ request for hospital equipment is exaggerated. He wants to stop funding the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic.  I despair. Then I look out my kitchen window and watch the tulip magnolia blanket the lawn with its blossoms.  Restored momentarily. 


Week 2 and 3

Week 2 March 23-29

I don’t know what happened this week. I tried to recapture it by looking at photos and the health app on my phone. It seems I went for a walk along the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The image may reflect my state of mind, desolate.

delaware and Raritan Canal

Week 3 March 30- April 5

April 2, the anniversary of my first marriage decades ago. Below a fictionalized version of that earlier marriage, an earlier time.

Beaufort, South Carolina. Everything is yellow-green and wet.  The air a hot compress against her skin.  If the air were cool as compresses ought to be maybe Salina’s head would stop aching.  A headache on its second month. Three specialists at the Parris Island Naval Hospital had tried their luck at a diagnosis.  Ultimately, they recommended psychiatric treatment.  She wasn’t quite ready for that.  The only time the pain went unnoticed was when she played tennis.  It didn’t seem to matter with whom or how badly she played.  The steady slamming of the ball distracted her from the pounding inside her skull. She could forget where she was, even if the court was at the Officer’s Club.  

 She drove down Main Street. Salina pushed the window vent towards her face.  The rush of air didn’t cool her; it was more like a hot furnace.  The clock on Wachovia National Bank said 2:00.  She had a half-hour before Gladys, the cleaning lady, had to go home.  A half-hour of freedom.  It surprised her that she could love her son so intensely and, at the same time, long to escape the responsibilities of motherhood.  She turned the radio up and headed across the bridge to Lady’s Island where she could be alone and, for a little while, be herself.  Her body jerked in rhythm to Jimi Hendrix’s wailing, anxious guitar riffs.  She wished she was friends with an enlisted man and could get some dope.  That might help her head.  Once over the bridge, she pressed her foot hard against the gas pedal.  The l967 Volkswagen bug was going as fast as it could, and Salina was gone: far out, far fucking out as her teen-age brother would say.  She didn’t hear the sirens or see the flashing lights of the MP’s car until they were in front of her, signaling to pull over.

I’ve led a long life. But where is the wisdom? Perhaps, I should be kind to myself. I went on a long walk this morning, stripped my bed, made breakfast, read the paper.  Yet, I spent the next three hours playing computer games and listening to the radio.  Is this okay?   Now it’s close to have a drink time. So no writing.  I don’t think I can attribute this to virus time.  I think it’s dysfunctional Judy time.

I did have some social interaction. My friend Wendy, her husband Max, and their adult daughter Mira walked by: we had a nice over the fence, fully masked chat. Afterwards, I managed to get outside of myself and search for Easter gifts for my granddaughter and beach plum plants for my son and his wife, now living in Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island. My son once told me that doing three activities a day should suffice. I met that criteria.

Took Beckett’s bio to bed. Freudian analysts would have a field day. According to Deirdre Bair, he had a troubled relationship with his mother who worked hard to mold him without much success. Yet her disappointment in him tied Beckett to her through much of his adult life. And like her son, she was a tortured soul with mood swings, insomnia and “thundering rages” when she would isolate herself from her family just as, later, Beckett sought his own form of “social distancing.” He also seemed to inherit her willfulness, so both nature and nuture.

Samuel Beckett Paris apartment

His suffering makes me feel better, that is, his difficulty producing work allows me to temporarily forgive my own lack of discipline.  Once after a month or more, he wrote just four lines of poetry.  And like me, he blamed himself relentlessly.  Previously I had dismissed him based on Deirdre Bair’s depiction of their working relationship in her memoir, Parisian Lives. He agreed to work with her, yet threw arbitrary obstacles in her way.  Her interactions with him portrayed him as a self-centered prig. However, her biography reveals his tormented relationship with family, friends, himself and his work creating empathy for him and, maybe, for me.

Day 4 and 5

Monday March 16

I woke up this morning remembering recent conversations with friends.  Sometimes, I say that I’ve been in training for the lockdown, having lived as a widow for the last 9 years.  Sometimes, I lament a life alone, not having that loved one in the next room.  Is it as hard to be alone as I claim, am I pleased that I answer to no one, or do I want people to feel sorry for me?  Why?  Perhaps, my desire for empathy is a desire to be seen, heard, understood.  Much of the time. I have kept my grief to myself, not wanting to put people off.  Who wants to hear about sorrow?  Maybe as the pandemic takes hold, we’ll all be immersed in it and won’t be able to look away.

To avoid these concerns, I went to the Delaware and Raritan Canal for a long walk, a breather, some peace.  But peace was difficult to muster.  People crowded the walkway and seemed surprised when I asked them to give me room.  Often I had to stand with my back to them which felt like I was shaming them.  Maybe I was.

img_7871-1Delaware and Raritan Canal

As three young men approached me on bicycles, I requested they give me space to pass.  They mocked me.  Got my ire up.  I threw back at them that I was trying  to protect them as well.   As I walked away, they laughed, shouting, “Talk, talk, talk” to my back.  Discouraged, I cut my walk short and retreated home.

But I had a plan: do taxes, clean sun room, correspond.

By the late afternoon, I had taken care of Milo the cat petting him for an hour or so to relax him, filled out an application for a census job, read the newspaper, faced time with family, called the garden center to check the availability of Brussel sprouts, and contacted the landscaper about putting in a garden.  Then, I relaxed into my new addiction, computer solitaire in all it’s variations: Vegas, Forty Thieves, Spider, Gaps, Mrs. Mop.

Tuesday March 17

Newly established morning routine.  First order of business is Milo: lift him on to the ottoman facing the couch, provide treats, apply blood pressure medication to his inner ears, more treats, brush him, pet him for a half hour or so, feed him, clean out litter box, more treats and petting, and finally, put him in his bed.  Next is a walk down the driveway to retrieve the paper, followed by a leisurely breakfast working my way through the Times.

IMG_8124Milo Bliss

Late morning, the landscapers arrived, reviewed my plan, a 10 by 20 foot raised cedar bed in the front lawn using organic mulch and soil.  I’m cheered by this return to vegetable gardening.

Although I haven’t done any writing, I did correspond with the writer’s I met in February while staying at the Irish Cultural Center in Paris.  Does that count?

Went to bed reading Samuel Beckett’s bio.  The description of cafes he frequented, the same as my haunts when I was 21 are bittersweet.   Nostalgia for hours of nursing a drink while reading, writing, staring.  But nostalgia has an edge, loss.

unknown-1Le Select Montparnasse

Day 3

Sunday March 15

The Ides of March.  Will I be betrayed or will I do the betraying?

Woke up weeping.  My blind cat, Milo, bumping into walls, walking in circles, looking for direction saddens me.  Really, it’s my pre-lock down life I’m lamenting.  I had just settled in to Dublin, had had a reprise from lingering ennui, the consequence of trying to write a book going nowhere.  Then, it was over.  Now, I’m home, untethered from that resolve and peace.  And like Milo, lost my way.


The maintenance of the house assaulted me- weeds, kitty litter, taxes.  A fog has descended on my brain.  I wandered from room to room looking, looking for what?  To get hold of myself, I listed what I had done by 1:15 P.M.: fed Milo, cleaned the litter box, took out recycling, filled out the census, had breakfast, read the newspaper.  Eating breakfast outside and reading the Sunday New York Times tricked me into thinking all was well: life hadn’t changed.  I wondered if I could put a vegetable garden in the front yard.

On the plane ride from Ireland, I considered growing potatoes.  Years ago, I had had a garden that included a long row of red and yellow “pommes de terre.”  Sinking my hands into the dirt, pulling out them out, holding them, eating them was deeply satisfying.   Associations to the potato- my Irish grandmother ate one every night for dinner, her mother emigrated to the states, an indirect consequence of the great potato famine in Ireland.  The poor relied on the potato for daily sustenance.  Since it provides many of the necessary amino acids, it is referred to as the perfect food.  When the potato blight hit Ireland, the British ignored the problem.  Starvation and homelessness were rampant.  Wouldn’t it be wise to grow a “perfect food” during a pandemic?

Yet as the day wore on, I didn’t work on my taxes or pay my bills or do the laundry.  Couldn’t pull all the threads together.

Like many people, I end my day reading in bed.  As a way of  “returning” to Dublin, I picked up Deirdre Bair’s biography of Samuel Beckett.  It should last a good long time, almost 800 pages.  Although he was a Dublin upper middle class Anglican and my family were Catholic tenant farmers from the hinterlands of Roscommon County, I hoped I might make a connection with my projected book, a mix of ancestral biography, history, anthropology, sociology, and maybe fiction.  I’ll grasp at any straw.  Instead he seems to be buoying me up, out of self-flagellation, however, briefly.  His struggle with writing, sometimes only getting a few pages done in many weeks, redeems me.  A colleague, another tortured nonprolific writer.


Day One and Two

Friday March 13 -Saturday March 14

This journal attempts to record observations during an extraordinary time.  Although the title for this entry says “Day One,” it is actually 207 days since my first interaction with the virus.  That day my doctor urged me to cancel my trip to Paris afraid I would be one of the now 5.7 million Americans stricken with the disease.  I didn’t listen: on February 15th, I landed at Charles De Gaulle airport.  My return flight was booked for March 20th.  I didn’t make it.  On March 13th, I raced home like thousands of other Americans after President Trump announced the closing of borders at midnight to anyone traveling from Europe.

Once home, I ran around the supermarket loading up on beans and toilet paper in a frenzy of ignorance.

The next day, March 14th, I faced my first day of reckoning.  Like many humans, my thoughts turned to vanity.  Who would cut and color my hair?  It was due.  My hairdresser had already closed her store but said she might consider seeing a few regulars.  I jumped at the offer, ignoring the risks .  These were early days.  Maybe I felt invincible.  I had been in France during fashion week when some Italians had been allowed to enter the country as Italy reeled from the voracious spread of the virus.  I had walked down the narrow streets of the Marais past fashion show venues bumping into people, perusing stores for hours.

UnknownMarais, Paris

 In London, I had been to the movies, to the British Library, the National Archives, spending whole days researching family history.

images-1Curzon Cinema, Bloomsbury, London

I was in Ireland just as Dublin shut down.

imagesO’Connell Bridge, Dublin

I had flown on a crowded plane for more than 6 hours and then taken an hour train ride home.  But I wasn’t sick.  So couldn’t I get my hair cut?  No, I finally decided, I couldn’t and so began five months of isolation and negotiations with family, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, with myself on what to do and how to manage.