“Do you want time to slow down?” the McCall’s magazine article asked, or maybe it was the Ladies’ Home Journal or Good Housekeeping, or one of the other magazines to which my young mother subscribed. “Spend more time at the dentist,” declared the author, causing me, at age nine, to rethink any wish I may have had around slowing down time, for going to the dentist caused me enormous dread. Besides, at that age, I was more likely to want time to speed up than to slow down. This article presented me with my first encounter with time on an abstract level, and the idea that time paced itself differently depending on circumstances has fascinated me for almost seventy years.
This pandemic has provided a stage for Time to put on quite a performance.
In the midst of being secluded due to the Corona Virus, it was my desire for time to slow down that was often most prevalent. Two virtual yoga sessions and two physical therapy appointments each week; books to read for three different groups; a short piece to write for our Sunday salon; friends to check up on; children who checked on us at least twice a day – my week raced by. Some days, Rosemary and I had meetings at the same time and we negotiated space in the apartment where we could each zoom in to our sessions. Suddenly, it would be the weekend again, and I hadn’t written the next chapter in my book, cleaned the bathrooms, taken a walk in the park, or finished reading Samantha Power’s memoir, which would be the topic of discussion at my memoir group the next day.
There were other days, however, when I related to the Governor’s reference to Groundhog Day. I caught myself in the middle of the day trying to get a time slot for groceries to be delivered and wondering, “Didn’t I do this yesterday? And the day before?”
At six o’clock each day, we sat down to watch Judy Woodruff and the news hour. One day, as Judy was speaking, I accidentally brought up a recording of a previous episode. Judy was talking about the same issue in the recording as she was in the live show.
I put on my mask, gloves, outside shoes, and my old cover-up shirt to go down to the lobby to get a package and I tried to remember what day I had ordered the extra batteries for my phone. Hadn’t I gone down to get these same batteries in several previous trips? Didn’t they already arrive? What day was it anyway? As a young woman in the sixties and seventies, I took hallucinogenics, and this was reminiscent of my sense of time then – that feeling of driving down a road and passing the same building forever, the moment that you thought had ended, still present.
Time could be tricky. Because of our illnesses, we had isolated ourselves very early in the pandemic, seeing no one but our medical providers. We watched as the world began to shut down, slowly, at first, as people caught on. Then things sped up so fast, I felt like we were always a step behind. For most of March, we waited each day for the Governor’s updates: the counts of those hospitalized, of those in ICU, of the number of beds, and news of the scarcity of ventilators.
I hastened along, trying to keep pace with Time, holding my breath, checking each morning to make sure I was without virus symptoms, wondering which of the new hospital sites would be our destination if we needed it, when we needed it. In the little waiting room at the hospital, where I sat while Rosemary was finishing her radiation treatment, the U. S. Attorney General came on the TV. “This week, it’s going to get bad,” he announced. It was. The governor added statistics on the number of deaths to his mid-day report.
One day, I woke up with joint pain and a cough and I told Rosemary to stay away. I shut myself in our bedroom and made sure she didn’t use the bathroom off our bedroom. When I drove her to her radiation treatment, I put on my mask and she sat in the back seat. Later in the day, I decided that I was OK. With the joint pain from my RA and the coughing from my lung disease, it was easy to be fooled, especially when fear took over. We told our children that if we did get ill, they should not come to the City; there would be nothing they could do.
Then, suddenly, we were in April and I was asking Rosemary if she didn’t suppose we should get out of the city for the summer, away from the epicenter. I studied Zillow, looking for rentals within a 90 minute radius of the city, so we could return for Rosemary’s weekly chemo treatments. Maybe we should buy a car, I suggested, since the virus would be around for some time and we wouldn’t be able to take trains or Ubers. “Wait!” I thought, “When did this happen? When did I start believing I might have a future again?”
Perhaps it was when Rosemary’s radiation treatment ended, when she had crossed off the final day on the calendar, and we no longer had to venture out every day. Maybe it came about when the Governor announced that the peak had passed and, although deaths were still above 600 a day, the rise in hospitalizations had leveled off. We could, he said, start giving our spare ventilators to other states. Or it could have been when Queen Elizabeth came on TV and reassured us, “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
The end of the time of panic had slipped past me, noticed only in retrospect. But here we were, past the beginning, or as Governor Cuomo said, quoting Churchill, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” We had made it this far, with no guarantees of the future, but in some sense, I had settled in. When the world is falling apart, there is no time to look forward or back; the only time is present. I was glad I was able to look in both directions now.
That is another feature I have always adored about time, it can be reviewed backwards and forwards. Or perhaps that is an ability of mine.