• author
    • Carolyn Wyler

      Columnist and C.E.O.
    • May 28, 2020 in Columnists

    Scrabbling for meaning

    We live in crazy times. Fears, depression and anxiety have taken over our lives. Just within two short months, our world has turned completely upside down. What is going to happen now? How do we define this new life that we have been thrust into? How do we get past this and return back to normal? 

    Maybe we won’t return to the way things were, well at least, not anytime soon. 

    While in quarantine on the Grand Princess, all I wanted, was to go home. My husband and I had a great trip cruising with family to five of the Hawaiian Islands and had been on our way to Ensenada, then back to San Francisco to disembark a couple of days later. Our boat had to turn around and head back up North however, without stopping in Ensenada. The Captain announced that a passenger on the cruise to Mexico on our Grand Princess had just died of COVID-19 and he had exposed several passengers on our boat to the illness. We wouldn’t be stopping in Ensenada after all and needed to return to port, well except that we couldn’t. San Francisco didn’t want us, in fact, no one wanted us.

    An undercurrent of tension dragged us back out to sea and we were left treading water for 4 days. I dreamt of sleeping in my own bed, eating my husband’s yummy home-cooked meals, going to movies, hugging family and friends, playing pickleball, and of a shirtless, buff fireman running to my rescue to whisk me away.

    On day two of floating about the sea of uncertainty, I looked out of our balcony and was excited to see land just a few miles away, something we hadn’t really seen since leaving Hawaii. My excitement was short-lived though, as the boat made a U-turn and the land quickly disappeared. We were left in the middle of nowhere out in the waters, waiting for someone to figure out what they were going to do with 3-4000 people. We weren’t allowed to dock at the San Francisco port from which we left due to fear of spreading COVID to that heavily populated area.   

    I heard someone on Facebook said that someone should just bomb our boat. Trump wanted us all to stay out on the boat and do our quarantine time there. 

    No one wanted us.

    It’s hard not knowing what is happening to us and what’s worse is that other people don’t know either and our fate is in their hands. We lost our ability to make our own choices as soon as we were told to go to our rooms. 

    I thought this is how inmates must feel, and yet I had done nothing wrong.  

    If I had felt like a prisoner in our cabin on the cruise ship, it was magnified once we got to our quarantine site at Travis Air Force Base. Traveling over on the packed bus (which had a bathroom, but no hand sanitizer or soap to clean your hands) we had no idea what our accommodations would be like. I had this idea that we would be sleeping in barracks, would be awakened at 0530, and be told to drop and give the lieutenant 100 push-ups every morning.  

    Luckily, though, it wasn’t like that. 

    We had a nice hotel-like room with microwave, refrigerator, tv and a full-size bathroom. The inside looked normal. It was the outside that looked like we were either in some sort of mental institution or jail. There was a fence all around the outside perimeter and we were not allowed past it. Guards were stationed in black Suburbans all around the fence, people in space suits (ok, you say hazmat suits, I say space suits, tomato tomahto) walked back and forth, hurriedly dragging large boxes full of equipment or perhaps body parts. At night, floodlights shone all over the yard in case anyone had any idea of escaping. Vultures flew in circles in the air, waiting for one of us to drop so they could feast on the remains. The catering restaurant that we were getting our food from was called Hannibals! WTH.  I quickly scanned the area in search of Stephen King or Rod Serling (Twilight Zone), but I could not find them. They had to be here somewhere though. 

    What kind of weird world had we just walked into?

    How was I going to keep up the upbeat mood I had been trying to do up until this point? Ok, I wasn’t. I broke down and cried. I was tired and wanted to go home. Why isn’t anyone telling us anything?

    I felt my hand reach out and slap myself on the side of my face. Ok, I had a good cry, now move on. 

    So I t.p’d my room, marking strips for the 14 days that we would be there. I would take one strip down a day, use it, until all the t.p. strips were used up. Why decorate my room with toilet paper? I was making a statement. I had heard that out in the “real world,” people were fighting over toilet paper. Really? WTH? Food, masks, sanitizers, I can understand, but fighting over toilet paper? That’s pretty shitty.

    In our world, we had no shortage of toilet paper and if the people on the other side of the fence caught wind that we had a plentiful supply, I was pretty sure they would be knocking down the fences to take it from us.

    Friends and family called to offer their support. Some sent food, art supplies, pictures, and reminders of home. Others offered prayers, for which I told them I was grateful, but asked them if they could please send chocolate instead because it would be more helpful to my mental state than prayers.

    I kept busy reading, writing, painting, and creating parodies of songs. My husband and I met a couple who were amazing. They had lost their house in a fire just a couple years ago and now were dealing with being quarantined. But they were staying upbeat (or perhaps it was the wine that they ordered and had delivered to their room). Either way, they were great people. They sang “Snoop John B, I want to go home, this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on,” with me when I cranked up the sound on my phone and began belting it out on the bus ride to Travis. 

    Some days went by slowly, others a little quicker. We had our big escape day marked on the calendar for the 24th of March. We were counting down the days to get home, excited, but also afraid. Perhaps we caught a bit of the Stockholm Syndrome virus, as things around Travis were starting to feel very comfortable. The people were really nice (they actually were), accommodations weren’t too bad, food was at times edible (sometimes we actually even got milk AND cereal for our breakfast).

    I didn’t know if I wanted to go home anymore. I heard weird crazy things happening out there in the “real world.” My son sent me a message that said, “Nothing is like how it was when you left. We eat people now”. 

    I barricaded my room door with chairs, desks, the bed, microwave, refrigerator, two suitcases and five rolls of toilet paper. (I was certain the tp must have some magical powers at this point.) They would have to drag me out kicking and screaming if they wanted me to go home. 

    But the day to go home arrived. March 23rd, a day earlier than anticipated. We had finally gotten tested that morning and had no clue when we would get the results (turns out it was 3 weeks, 7 phone calls to at least 5 different cities when we finally heard that our results were negative). The part of me that wanted to get home, sleep in my own bed and get back to normal, quickly dragged the reluctant part of me out to the bus that was to drive us to the Bart station, where our son-in-law would pick us up and drive us the rest of the way home. 

    Driving home in 5 pm traffic that had no traffic was weird. I looked around for zombies, but luckily there were none. Where were all the people? Of course we had heard that Governor Newsom had placed an order to shelter in place, and for most people, that meant they weren’t going to work. Businesses were shut down, parks were closed, the whole world was out of order. 

    We arrived home, but not the home we had left. Some of our friends came by to welcome us home but stood about 15 feet away from us. We wanted to hug them, but couldn’t. We wanted to invite them in, have family over, but couldn’t. We couldn’t go to a movie, out to dinner or could play pickleball. We had to cancel at least two upcoming vacations and I couldn’t schedule a flight out to Washington to watch my 5-year-old granddaughter’s dance recital (which ended up being canceled anyway). Disneyland in July was likely out, a September 60th birthday trip to Vancouver Canada was on hold. We couldn’t plan for anything. 

    What exactly was the plan for the world now?  News from the Federal government was confusing and conflicting. We were supposed to wear masks when we went to the stores or around groups of people. There were plenty masks for everyone! “You get a mask and you get a mask” oh but wait, you’re a nurse, doctor, medical personnel, and civilian, there isn’t enough for you, but don’t worry. “Wearing a mask is infringing on your constitutional rights” anyway, so it’s okay that there aren’t enough to go around. “It’s all a political hoax” anyway.

    The government shut down all nonessential workplaces, but churches, they say, are absolutely essential, because God knows, you can’t pray or do good deeds unless you are in a church to learn how to do them. 

    It’s been a total of 77 days of sheltering in place along with quarantine and confinement in our ship’s cabin. Somedays I am so lonely and really need to be around people, someone, anyone who isn’t my husband. (I still love him dearly though.) Other days I don’t want to see ANYONE. Somedays, I want to get outside, go play at a park with my grandkids or play pickleball with friends and family, other days I want to stay in my PJs in bed all day, turn off my phone and not speak with anyone. I feel like I’m riding an emotional rollercoaster.

    I want things to get back to the way they were, but I am also afraid of taking the steps to do that. It means going out and try to social distance as someone walks right up to you to say hi without a mask and just a foot or two apart. That’s freakin’ stressful and I want to scream and run back and lock myself into my house where there is no such thing as COVID-19 and it’s safe.  

    As difficult as this pandemic is, I have seen some positives outcomes from all of this. Neighbors reaching out to neighbors. Virtual get-togethers. Love shown by others who offer to run errands, pick up groceries, and give support to those around them. 

    Those are the meaningful things of this strange world should keep and hold on to and I truly hope we do.

      • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      • May 28, 2020 at 9:59 pm
      • Reply

      I remember watching the orange pustule barf out syllables about wanting his numbers to look good and that was why he wasn’t letting your ship return and remember thinking “Hey, I have friends out there! Those aren’t numbers — they’re people, you sad, wilted orange balloon!” Just glad you made it through but ye gods. That’s not an adventure anybody would want! But it is the story of a lifetime. Huge hugs!!!

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