April 5, 2020
On the other side of the street from my window someone is playing If You Leave Me Now, Chicago. It’s the kind of song that used to wake me up on Sunday mornings when my father was making eggs. It flies me into a glittery world I’ve never lived, as I imagine my parents as new lovers in their 20s. It’s the kind of song that couldn’t be farther away from my present reality, and maybe because of that I’m strangely happy to hear it sneak into my ears.
“I want to be in control. I feel like I can’t control anything in my life right now” a friend wrote me the other day. I thought about it and realized I have the opposite problem. I’m rarely meeting the person I live with and it feels like living on my own. There are many things I can’t do but I don’t even see them as an option, and I have full control over the smallest world I’ve ever lived in. Here nothing happe ns if I don’t make it happen. I sit at my desk for an incalculable number of hours every day. I focus on work, eat healthy, exercise to techno music instead of doing yoga. I answer messages with some delay, no one interrupts me while I’m reading, no one breaks my silence. Whatever I do, it’s on my terms.
I’m usually social but it took me a long time to get there, and I’ve always relied on good friends’ ability to snatch me from inside my head and throw me into a conversation, a car, a park, a dance floor, the sea. These days I’m in contact with an average of 10 people a day through messages or calls, but it’s hard to let anyone in, close. Hard to feel like those nights when you sit down with friends still physically and mentally tense from a day of work, and after a while you start forgetting time, loosening up, granting others a little power over you.
Watching my world shrink I’m doing fine, but I’m more insular than ever. The barriers I created to protect myself have never completely disappeared throughout the years. I hold my space, I rarely trust, and New York helped painting the colors of my soldier’s uniform. Now that we’ve all been emotionally hit I discovered how my immune system responds to crisis: I don’t feel anything. I’m sad and concerned as I follow the news, I try to have hope for patients fighting for life blocks from me and far away, but I can’t trace any deeper, specific, personal feelings. Yesterday I argued with my mother on the phone. When I hang up on her I was distant, but indifferent. Sometimes I have the frightening impulse to see with my own eyes what is going on behind closed doors, allowing myself to let the pain in.
I know this second coat of my shell will fall off after some time, but I’m afraid of the traces that it might leave behind. Sharing physical and emotional space made me more flexible. It forced me to constantly find new ways to be myself. It taught me to make time for others even when I thought I couldn’t, it made me less uncompromising, it showed me that it’s ok be down. I hope I’m not unlearning too much being on my own.
Yesterday I had a long chat with Jeremy Goc, immunologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. According to him life won’t fully go back to normal until a vaccine is ready in 2021, but in the next months we will slowly return to work, observing social distancing and other precautions.
Looking ahead at this transition makes me anxious. I remember the moment when I’ve seen the silhouettes of the Azores from a ship I had crossed the ocean on. Sailing from Canada, I had spent two months on board with the same 15 people. Another strange little world which had become home. The lights on the coast shone through a wet dawn. I could picture so many people behind those lights, and my eyes were full of marvel, and unease.
By Gaia Squarci
Gaia Squarci is a photographer who divides her time between Milan and New York, where she teaches multimedia at International Center of Photography. She’s a contributor of Prospekt agency and Reuters. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Time Magazine, Vogue, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, among others. Her work has been exhibited in the United States, Italy, France, Switzerland or in the UK.