|REIMAGINING: MARCH 31, 2020|
by Rachel Cavell “Liza, be careful not to touch the banister when you go downstairs”, we overheard Max telling our daughter late last night. Motivated by Trump’s musings about quarantining parts of the Tri-state area, they had decided to leave Brooklyn a day earlier than planned. Quarantining parts of the Tri-state area? From each other? From New York to Connecticut? From towns within the state? Queens to Manhattan? The Bronx? From County to county? Details matter. Did I touch the faucet after I put soap on my face but before I washed the soap off? Will I now need to wash my hands again before washing the soap off my face, and then how to turn the faucet off? Did I touch the non-porous countertop after I washed my hands when I touched the can opener but before I picked up the knife to chop the potato? Did I rub my eyes after I put on my shirt that was on the chair that the dog had sat on before I had a chance to take off her leash that had brushed a car door parked on our block that belonged to someone unknown to me? Did I pat the dog after my daughter patted the dog and did I then pop a raisin into my mouth? Two raisins maybe? Did I need that raisin? Did I need to flirt with chaos by eating two? We need a new word here for detail. “Granular” is a word used by television anchorpeople to describe a moment looked at from all sides. But what happens to those details when the world you began with stops looking familiar.
I told them, Max and Liza, that I was reminded of stories from childhood about East Berliners waking up one morning to find thirty miles of barbed wire surrounding their City. This season has brought us ways of thinking that weren’t in the world before: “…be careful not to touch the banister.” “…quarantining parts of the Tri-State area”. Thoughts of barbed wire surrounding the New York City metro area. Just where would the wire be? Hung across the Henry Hudson Parkway from the 86th Street entrance off of Riverside Drive with police patrolling against vandalism? Would the barbed wire be hung taught? Or loosely? From polls astride the Cross Country Parkway West? Would there be loops of wire preventing them from accessing the Sprain Brook Parkway? Or would it be clear sailing all the way to the Taconic State Parkway, where chains of metal and patrol cars would keep them from accessing points North and the Hudson River Valley, where we live. Would Max and Liza have honored the barricade or would they make a run for it, gunning through the wire perhaps or ditching his father’s Honda at the perimeter and heading for the wooded area on the side of the highway. Those woods need their own word now.
This moment has altered our landscape of human relationships in ways too numerous to count or to know yet. It is for one, the first time many of our twenty and thirty year old children have actively worried about us, in the way we have become accustomed to worrying about our elderly parents. And we are confronting the fact that our children might be dangerous to touch. During March there came into existence pictures all over the world from countless families that would have been unimaginable four weeks ago: In our tiny corner of this world there exists one taken last Saturday in front of a brick building in Prospect Heights — Max’s parents are standing right next to each other outside the front door; Max ten feet away, waves to the camera. His sister, their daughter, a little harder to discern behind glass, smiles from a closed window on the second floor.
On March 12th my son and his partner took the Amtrak up the Hudson River from Manhattan to their recently acquired house in Germantown. I picked them up at the Rhinecliff train station and we laughed as I squirted sanitizer on their hands while they sat right next to me in the front and back seat of our car. We walked in a public park a few days later with lots of other people, and took turns lying on an oak tree near the Hudson River, whose limb was smooth and bare from many visitors. We spoke with fellow hikers from a distance of one or two feet and later that afternoon walked into our town’s crowded health food store and purchased a few extra supplies. Sardines, apples, kale.
By the end of the month, our world had grown small. When Liza and Max got here from Brooklyn sixteen days later, I had seen no one at closer than ten feet in 14 days. My husband and I greeted them in the darkened driveway from a distance in the rain, and they scrambled up into the back rooms of our house behind closed doors like refugees. From what angle can I make any sense of what I am now seeing as my daughter in her own house, beloved fugitive? About the Author:Rachel Cavell is a Faculty Associate with the Bard College Institute for Thinking and Writing. She also teaches a course in Essay and Revision in the Bard College undergraduate program, and she teaches with the Bard College Prison Initiative program. Rachel is also a practicing attorney, representing children in neglect and custody cases in the Family Courts in Ulster County, New York. This is her second contribution to Adelaide.