I’m driving south on A1A this beautiful July day in South Florida—feeling strangely illicit. Like so many others, I’m still working from home, and my husband has been kindly doing all the shopping while I work my way through the final edits of my book. With the exception of my morning run, I’m almost never out of the house these days, so it feels slightly weird to be out and on the road. I feel anxious, cautious, oddly out of place behind the wheel. For some reason, I’m terrified of running a stop sign or exceeding the speed limit by a few miles as if in the process of being pulled over, I’ll find that being out of the house without a legitimate reason is also a punishable offense.
I’m at a stoplight now. Strong fumes drift in through the air conditioning vents.
I try to determine where this noxious odor is coming from, the exhaust from the car in front of me? The one beside me? My husband’s old BMW which I’m driving? I’m gasping now, eyes watering as I reach for the switch to power down the windows, feeling a bit panicky as I wonder if the engine is about to catch fire. My chest tightens, and my breathing becomes heavy.
But then, I’m often anxious these days.
It took me awhile to figure out why this was, but I know now.
For myself, for you, and for all we’ve lost during this crisis but especially for the life we had.
Aisha S. Ahmad wrote in her article “Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure,” “Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month.”
But this is where I get confused because I didn’t sprint at the beginning. I didn’t freak out when there was no toilet paper, when I couldn’t find antibacterial wipes or alcohol, but I see now that was the wrong thing to do. I should have let myself lose it. I should have railed at this horrible injustice the world is suffering instead of posting lighthearted memes on Facebook and being the one with a smile on my face.
Now, facing the reality that the life we knew is forever changed while maintaining my pace in the marathon is really freaking hard.
The light turns green.
All four windows are open now, and clean, sweet ocean air rushes in. I can’t hear the radio anymore, but I don’t turn it up. There is music in the sound of the wind, and memories of my younger self driving alone or with friends, all the windows down, singing along to REO Speedwagon, Marshall Tucker Band, or Aerosmith come to me.
I can’t remember the last time I drove with the windows down.
Age and lifestyle have made me that person who drives with them rolled up, a metaphorical buttoning up of the top shirt button. Air conditioning always seemed a safer bet that I’d arrive at my destination in the same condition in which I left the house, makeup intact and hair still combed.
I’ve become the person who drives with the windows up, the one who doesn’t sprint, the one who has forgotten how to value simple pleasures, and perhaps that’s why I’m hurting.
So many freedoms are gone. Some of them we may never get back.
So to stop the swell of grief, the one threatening my psyche and turning this beautiful world sepia, I’m going to roll down the windows, unbutton my top button, and sprint, and I plan to celebrate those things because they are the freedoms left to me now.