Dear Friends and Readers:
I am, like many of you, living isolated. When I retired and moved to my beautiful little place in the mountains of Puerto Rico, it was the achievement of a long-cherished dream. I saw myself rising to a breath-taking view every morning, drinking my morning cup of coffee in bliss, and writing for hours without distractions or time-consuming responsibilities. It was exactly like that for several years.
My grown children, grandchildren, and brothers stayed in Florida, living their lives, managing their careers, and enjoying their retirements. I did not see living away from them as an obstacle to closeness. After all, I flew to Florida several times a year, and if there was a family emergency, I stayed there to help as long as they needed me. We always keep in touch with calls and text messaging, etc. Sometimes, I talk to my children more in one day than I ever did in one month when I lived fifteen minutes away from them.
The last month, however, has been one I never thought I’d live through. In Puerto Rico, we’ve managed to keep the Corona virus under control with very strict measures. You must understand that we’re one of the highest populated areas in the world. We have over three million inhabitants squeezed into an island measuring thirty-five miles wide by ninety miles long. We had, at one point, over four million people, but many moved to the mainland in the last ten years.
Since a large part of the island is mountainous, most of the three million people live in the highly populated metro areas where work is more likely to be found. A virus can rip through these areas like a bullet through paper, as we’ve seen in New York City. Our governor, fresh from the earthquakes of last January, took immediate action. We’ve been on lockdown for a month now, and we take it seriously.
There are close to fifty houses on the street where I live. If you sit at my veranda, with a wide view of the entire countryside and network of roads, you might see a car moving in the distance once every fifteen minutes. My neighbors stay home. They put out their trash and wave at me from afar. Only essential businesses can open: hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations and banks. Hardware stores can open two days a week, as well as auto repair shops.
For the last week, only cars with license plates ending in even numbers could be out on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays: odd numbers were allowed on the road on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. All vehicles are grounded on Sundays, and all businesses closed. A driver caught breaking the rule, will have his or her car impounded and must pay a pretty steep fine to recover it.
I have not been out of my house for a month. I have not had a visitor for a month. I stocked food and supplies before the lockdown began. I made an online-shopping order at the local supermarket to be delivered in the next few days. I have a mask and gloves and plenty of disinfectant.
How do I spend my days? I am physically alone every day and night. I rise, as usual, by eight o’clock. I make it a point to put on makeup and make myself presentable as I always did before the pandemic. I go through the daily rite of “opening” the house. I open all curtains, turn on the computer, the coffeemaker, the local tv news. I drink a cup or two of coffee while watching the latest on the virus around the world. Then, I put on some gloves and go outside to water my plants and do some pottering outside. I wave or talk across the distance to my neighbors.
My phone rings often because I have a large family about half of which lives here also, mostly first and second cousins. My Florida family calls as well. My granddaughter, eight-year-old Jasmine, calls me daily. She loves to Facetime. I sometimes spend twenty minutes watching her do her school work! I guess she feels she has company if I’m watching.
I spend hours at my writing and a few more hours also reading. I try not to read drama or anything depressing. I stay with authors and series I love. For example, I am now reading Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series- again.
I have also made a commitment to spending forty-five minutes on my elliptical exercise machine on a daily basis. I go to the Accuradio website and play the K-Pop station. I find that K-Pop music is excellent for working out. As a result, I’ve fallen in love with 2PM and EXO and lost ten pounds.
I downloaded an app on my iPad to teach me German. I lived in Germany for three years back in the eighties, but I forgot all the German I learned back then. I spend thirty minutes each day listening and repeating. I find the language app is very relaxing. I play Solitaire and Temple Run on my iPad. Today, I mopped my entire house after Gigi, my Roomba sweeper, finished sweeping. Gigi is my make-believe pet.
As you can see, I have no problem being alone or keeping busy. At first, I fought the idea that social isolation was needed. I doubted the extreme measures the island was facing were necessary. I did not want my personal rights curtailed. I worried about the economy. I thought it was all a media ploy. After watching images from Italy, Spain, and New York, I am now grateful and willing to make the sacrifice. I feel healthy, safe, and luckier than most. I have absolutely no worries about myself or my neighbors.
I am, however, terrified about my family in Florida. I don’t get a sense of urgency from them. I get the impression they don’t see the incredible seriousness of the situation. Is it because they’re young and do not feel vulnerable? Yesterday, my son was cooking on his new, state-of-the-art grill. It was his anniversary present from his wife. She got it at Walmart the day before!
Four days earlier, my grandchildren and an older cousin were also at Walmart, and then they went to pick up food at McDonald’s. My son works for the government, and he says several of the workers in his building have tested positive for Corona virus. My daughter works at a prison. She says no visitors are allowed, but the workers coming in daily are a hazard. Neither she nor he has been tested.
I hear these stories, and my stomach turns into a knot. I live in terror of losing one of my children or their spouses or my grandchildren. The worst part is that when I try to get them to understand my worries, they get annoyed at me and brush me off. They don’t seem to realize that if they died, I’d want to go with them too.
You must be wondering about the point of my rambling. My point is that if you have someone you love, do the right thing for them, to save them heartache and worry. Stay home for them. Take precautions for them. Social distancing is one step, but it’s not enough. Stay away from crowds and groups. Go out only when absolutely necessary. That’s the best way to say I love you.