As I sat in the jail cell, a 10 x 15 room with three dirty yellow concrete walls and an impenetrable glass front, sitting there with 8 or 9 or 10 other guys, a sense of complete dread came over me. Depression, hopelessness, a feeling of being all alone. Other guys talked to each other – I stayed in a corner on a bench as far away from them as I could make myself.
That feeling of dread, along with fear, remained with me throughout my ordeal, until after midnight when I finally walked out of 26th and California. I’ll never ever forget that feeling.
Even after that day and night in jail, and despite my legal hassles, court costs, probation, lawyer’s fees, getting evicted, job hunting and sleeping on a guy’s couch for 2 1/2 years, that feeling of dread never came back. I persevered, tried to remain as optimistic as I could. What choice did I have?
Last week, the dread re-emerged. I woke up on a Wednesday morning and couldn’t get out of bed. Not didn’t, or didn’t want to – couldn’t. I lay there paralyzed. The sensation lasted only a few minutes until I made myself get up. However, I immediately laid down on my couch, and again, didn’t move. Dread, depression, maybe even fear, enveloped me, like a thick fog that blocked all my senses.
Isolation. COVID-19. It finally got to me. Not the disease itself, thank god, but the effect on society, in my town, on the world. We’re all locked down, ordered by the governor to stay indoors, to only go out if necessary. My town is a ghost town, stores closed, restaurants offering curbside pickup or delivery. Everywhere I look, people are wearing face masks, staying far away from each other.
I go on walks; people take circuitous routes around me, as if I was the only one with the plague and what the hell was I doing outside anyway? People won’t even make eye contact with each other, they just walk around, heads down, their faces registering resignation, numb-eyed, dread.
Dystopia. That’s what this has become. I woke up and found myself in the middle of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Everywhere is so dark, even when the sun is out, because there’s no human touch. My daughter can’t even come to see me in my own place. We have to meet at a park, like spies passing secrets back and forth. I used to spend my Tuesday evenings sitting in a circle of powerful men, a unique and magical space where I could feel tangible energy in the room, where we would start each meeting with hugs all around. Oh yeah, we still meet – on Zoom. It’s virtual, we can all see and hear each other, but that energy isn’t there. It’s flat. Like we’re all the Boy in the Bubble.
The dread isn’t heavy anymore, not like the 50-ton metallic eight it felt like that November day and night in jail, or last Wednesday and even part of Thursday when I was finally able to have a good cry, a guttural bawling that released some tension. But the dread is still there, perhaps more subtly. Now it just lingers about around my head, a less-shrouded fog.
They say this is the new normal for now. But how long is it for now? No one knows, and the contributes mightily to the dread. I can still go outside, I can still take walks, I can still run, I can still jump on my bike. I still have my job 5 days a week and plenty of books and baseball cards to keep me busy. Others I know are going bat sh*t crazy from boredom and the lack of their usual routine, to say nothing of the loss of their livelihood.
They say one day we will slowly return to our usual way of life. I hope so. I really need that human touch; that’s what I miss the most, more than baseball or anything else. Just the human touch.