As isolated as we have become over the past few weeks, we’ve also developed a strange new intimacy with each other’s lives. The only way we can connect is through video chats.
I log onto the meeting: a workshop group, a virtual play date, a quarantine happy hour, or a catch-up with Grandma. As I do, I fight the impulse to say “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
Gone are the days of happy hours at third-party locations, neutral ground where we meet, wearing pants, having composed ourselves for public consumption. Gone are the distractions of tap menus, tables made sticky and chair seats made warm by people we’ve never met and will never know. Gone even are the evenings of girls’ nights in familiar living rooms after the kids have gone to bed, where we meet, wearing pants, having composed ourselves for girlfriend consumption. I’m talking about the good pajama pants here, people.
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Now, I talk to my friend and in the background I see her bedroom. She talks to me, and in the background she sees mine. Are there pants? Who can say. We are trysting, baring our most intimate spaces to each other. The lines between camaraderie and intimacy grow blurrier as the days mount up. It is finally April, right?
My husband is on a sales call in the office right now. I know this because our sons just busted into the office singing “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” and Ryan said, “Boys, I’m on a call” in his Business Voice. The client laughed and asked to meet them. Ryan introduced them in his Regular Voice. The lines between professional and personal grow blurrier as the days fuse into an unbroken chain of hours that we will file separately from all other days and hours, under “Pandemic Life.”
I have begun to collect a wealth of insignificant but intimate data about my sons’ school friends’ homes: James’s mom has wall-to-wall carpeting in her bedroom. Lily’s parents have a Love Sac and Lily has a bunk bed but no siblings. Her dogs sleep in her bottom bunk. This is the kind of personal information I usually only get when I can actually smell a person’s home, after I’ve been granted permission to enter like a vampire at the door. Even then, I’d stick to guest-only spaces: the kitchen, the living room, the yard if it’s sunny, a powder room if they’re serving coffee. I’d linger respectfully in the door of a bedroom if they offered a tour, craning my neck around the room where they bone, sleep, and do all manner of other sticky naked things, to find something benign to comment on: “Look at how many outlets you have! And so well-placed.”
Now I wander through their bedrooms as if I live there, carried by the people who do. They set me on the bed where I can see their mismatched pillow cases and the empty wine glass on the bedside table. Now I’m a vampire in the machine. A vampire sans pants.
I recognize Levena’s black cat and her wood paneling, and Finnbar’s white kitchen cabinets. I’ve met Amanda’s new baby though none of us have left the house. At some point I’ve had long conversations with people who were not wearing pants. I mean, I assume they weren’t. Because I wasn’t. Not for any of them.
Should I turn off my camera to eat dinner during my Monday night class? I’m torn about it. I’ve eaten dinner in class before. Loud dinners. Chips and salads. No shame in my game. And now here I am, Donald Duckin. Here we all are, braless, shoeless, a stone’s throw from our toilets, or from the people we make love to, who are watching Tiger King in the other room. Yet somehow it feels too intimate to put the tip of a slice of pizza in my mouth? You’re already in my home, in my ears, inside my life. It seems like an intuitive next step to get inside my mouth, too.
Ultimately, I decide to turn off the camera for dinner. Not because of intimacy, but because I can’t stop watching myself eat. I can’t look away and I really should be paying attention.
I can’t help but believe that it’s only a matter of time before we’re flossing on FaceTime, sorting dirty laundry on Skype, treating hemorrhoids on Hangouts.
For my husband and many parents who’ve had to treat their families like adorable accessories to their work lives, the quarantine and resulting society-wide work-from-home has been a great equalizer. Everyone with kids gets kids on the sales call at some point. Everyone with pets gets a cat in the lap in mid-sentence, or a dog nose under their elbows while they’re gesturing mid-deck. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if everyone, collectively, agreed to chill the fuck out about what professionalism looks like, this is it. It’s competent people who share their lives with furry, drooling chaotic goods, and no longer feel the imperative to hide them.
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Yes, of course it’s annoying that we had to wait until all the men were working from home before we could normalize the idea of treating (some) employees like holistic human beings, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, not least because I take my social distancing seriously and I do not know where that horse has been, OR the last time those hooves were sanitized.
Aaaaaaaaanyway, what strange intimacy this Pandemic Life has born. Keep those hands and hooves clean, pants optional, and your butts at home if you can. TGIF!