I had barely taken a breath of appreciation for the declining virus numbers, when the news ramped up about the Second Wave. I looked out my bedroom window, beyond the Bossert Hotel, past Brooklyn Bridge One, to the mingled arms of red and blue cranes at the Red Hook Terminal, which docked the Queen Mary 2 in healthier days. In March, Governor Cuomo had declared that the Terminal would be a temporary hospital, and I had taken some comfort from that announcement.
The Governor released this information at a time when I worried about where Rosemary or I would be taken when we developed Covid-19 and the ambulance drivers carried one of us off. I found solace in looking at the site where this new hospital would be, studying it through the binoculars, and looking at maps of the terminal on the Internet. If Rosemary were taken there, I speculated, I could look out my bedroom window and see where she was, even if I couldn’t visit her. If the virus struck me down, perhaps there would be a place in the makeshift hospital, where I could look up at our tall building and know that Rosemary was sleeping behind the window of the corner apartment on the 32nd floor. But by the end of April, since we had all done such a good job of staying home, the plans for the Red Hook Hospital had been abandoned, no longer needed. I slept better and began to think about summer.
Then, with only a little warning, talk of the Second Wave filled our screens. I knew about a Second Wave in another context, that of Second Wave Feminism of the 1960s: Betty Friedan speaking at Colby College, Bread and Roses in Boston, guerilla theater in the streets of Hartford, and raising consciousnesses everywhere, in the times when we believed in a better future and we changed the world through our own actions.
This Second Wave of the Corona Virus didn’t feel very much like that more empowering time. Now I felt helpless and without agency, at the mercy of a virus whose changing identity created an impossible enemy, an enemy with a power paralleled only by the despot in Washington and those rich ones who backed him and didn’t mind losing tranches of older people to save the economy. We were going to die anyway, they said.
I recalled the heroines of those bygone Feminist Second Wave days who stood up to tyranny: Angela Davis who championed radical views in the face of the opposition of Reagan and the University of California regents; Bernadette Dohrn, a founder of the Weather Underground who declared war on the United States government; and another Bernadette, Bernadette Devlin, the Irish activist, who when presented with the keys to the City of New York, promptly gave them to the Black Panthers. Where were the people who would take action against the current unlawful government?
Certainly not here, I admitted; I was not on the offensive, not at my age, although Jane Fonda was older than I, and she was still out there protesting to save the environment. Still, I sometimes convinced myself, Fonda didn’t have the health issues I had, nor a wife with breast cancer. No, I decided, my only salvation from the second wave of the virus, would be to retreat—to retreat from long elevator rides, shared laundry rooms, and parks where the air hung heavy with the breath from city-dwellers escaping the confines of their small apartments. The restaurants, museums, and theaters that were so much a part of New York would remain closed to us for the foreseeable future. The subways, taxis, Lyfts, and trains that made it possible to get around were no longer safe for those with compromising diseases. Many of our friends had already left the City. The groups we belonged to were meeting on Zoom and could be joined from anywhere. When the members of these groups did reconvene in person, if we escaped the wave, Rosemary and I would still be quarantining ourselves, watching as the rest of the world went back to life outside, unable to break free until a vaccine became available.
I began talking to Rosemary about taking money out of our retirement savings to escape the City before the Second Wave arrived, before the Governor planned another hospital in the Red Hook Terminal. It was money we had planned to use to attend our daughter’s wedding in Yosemite, cancelled because of the virus, and to visit Rosemary’s elderly mother in Hawaii, a now unfeasible trip. I was aware of the many around us who were not afforded such a luxury, families with parents or older children working, crowded in one-bedroom apartments with no place to distance. “But,” I argued, half trying to convince myself as well as Rosemary that we should go, “If we stay here, we won’t live long enough to need the money anyway.”
The magnitude of unknowns and the lack of control made planning nigh impossible. If we left, we wanted to be out of the City before the wave hit, but some said that would be summer, some fall, others even later. Vacation rental places, which generally charged by the night, were too costly, and regular rentals usually weren’t furnished and wanted a year’s commitment. We needed to stay close enough to the City to return for weekly medical appointments. We applied for two houses a little north, but both owners decided to stay out of the City themselves and took their properties off the market. A third owner turned us down in favor of another applicant, who, I was sure, was younger and could do the mowing and plowing that the owner didn’t want to deal with. When we finally found two places on the Connecticut shore with owners willing to rent to us, we started having second thoughts.
Here in the City, we not only had our doctors, we had a weekly reservation for grocery delivery, people we had never met who did errands for us, and neighbors who left wine and goodies at our door, ringing the doorbell and running down the hall to wave at us from the corner where the hallway turned to the elevator. We knew the routines. I could wait until late evening before retrieving packages and mail from the mail room, when the lobby would be quiet. I could go to the laundry in the basement at 6 a.m. on Sunday, with mask and gloves, and be reasonably assured I would only run into one or two other residents. The thought of finding grocery stores, pharmacists, neighbors to help us in a strange community– all without leaving our new abode seemed daunting. We would be in a place where we knew no one and had no way of meeting folks. And, as fearful as I was of the New York hospitals, I had difficulty picturing the unknown rural hospital where we would have to go if we couldn’t make it back to the City.
Were we safer here in the City, inside our closed apartment in the sky, looking out over the Red Hook Terminal, not leaving for another year? There were so many unknowns. We told the two owners who had offered us places that we needed time, and we understood if they found someone who could commit more quickly than we were able.
We decided, for the moment, to buy a car.