by Andrew Sarewitz
I sometimes hear or see things I think my mother will appreciate. In the seconds before I pick up the phone to call, I remember she is no longer alive, and I awake to present day thought. That’s a little like my daily experience during the coronavirus isolation. I’ll be watching something on television and for a brief moment, I forget the world I have known has changed forever.
Whether this is the middle of the beginning or the beginning of time incalculable, living through social isolation isn’t easily navigated. I think I’m different from a lot of my friends. I’ve always been different. I try to embrace those symptoms rather than feeling branded with a scarlet letter.
Even before work shut down and laid me off, I was told that writing about this is inevitable. I rolled my eyes. I have been sitting by myself at home, watching too much tv, not cleaning my house or reading the pile of unopened books. When I’ve tried to write, nothing much beyond self indulgent diary entries poured out. So forgive me if I skip the day to day we all have in common.
Now, past middle aged, I’m a self sufficient being. I wish there had been a warning shot fired when I crossed the border from being good alone, to no longer allowing anyone in beyond a certain point. I think it’s important to need and to be needed. Though not a revelation uncovered here and now, for me this fits the subject of our time surviving isolated in America.
My parents had a beautiful relationship and marriage. I found as I grew up that this wasn’t necessarily the norm in other homes. I’ve listened when others confessed commitment apprehensions, blaming their fear of repeating the cycles exhibited from the broken or destructive partnerships that raised them. I have quipped back with humor, “try coming from a family where your parents were deliriously happy!” From neglected or loving homes, the majority of friends my age are now single.
When I was in my twenties, I worked for a literary agent. He sent me to have my astrological chart read. To encapsulate, I was informed I would eventually make my mark as a writer. How intuitive. Studying my aligned stars, the reader also told me I would always have a hard time finding love. So of course I embraced that negative prediction like a camouflaged tattoo only I could see.
Don’t think I didn’t grow up believing I should carry on the family genetics, find my partner for life, and live a shared existence. That’s what I knew. I assumed it was destined. I am that family member who has never been able to make it work.
At 27, I finally fell in love. Before our one year anniversary, his diagnosis of AIDS and his deep Catholic heritage detonated whatever we shared. He didn’t die in my arms or even in the same city. And from there, the dominoes were set in motion.
To prove I could carry a relationship, I shared a home with my next partner, mimicking how a couple in love behaves, before he left me for an apartment off Fifth Avenue that his parents bought for him. How it ended may have been bloody, but it was inevitable and the right thing to do.
Then I tripped into the world of a stalker, where I allowed every fear I thought couldn’t control me, take over my daily existence.
A few years beyond that, I fell in love with a man who was unrelentingly damaged. There is great power in believing you can save someone. When it ended with his admission that he never loved me at all, I broke. I don’t think I ever completely recovered.
This abridged evidential timeline isn’t a defense, it’s just an explanation. I may have always been different, but after that final blow, I locked down self sufficiency at the expense of being vulnerable to love. When you’re young and good looking and living in my world of easy sexual access, the attentive distraction is a good place holder.
Having little to do with the long term, it may partially explain why self isolation isn’t as difficult for me in the immediate sentencing. Maybe that’s also why I take to writing. It’s a solitary journey.
Here’s what is ugly; my narcissistic admission brought to the surface by weeks of aloneness. I am no longer young, I’m no longer a sexual catch (that’s not the catharsis). The most difficult part of a closed down world for me is not being able to go to the gym. Of all the human elements we forfeited, this is what makes me shake? It’s not my heart or mind or humor that is self defining. It’s a body I spent 35 years keeping fit. While people can’t even hold the hand of their dying loved ones due to this epidemic, I’m bitching about losing physical definition. So shallow and disheartening. The ever-after postscript for “The Ugly Duckling” is that the swan’s self worth is confirmed by his beautiful reflection. Like all the fantasies I ever watched, I had hoped to look across a crowded room to find my handsome prince.
On days when the weather permits, I walk the empty New York City streets for some sort of exercise and to feel the sun on my shoulders. I probably resemble a crazy person as I sing songs aloud whose full arrangements I hear in my head. The new distant politeness exhibited on the city sidewalks is not borne out of human kindness. A man yelled at me for passing him from behind without keeping 6 feet away. I wanted to turn and scream at him for interrupting “Blonde in the Bleachers.”
Something I likely do have in common with many is my fear that I may lose my home or won’t have a job to go back to, or if I do, it will be too late to recover financially. I think most people now realize things will never be the same. For me, there is some fractured comfort in that; everyone being in the same life boat.
I still get up every morning. I brew a pot of coffee and eat toast with peanut butter. I still shower and wash my hair. I wonder how long this will last. I wonder how the hell I’ll be able to pay back the generous people who have lent me money. And mixed within this jumble of thoughts uncovered by so much time alone, I wonder if enduring a prolonged quarantine will re-open that dormant side of me that was done with taking risks in the name of love. That might be nice. But I wish people would stop saying “it’s never too late.”
Ten or more years in the future, my experience won’t be the chronicle of how New Yorkers survived the 21st Century pandemic called coronavirus. But there are others like me who survive this isolation differently, due to the cracks and trip-lines and faded scars that brought them to aloneness. For the time being, it’s easier for me. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
About the Author
Andrew has written several short stories (published work listed below) as well as scripts for various media. His play, Madame Andrèe received an Honorable Mention from both the 2018 Writers Digest Competition, Play/Screenplay Division, and the 2018 New Works of Merit Contest (Loyola University, New Orleans), as well as garnering First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights in San Jose, CA, winning the honor of opening the festival series in August of 2019. The script for his play Five Men, Four Beds advanced to the Second Round at the 2019 Austin Film Festival Competition and Andrew’s spec script for his sitcom, The White House is a Finalist in the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition.
Published and Award Winning Short Stories
Tim to Fifty Ninth: Soliloquies Anthology, Montreal, Quebec, to be published April 17, 2020 (publication postponed)
The Other Side of the Coin: Prometheus Dreaming, Los Angeles, CA, publication, January 24, 2020
Then the Tidal Wave: Prometheus Dreaming, Los Angeles, CA, publication December 20, 2019
Lady Vanessa: BigCityLit Magazine, New York, NY, publication November 24, 2019
A Woman Named Samantha: Bangalore Review, India, publication August 21, 2019
Miss Marcia: Cobalt Press, Baltimore, MD, issue 21, publication August 8, 2019
Stands a Boxer: Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication July 11, 2019
Harold and Al, All Covered in Fur: Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication June 12, 2019
Blue Roses and Diane: Second Place Prose Award, Havik, Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature, Livermore, CA, publication May, 2019
Color, in Black and White: Trilogy Award Nonfiction Finalist, Hidden River Arts, Philadelphia, PA, May, 2019; Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication October 26, 2019
The Wholly Separate Sides: NYMBM, New York, NY, publication May 20, 2019
The Big Sneeze: Jenny Magazine, YSU Student Literary Arts Association, Youngstown University, Ohio, publication November 15, 2018
...And into the Fire: NYMBM, New York, NY, publication June 27, 2018
The Banquet: Yes + No Magazine, London, UK, Page 58, Autumn Issue, 2017
The Tale of the Sisters Landau: Cobalt Press, Baltimore, MD, publication July 19, 2017
In the First Person: Chelsea Station Magazine, New York, NY, publication July 5, 2017
Stephen was...: Plenitude Magazine, British Columbia, Canada, published June 8, 2016
Contributed essay to "A Giant of 20th Century Russian Art, Vladimir Nemuhkin;" published by ArtDaily, June 6, 2016
Project Gus: publisher: Untreed Reads, San Francisco, CA. Editor in chief, Jay Hartman, 2013
My Father: publisher: Untreed Reads, San Francisco, CA. Editor in chief, Jay Hartman, 2011