Sunday interview: Ashley

April 26, 2020

Photo by Natalia Sobolivska on Unsplash

Note: This is a true story, but names have been changed to preserve the subjects’ privacy

Ten months ago, a cancer diagnosis transformed the lives of Ashley and her family. They learned that Karenna, then 11 years old and the youngest of their four girls, had an advanced case of bone cancer.

Since then, Ashley and her daughter have driven 30 miles, from their home in the western suburbs of Los Angeles, to UCLA every other week for five straight days of chemo treatment, followed by nine days of recovery. Long before the coronavirus drove America out of the workplace, Ashley put her career as a landscape designer on hold to tend to her daughter, whose condition requires round-the-clock care. The two of them have also been basically on lockdown, since Karenna’s immune system is so fragile.

Then, in March, the pandemic hit. Soon, the rest of the world – plus the rest of their family – joined them in unexpected quarantine.

Ashley:  Cancer comes with many questions. Now you have COVID, which is very similar, in terms of how do you get it? Could be this way, could be that way. How long does it last? How does it manifest in each person? Cancer is the same way. How long is treatment? When will this be over? When will we know that it’s not going to come back? So it was like, is there yet another thing now that we have to worry about? 

In the very beginning, I was in a state of complete – I mean, you go from this busy life, lots of distractions, very busy work, everyone’s got their full schedule, and then you find out one day your kid has cancer.

Since I’ve now surrendered to cancer, it was easier for me to surrender to COVID. I wasn’t working any more. I had no social life that wasn’t phone calls or walks.

Her doctor at UCLA told us, “I really doubt Karenna’s going to get this (based the way scientists believe the virus interacts with the body, and evidence from Italy and New York City).” He’s more worried about me getting it, or (her husband) Charles getting it. Karenna can’t bear the thought of me getting sick.

For instance, if I was to have a fever, she would have to get chemo alone. Now, anyone 13 or older is getting chemo alone. The kids are sitting there bawling behind other curtains in the chemo clinic. One parent is allowed, but if that one parent is sick, the kid has to get it alone, which is super-traumatic.

Also, Karenna had planned this big trip post-chemo, which was supposed to be in June – she wanted to go to Italy. Now we can’t go anywhere for God knows how long.

But you know what? As awful as it has been, there has been so much beauty. The amount of support! There was this woman who organized 75 people in our neighborhood to bring Karenna a gift every single day. Every single morning there’s a beautiful wrapped gift outside our door. And we don’t even know these people. It’s all anonymous. 

There’s something really beautiful about community and the simplicity of our family now.  I never played Monopoly with the girls their entire childhoods, and we played Monopoly. Before, we were always going in different directions. It was kind of a big deal after we played, because I thought, Wow, we never do anything like that.  The amount of family dinners we’ve had, cooking meals, sitting outside by the pool. We never cleared our schedules in 20 years. Now it’s like, what are we doing for breakfast? What are we doing for lunch? Elizabeth (the oldest girl) gets up and makes coffee for everyone. She takes orders. Anything that you would have gotten at any matcha bar. She’s trying to find boba. That’s all we don’t have.

I’ve always believed in God, but there’s something really different now. I’ve had to accept that I’m not really 100 percent in control. Things are going to happen and I’m going to have to roll with it.

I used to sit down every night and make my list and it was like, Okay, I’m going to get through this list tomorrow. Everything will be done on this list. There is no list anymore. And I don’t even care. I’m telling you I care about nothing anymore but health and family.

Now, with this pandemic, the entire world is worried about health. Every single person knows that health is at risk. There’s a unity.

This is a long-term quarantine, which is very much parallel to what we’ve experienced. It feels like saying, “Do you get what we’ve been going through?” and everyone in the world is like, “Yes!”

Day 30: Nancy

April 24, 2020

Me at Whole Foods without Nancy

Tomorrow is Saturday, my day of rest from this blog. Back on Sunday. Be well and be safe!

I met Nancy because I get too many migraines.

A few years ago, she set up a massage chair at my local Whole Foods. I would walk by and see her sitting on a stool, reading a romance novel, her blue leather chair at her side, and I would wonder: should I treat myself to a massage?

It seemed so decadent and bizarre at the same time. Massages are supposed to be something you gift yourself on a big birthday, not a treat you indulge in next to the olive bar at the market.

But I get these migraines that start in my neck, the muscles tensing and tensing, until they shoot up past my hairline, around my ears and my temples, to the back of my eyes, at which point I’m pretty much toast. Medication helps (yes I have a prescription — remember, I’m married to a doctor), but it has side effects and anyway, if you take it too often, there’s a rebound thing that happens.

However — if someone can massage my neck and back just as it’s starting, sometimes the migraine scuttles away.

Obviously, it was only going to be a matter of time before I sat down in that chair.

I’ve had so many massages from Nancy in the years since that they all kind of merge together. Did I mention that I can walk to that Whole Foods in 15 minutes, drive there in five? She’s a magician. Her fingers know exactly where the pain lives and, like a weed, where it’s driven its roots. She extracts them one by one. When I leave her chair, after 15 or 20 minutes, the migraine may still be with me. Within an hour, though, it fades away. I have no idea how she does this.

But that’s not the best part of Nancy. The best part of Nancy is… well… Nancy. It turns out massaging is her day job. She’s an actress who approaches her roles with the rigor and fierce intellect you’d expect of a graduate of Smith College. She’s a tireless fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research, having lost multiple members of her family, including her mother, to the devastating disease. She’s an active member of her Episcopalian church, drawing on her deep faith to pull her through life’s challenges. And most importantly, she’s a good, good friend.

Nancy cheers me on. She cheers on my children and my husband. She’s the bright spark waving when you walk into the market, smiling at you when you walk out. Talking to her is to be showered in compliments you don’t deserve.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going. Nancy isn’t at Whole Foods anymore because she can’t be there. No touching allowed in a pandemic. We’ve sent a few texts back and forth, but it’s not the same.

This pandemic hasn’t been all bad. Because everything has stopped, my life is calmer. My anxiety, which can sometimes fly off the charts, is way, way down. It turns out what stresses me isn’t so much the events in my life as the pace at which I’m trying to process those events.

But this virus has taken, too. It’s torn away joys big and small. Sometimes, I don’t even see the hole in my life until I’m tripping right through it.

Like today, when I went to Whole Foods and the only person that greeted me was a security guard in a mask and gloves, ticking me off on his counter. I was simply one more person allowed to enter the store.

I miss my massages. But I miss Nancy more.

Day 29: Jabberwocky

April 23, 2020

Lewis Carroll

These days!

When have we ever seen anything like these days?

When I dare to look up from my daily grind, I wonder if I’m living a nonsense version of my life.

Like, take my iPhone calendar. It keeps issuing reminders of phantom events. “The Antipodes MT,” it announces. “April 25, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.”

Also, “Calculus Camp, Today.”

These two events actually were not supposed to co-exist. Our 16-year-old goes to a public school that takes Advanced Placement exams very seriously — a little too seriously, I tend to think. But one silver lining to this obsession is that the teachers actually drive all calculus students up to the San Bernardino Mountains, east of the city, for a four-day calculus extravaganza every April. In between lessons, the kids get to hang out in nature and with each other, plus they snag Calculus Camp sweatshirts to wear proudly back at school. Plus they tend to pass the exam.

Since our two boys were supposed to be away, one at college in Michigan and one studying abroad in Ghana, that meant my husband and I would have three nights to ourselves. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary on May 6th, and we’d talked about going away somewhere this weekend, even just overnight. I had dreams of Terranea.

That, of course, conflicted with “The Antipodes.” We have season tickets, with our neighbors Dave and Cheryl, to the Mark Taper Forum. For years, Cheryl and I would walk our dogs and talk about all the great cultural events we would attend if not for the soccer games at the park, or the child who needed a ride to a birthday party. Finally, last year, I called her up and said the time had come. We’ve seen more than half a dozen plays since then, most of them dramas on their national tour after a stint on Broadway. My husband’s been saying he wants tickets to musicals or the Philharmonic next year. Enough with all this Sturm und Drang. But for me, it’s been a dream.

See, this is the kind of problem I used to deal with: remembering to call the Taper and exchange our Antipodes tickets for a different weekend.

Today, the Terranea’s website says the resort, out of the typical “abundance of caution,” is closed. So is the Taper.

I have no idea what “The Antipodes” is about but I would give my eye teeth to go downtown this weekend and see it performed. Every time the reminder comes up on my phone, I salivate.

I used to jot down every appointment on my virtual calendar, because if I didn’t, I’d forget. I even had color codes — yellow for family, blue for me, red for work appointments and deadlines. I still punch in things now and then, but it’s more out of habit than anything else. There isn’t that much going on in my life. I tend to remember what’s coming.

But the calendar was about more than just ensuring I didn’t miss an engagement. I mean, I thought that was the purpose. Now I understand — it was also a way of marking the future. Like a dog lifting its leg to pee on a tree, I was claiming the next day, week, month as mine, and knowable.

I don’t know anything anymore. Our governor says we’re not close to meeting criteria for reopening the state, so he can’t give us a date. But c’mon. Are we looking at weeks? Months?

This is absurd. It’s like living in a Samuel Beckett play, issuing pronouncements that don’t make sense in the real world, waiting on something that’s in no rush to come, if it comes at all.

Because — well, I don’t mean to rain on anybody’s parade here folks, but if it’s occurred to me, it must have occurred to you: what if normal never returns? What if this starts a cascade of events that changes our lives forever?

See, here I go again, trying to know the future by imagining the worst. But the worst I can imagine is rarely what comes to pass. Instead, it’s something else.

There’s this poem I used to love as a kid, called “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll (he of Alice in Wonderland fame). It’s a poem that almost makes sense, but not quite. You feel like if you squint and look at it just so, its odd pieces will fall into place. Only you can never get the angle of the squint quite right.

These days, I think, are Jabberwocky days. That’s the only way they make any kind of sense at all.

In case you don’t remember it, or if hasn’t yet graced your life, I’m going to let Lewis Carroll and his nonsense poem take us out today:



’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

Day 28: Minivan

April 22, 2020

I woke up this morning and I didn’t want to do any of this anymore.

Not the Zooming. Not my new daily routine (morning, fiction writing and dog walk; early afternoon, work; late afternoon, blog). Not the checking on my kids, to make sure they’re not cracking under the stress. Not the worrying about what my husband may be encountering at work. Not the masks. Not the rainbows in the windows or the whimsical chalk drawings on the sidewalk.

None of it.

All I wanted was to get in my car and drive to an event with lots of other people, and celebrate something. Anything.

I can move to South Carolina, I guess. Or like the rest of us, I can wait.

Today — as you probably have not been able to avoid knowing — is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. How ironic, then, how deeply I long for my car and the freedom it affords. All day I’ve been fantasizing about vacations I want to take, and lollygagging in memories of places I’ve visited in the past.

If we’re going to save this planet, we’re going to have to move around it a whole lot less. I’m no exception, I realize. But this staying in one place is hard. I’m used to the variety afforded me by my seven-year-old Toyota minivan. I’ve spent so much time over the years complaining about the traffic here in L.A., I never stopped to consider how amazing it is that, even with cars bumper-to-bumper on the 10, I can get from my house in Mar Vista to downtown in no more than an hour (20 minutes if the lanes were clear, in case you were wondering).

Is it only me, or does it feel like this is a necessary harbinger of things to come? I don’t see how we can save the planet and drive and jet around it at the same time. Even with renewable fuels. Even with offsets. Every car we manufacture, every plane that comes off the assembly line, takes so much from our earth that we can’t replace.

This virus has radically changed my life in the course of a few weeks. There’s so much of it I’m eager to shake off. But for the sake of our beautiful Earth, I think some of these changes — some of this slowing down, this moving around less — we’re going to need to keep.

I don’t know how we’re going to do that, though. And as much as I claim to be green, I don’t know that I will like it.

Day 22: Letters of Transit

April 16, 2020

Last night, we sat down with our kids to see “Casablanca.” Not all three kids — the middle one took a pass. He often takes a pass. This is how he missed seeing “Come From Away” at the Ahmanson two Decembers ago, a theatrical experience the other four of us still gush about with wonder.

But I digress.

So there we were, me and the 16-year-old and the 21-year-old curled up on the couch, my possibly-COVID husband relegated to another option (he vacillated between the floor and an ottoman). And maybe it was because we kept pausing the movie to explain plot details to the 16-year-old (while her older brother rolled his eyes and threatened, “If she needs to stop one more time, I’m leaving” — but she did, and he didn’t). Or maybe I’ve finally seen this thing so many times that I can get beyond wondering what Ingrid Bergman would’ve looked like without soft focus, and sighing over the tragedy of thwarted love.

But for the first time, I understood in a visceral way the relief those characters must have felt to land in Casablanca, and yet, the burning desire, even need, they had to leave.

Until this virus landed in my community, I’d never been stalked by an enemy before. I thought my dreams of Nazis chasing me sort of counted. I thought the fear I felt the night of September 11, 2001, looking up into a Los Angeles sky brightened only by starlight, wondering if my city would be next — I thought that counted.

No, it didn’t. Not for me, anyway. But now I know what it’s like to find my society up against something implacable and potentially lethal. To make a rough correlation, the outside is Vichy France. My home is Casablanca. It’s safe — for now. I can afford to stay here — for now. There are adequate provisions — for now. But I want — we all want — to get to safety.

That war, when it caught you in its crosshairs, was so much deadlier than this virus. But it was ungainlier, couldn’t travel with the same smooth, voracious ease.

President Trump wants to open up the nation as soon as possible — May 1st, or even earlier for some locales, he reportedly told governors on a phone call today. I confess, I am usually knee-jerk negative on all things Trump. And of course, this nation remains woefully unprepared to confront this pandemic, short as we are on testing, and ventilators, and ICU beds, and ill-equipped as we are to do proper contact tracing.

But what is our alternative? Here in California, we are what’s considered a raging COVID success story. “State’s scariest virus scenarios finally yield to ray of optimism,” read the headline in this morning’s LA Times. “Coronavirus cases in California may be peaking, models show, provided we stick with social distancing.” (italics are mine)

That means everything — so many lives saved — and nothing. I don’t understand how we keep doing this. I see friends posting on Facebook that neither they nor their spouse have had any income for a month. Two, three, four months like this seems unsustainable.

In such moments, I turn to my younger brother, who loves numbers. When he was a kid, he’d grab the sports section each morning and lie on his stomach on the den carpet, the paper spread out before him to the stats section, chewing up the numbers in his head, breaking them down. Today, with business in the doldrums, he fills his time scouring the internet for COVID-19 spread data. Sometimes he sends me what he finds. (Sometimes he makes graphs of infection rates by region, country or state. I’m trying to get him to make a few that I can share here, but so far, he’s a no go.)

Yesterday, he sent me this link. As of today, the New York state infection rate is 11,530 per one million people. California’s is 704. Sure, we can re-open this state, but whether we inch forward, or throw ourselves a big “return to normalcy” party, we still must grapple with the intractable fact that most of us remain unexposed to the virus and don’t have immunity.

But are New Yorkers much better off? Definitely, there are a lot more people in the five boroughs that have survived COVID-19 than in Los Angeles. But we still don’t know what that hard-won exposure is worth in immunity. I came across a study in Science Magazine the other day that sent chills down my spine. The authors — Harvard University professors — explained that viral immunity could be anywhere from five years or more to a handful of months. We just don’t know. And, they added, what’s going on now may not be the worst we’re going to see. I’m just going to quote from their paper here, because they explain it better than me:

One-time social distancing efforts may push the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic peak into the autumn, potentially exacerbating the load on critical care resources if there is increased wintertime transmissibility. Intermittent social distancing might maintain critical care demand within current thresholds, but widespread surveillance will be required to time the distancing measures correctly and avoid overshooting critical care capacity. New therapeutics, vaccines, or other interventions such as aggressive contact tracing and quarantine – impractical now in many places but more practical once case numbers have been reduced and testing scaled up (43) – could alleviate the need for stringent social distancing to maintain control of the epidemic. In the absence of such interventions, surveillance and intermittent distancing (or sustained distancing if it is highly effective) may need to be maintained into 2022, which would present a substantial social and economic burden.

“Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period,” Science Magazine, April 14, 2020

In other words, if this doesn’t work out right, we could be asked to do this for two more years. But we can’t. Can we? People who had solid lives will lose their homes. People won’t have money for food. And will the food even be there? What of our vaunted supply chains, when the virus keeps striking and striking, and we keep shutting down in response?

Just like Victor Laszlo and his soft-focus Ilsa, we all just want safety. We sit here on uncomfortable bar stools in Casablanca, throwing back our cocktails, trying to figure out how to get letters of transit so we can leave this beautiful hellhole.

Remember, in “Casablanca,” security was only an illusion. It was a free French territory, but the Germans kept finding ways to convert life to death. And so we wait in our homes, while the economy crumbles, and we’re “safe” — maybe from the virus, probably not from the economic damage being wrought all around us.

We want safe passage. But maybe there’s no entirely safe passage through this thing.

Day 20: Ironic, Part II

April 14, 2020

At 8 p.m., I published a post about my languid pandemic afternoon, and plopped down on the living room couch to scroll through Facebook.

Thirty minutes later, my husband came in and stood across the room from me. Then he took a step backward.

He’d just gotten a call from work. They’d told him he was at risk for developing the coronavirus, and needed to self-isolate.

It’s a long story, but here is the outline: a patient came into the hospital last week, when my husband was on service, for an illness other than coronavirus. The patient had an emergency on Monday (a week ago yesterday) and received an intervention from my husband as well as other doctors and nurses. Since then, the patient was discharged from the hospital. Days later, he was readmitted with COVID-19, and is now quite ill.

But that’s not why my husband’s colleague called. She called because one of the nurses who also took care of the patient just tested positive.

It’s been eight days since he last had contact with the patient. It seems like an awfully long time to be symptom-free and yet still at risk for getting this disease.

And yet. From now until Sunday, the 14th day since contact, he’s going to wear a mask around the house. Wash his hands whenever he touches anything. Sanitize everything he touches. And he’s sleeping in our daughter’s room. She’s moved in with me.

That’s how this thing is. That’s how this time is. You stop to notice the bloom on the roses, the chirp of the birds in the trees. And then the virus reminds you that’s not the point of spring, 2020.

The point is vigilance. Even when it’s been eight days. Even when you think it’s already made the rounds in your house. Even when you believe he must be immune by now.

Snap on the mask. Wash the hands. Wash them again, and again. Six more days to go.

Day 20: Ironic

April 14, 2020

Of course, this virus is insidious. And deadly. And causing terrible damage in many different ways.

But this afternoon, I sat on my neighbor’s driveway because no one’s driving anywhere. She stood, because she felt like it.

The sky was the kind of blue that a child snatches out of a crayon box when she wants to color in the sky.

The sun shone overhead, turning the greens emerald and the pinks rosy and the purples royal.

It wasn’t too hot, but also, not cold at all.

“It’s so beautiful out,” my neighbor said. “How can there be a pandemic?”

But of course there’s a pandemic. Otherwise, I could never have been so relaxed.

I shrugged, and leaned back, and smiled up at her.

Day 15: Passover

April 9, 2020

Is it ungrateful to be sad?

Is it unreasonable — after not one but two carefully planned Seders, full of dear friends and family who smiled and sang and reached deep inside themselves to offer up truth over the Cloud — to feel grief at the memory of what once was, and the glimpse of what could have been these last two nights?

Is it right to be so angry at a virus, a thing so tiny even a cell dwarfs it?

It may be ungrateful, and unreasonable, and wrong. But here I am, after the second of two Seders, a little emptier than I wish I was, having one of those moments that come every now and again, when I just want to fling this lockdown aside and live.

Even if I were to break all the rules, though, it wouldn’t matter. I’m in California, where everyone around me is so, so good. I’d be hugging and shaking hands with the air.

A Seder, for those of you don’t live in worlds like mine, is basically a second Thanksgiving for Jews, with a ritualized service at the dinner table before you eat. You have a book called a Haggadah, which among other things tells the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. At specific moments you drink wine and eat certain foods and sing certain songs. The whole thing (meaning, the service part) can take anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours, and can be done all in English, partly in Hebrew, or all in Hebrew, depending upon the religiosity and stamina of the people at the table.

Usually, we go to my cousin Susan’s house in Carthay Circle for the first night Seder, and we often host a smaller, second night one at our house, with family and neighbors. The same pattern basically held this year, except, of course, we did both on Zoom.

There were some obvious bright spots. To amend a phrase from the Haggadah, on any other Passover night, we would not have had all five members of our immediate family at the table. My older son would have been in Ghana, where he was studying abroad for the second semester of his junior year in college (and where he’d planned to travel to the north of the country, to celebrate with the small Jewish community there). My younger son would have been in college in the Midwest. Who knows what he would have been doing? Attending a Seder at his roommate’s parents’ house? Homework? Partying? For sure, he wouldn’t have been with us.

On the first night, we were joined by my cousin Alyse, who’s nearly 104 years old. She didn’t seem like she would have been able to make a dinner in-person. What’s more, our Seder included people in Ohio, Chicago and New York City. Together, we reached out across a continent to laugh and sing and pray and eat together.

Usually, at our house, we use the Haggadahs we purchased when our boys were in preschool, and the mood is light to match. We sing songs about frogs jumping on Pharoah (“frogs here! frogs there! frogs were jumping everywhere — even in his underwear!”), and toss plague finger puppets (blood! locusts! boils!) onto the table with merry abandon.

Can you even imagine? As if a plague were a joke from long ago?

Tonight, we used a downloaded Haggadah compiled by our rabbis for this coronavirus time, and we went around the screen, from square image to square image, sharing what we’d lately learned about ourselves and the world.

“I’ve learned it can be scary to go to the grocery store,” one person said.

“I’ve learned I like L.A. this quiet,” said another.

In that moment, or in moments like when Susan’s group recited the blessing over the bread together, in six different cities in four different states, I felt connection like you rarely feel in groups, Zoom or otherwise. And my soul was calmed.

There’s so much of that these days, these crazy, whipsawed days. I am deeply calm in the knowledge that what I feel, others around me feel as well. In that feeling, there’s no loneliness. There’s no isolation.

But I’m anxious about the state of our imploding world (or perhaps it’s not imploding? maybe I’ve got it all, pessimistically wrong? See, this is how I get anxious). And I’m missing the part of life I never knew could go away — the leaning-over-to-whisper, the glass-clinking, the cheek-kissing. I miss the moment at Susan’s house when she passes around a basket of green onions, and we all slap each other with them during the Dayenu song (though our middle son managed to make a pretty entertaining drum out of his scallion and the stray Haggadah page that landed on his dad’s lap last night). I miss the way, once dinner is done, we’d all push back our chairs at our house and talk about anything and everything, while bored children wandered to screens, to hang out with each other, or even back to their own houses, around the corner or down the street.

This pandemic time is like panning for gold. I come regularly upon nuggets, large and small, that glitter and shine and have real worth. But the sun burns my neck, my back aches from bending over, and from time to time I look down to see my jeans and sleeves are soaked, black crescents top my fingernails and my shoes are encrusted with mud.

Enough, I think.

I want my old, imperfect life back.

Now would not be a moment too soon.

Day 11: Birthday

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Queen of England always manages to soothe me. I wish she were mine.

Queen Elizabeth posted an address to her nation today that was everything I realized I’ve been wanting to hear from my leaders: a calm, sober examination of the crisis we’re facing; gratitude for those working on the front lines to save the rest of us; acknowledgement of the sacrifices we’re all making simply by staying home; hope that this will end soon; and conviction that when it does, we will look back and be proud of what our time and our people achieved.

There was also a poignancy to her speech. Her son is fighting the coronavirus. Her prime minister, who might ordinarily have addressed the nation, just got admitted to the hospital with it. She never mentioned either of them. She understood that, whatever her personal challenges, they are no greater and therefore no more relevant than yours or mine.

I got out today for the first time in two and a half weeks (we made an emergency run to the vet — dog turned out to have eaten something funny, but she’s fine). As my daughter and I drove down Sepulveda Boulevard, I saw the challenges our society faces in ways that aren’t apparent walking around my residential neighborhood.

The darkened electronic billboard. Tattered pieces of paper, hanging off the edges of a different billboard stand, the fragments fluttering in the breeze. The empty Ross Dress for Less parking lot. The Zankou chicken restaurant, two customers standing in the back, all the chairs upside down on the tables at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Los Angeles, I thought, is a city waiting for its people to come back. It’s there, just on Sepulveda alone, enough buildings to house all the civilization anyone could think to request. And almost none of us are in almost any of them anymore.

You could say it’s like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie. But there were no monsters marching on the medians. The humans aren’t all dead. We’re just in our homes, terrified not of gruesome creatures, but of a tiny thing that even the keenest of human vision can’t glimpse.

But here are two things that are good. The people at the vet were kind and gentle with our labradoodle, Georgie. And across the nation, and up and down our street, people reached out to give our middle child one of the best birthdays he’s ever had.

My younger son turned 19 yesterday. He woke up to a video his older brother made, which was actually a compilation of about 40 shorter videos sent by the 19-year-old’s friends from high school, and from his buddies who go to college with him in the Midwest. One after the other, they told him how much they missed him, promised him they’d have fun together when they all got out, ordered him to stay healthy. One kid recorded on his phone as he was driving on an interstate (we got a view of the interstate, in case we had any doubts). Another played him “Happy Birthday” on the clarinet (my son’s a musician, in a music program). One of his best friends from high school, now living in Texas with his mom, teared up, wishing they could be together to celebrate.

At noon, a neighbor had Postmates deliver his favorite order from his favorite poke restaurant (shout out for Sea Salt Poke at Olympic and Sawtelle — the owner Russell gets up at 4 a.m. every day to pick the freshest fish from the fish market, and is just one of the best guys ever. Please consider supporting him with your orders.)

At 2 o’clock, his oldest buddy, a kid he’s known since preschool, came over to walk around the neighborhood, six feet apart.

And at 8 p.m., our entire family was summoned outside by the neighbors on our street, most of them in masks, all of them banging pots and pans. When our middle child emerged, they sang him “Happy Birthday” in the dark. No hand washing involved.

I looked around at my neighbors, knocking wooden spoons against frying pan lids, smiling through flimsy pieces of sky blue paper. I turned and saw my son, beaming in the porch light. It was an extraordinary moment on an ordinary night, in the middle of an extraordinary time.

I thought of my neighbors and my son while I was watching the Queen today. The Queen, who’s lived through World War II, a long string of small and large crises since, not to mention revolts from within her own family, played out on the public stage, for the world to see.

Ah, I thought. That’s what she meant. It may be some of the worst of times, but it was the best of us.

Day 10: Time

Saturday, April 4, 2020

It’s not all bad, these coronavirus days.

There are times I really like having nowhere to go. This rush we always live in, this must-get-here and have-to-get there — vanished. I had no idea that was possible. I’d assumed I’d be metaphorically out of breath until the day I died.

I have friends and family who despise sitting still. For them, this time is a trial. Take my mother. My whole life, she’s been on the move. Even in her 80s she keeps up a hectic schedule of gym workouts and competitive bridge and art classes and UCLA basketball games and dinner out on Saturdays and travel around the world.

No more. Now she and her longtime partner stay at home while my 21-year-old son and 17-year-old niece go to the market for her. “I just don’t know how much longer we can all do this,” she says to me on the phone, nearly every day.

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I could do this for a bit longer. Quite a bit longer.

When I was a child, all I ever wanted to do was stay in my room with the door closed. There I had my stack of library books, which usually included something by Louisa May Alcott, a volume from the Narnia series, a biography of somebody famous I wanted to grow up to be, and a couple of new novels about girls, or magic, or both. I had a chest of drawers, wherein I kept a diary with a real lock that could be opened with a real key (or jimmied in about two seconds with a twisted paperclip). I could lug from my closet suitcase-style boxes covered in patent leather and filled with Barbies and their wardrobes. Eventually, I got my Barbies a three-story house with a pink plastic elevator that went up and down on a pulley.

Short of a bathroom (down the hall) and food (produced on the regular by my busy, efficient mother), there was nothing else I needed. My younger brother, more like my mother than me, would have loved a playmate. But I drifted in the happy haze of my alone time, which seemed to stretch out before and behind me as far as I could see, mine for the taking. Every once in a while, my parents would drag me out for a bike ride, or to participate in a soccer game with other kids my age. But every day, as soon as they let me, I found my way back to my room, and my particular world.

Eventually, homework intruded. Then outings with friends. Boys. When I was 17, we moved from the house in Encino, where my room had wallpaper in a Wedgewood pattern of strawberries and pink flowers, an apple green carpet, a pink-and-white checked comforter and white eyelet trimmed curtains framing a view of a tree that burst into blossom every spring. Our new house in Calabasas was twice the size and, we all thought, twice as nice. But my room was painted an off-white. It lay over the garage, so every time someone came home, it vibrated like a minor earthquake. And it faced west, which meant that every afternoon from June to October, there wasn’t enough air conditioning in the world to cool it down.

Plus, by then I was busy. A calendar was no longer merely an indicator of the week or month, but a page to fill with plans. Time to myself had become what happened when every other plan fell through.

My life since then has followed a textbook path: college, then grad school, then career. Husband, then one kid, then two, then three. Playdates and birthday parties, dance practice and soccer games. A dog who needs walks. Freelance work and carpools. SAT tutoring and college counseling. Slipped into the cracks, little treats for me like a book club, a subscription to the theater with my husband and neighbors, writing groups, weekday dinners out with friends.

And always errands, errands, errands.

Then this spring a virus hit, and it all stopped. I usually worry I will miss out on something by staying home. But my friends zoom into my computer on video chats almost every evening. My parents and brother, no longer darting from here to there, pick up by the second ring. And my three kids, now 21, 19 and 16, are around. Not around like little children, in my face, demanding this, requiring that. Rather, they drift about the house, colliding softly here and there, mostly leaving me alone but generally available if I want to talk or watch a show.

I feel bad saying this, because my husband’s life is as busy as ever. His stress has multiplied many times over. But this temporary life — this life brought to me by a deadly virus that is ripping through our society like a knife through a body –feels like something once lost, now found.

It feels like time, rolling out around me, mine again for the taking.