Lock-down Diaries: Pamela

Published May 25, 2020

By Pamela Rudd, Staff Writer
Berkeley, Calif.

I haven’t been worried about this virus. Not in that personal panic mode when the mind gallops around the closed-loop of “what ifs?”: What if I die? What if no one finds my body? What if they do, and I’m bloated and explode all over my favorite carpet? What if my friends die or my brother and his kids?

I haven’t woken at night with that Taiko-drum thump in my chest that signals “nightmare.” I haven’t screamed or even whimpered myself awake. I actually haven’t thought too much about this pandemic. I’ve just fallen into place. But last night….

I dreamed my favorite friends, my breakfast buddies, came for a bar-b-que. It was a warm sundress summer night. Everyone mingled before dinner with wine and appetizers while the flank steak rested. Everything was sweet and easy, until I remembered with a start – O Crap! Pandemic! We were standing too close. No one wore a mask. I started to fuss – big time. How will they fit around the table at six-feet intervals? How can they eat with masks?

“Stand apart. Put on your masks.” No one responded. “We are still in lock-down,” I implored. I was invisible. Most mornings this dream would be about my “Cassandra complex” — I speak the truth, but no one listens, or that classic high school anxiety dream where I’m late for my finals and can’t find the classroom. But this time, I think not. This is real. It’s not a neurosis.

But after cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, gray hair and wrinkles, one begins to accept the end is closer than the middle.

It’s 7:00 a.m. and the 18th morning of lock-down. I pad into the kitchen, put some Dave’s bread in the toaster, scramble eggs and put on the tea to greet another lock-down day. Most mornings for the last 20 years I have had breakfast at the same greasy spoon with the same guys — a ragtag bunch of artists, contractors, an attorney, and a math geek. These days we try to Zoom.

Our breakfast “Cheers” place is an old truck stop at the edge of town run by a family of Cambodian refugees. Maybe it’s the ambiance: no heat, no air, the blinds are too short for the windows,  and every holiday the place is decorated with Valentine hearts and streamers, Christmas tinsel or paper Easter eggs. For the regular’s birthdays, they make pancake birthday stacks with whipped cream and candles. You just can’t beat it.

They feed an eclectic mixture of Berkeley’s finest day laborers, book publishers, cops, and the odd homeless person. It’s a beautiful melting pot and a precious bit of community that soon might be gone. I ask if they need help with the Small Business (SBA) loans, and they say they think their son will help. I hope so. This little bug of a virus is real and it may change our lives forever.

The first few weeks of this pandemic lock-down seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to settle in and drop out of the race. I could finish projects: clean the closets, mail off the taxes, tidy up the garage. With no commute, it’s like getting five free hours a week. In many ways, I’m more relaxed than usual with what seems like endless amounts of free time and a blue sky before me.

Our “Cheers” spot is an old truck stop at the edge of town in Berkeley, Calif., where my friends and I ate breakfast on Sunday, May 3, 2020. (Pamela Rudd/The Citizen)

I haven’t really missed my old routine much. I’m fortunate to have retirement savings, and aside from the fixed expenses, pleasure shopping has lost its meaning. I can work from home. I exercise more, as a walk is now a chance for a leisurely chat with friends. A couple of times a week, my breakfast buddies Zoom. It’s good. But dark thoughts do creep in.  A dear friend just sent me her durable power of attorney for health care – just in case. I made sure she had a backup – just in case.  I put mine. . . somewhere.

Before lock-down, when the news of this virus was breaking in China and Italy, it became clear that, with a shortage of respirators, health care in the U.S. would be “rationed.”  Us “Boomers” will, most likely, get the short straw.  We get that, and it’s ok. We have made the loop —  been in love a few times, built a career, a home, a family, outlived our parents, and survived a myriad of “preexisting conditions.” We have money in the bank and Social Security.

Then I started to think if it were me or one of my buddies, who might the doctor choose. I’m younger than my friends. One is 80, survived lung cancer and still builds large metal sculptures when he’s not doing Pilates. The retired lawyer is smart and generous and recently returned from a stint in the Peace Corps. The mathematician still works, recently fell in love and was courted by Apple when he was in his mid-70’s.

There are ethical guidelines for these decisions, and I guess if you haven’t eaten breakfast, or celebrated a birthday or a gallery opening with one of us, perhaps working the decision tree isn’t as hard. But after cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, gray hair and wrinkles, one begins to accept the end is closer than the middle. It’s just a fact, and these near misses give one a “dry run.”

In the meantime, Mother Nature is roaring back to life. The hummingbirds are knocking on my window, and a squirrel who I have gotten to know quite well in the last couple of weeks stood on his hind legs and looked in through my glass door.

I swear I saw him smile.