When I call my father on the weekends, we talk about a myriad of things. How the family is doing, politics, food, my mental health, and…of course, the halcyon past when his beloved, comical aunts were still cracking jokes, when his kind mother was still doling out hugs, when he and his brothers were young and causing trouble, when my mother was still young and in her right mind, and when all these people were very, very much alive.
Basically, we reminisce about a past that is long gone for both of us. Of when I was a child and everything was “normal.” When my biggest problems were being afraid of the basement my mom had banished my sisters and me to play in because she couldn’t bear to watch my big sister Denise and me “tear up” our Barbies. I realize as I write this that this all sounds very bleak but the conversations are actually quite comforting. As long as you can remember someone, they’re never really gone. For a beautiful moment, they are just as vibrant and alive as we remembered, making us laugh or making us mad or filling our hearts with love.
This weekend was not different from any other weekend, other than an off-handed comment from my father between the reminiscing and jokes that it might be a minute before he gets to NYC to see me. You see, my father has never been to visit me since I grew up and moved away. He had planned to see me once, when my mom was still healthy and I was in my 20s living in Texas, but I “surprised” him by marrying my future ex-husband who they didn’t care for, so he canceled the trip. Years later, I would move to California and my sister Denise would come once a year every year I was there, while my baby sister, Deidre, lived in Bakersfield with me for one summer. My mom, who helped me move out there, only came one other time in the five years I was there because she was afraid of flying. But my father never got to visit.
Years would pass, I would move home to St. Louis, then to Washington, D.C., then, finally, to Manhattan. Denise visited a little while I was in D.C., but neither of my parents nor my baby sister ever came. Then, in 2013, my mother was diagnosed with dementia, and no one could really visit because her care was all-consuming. While I would go home twice a year, usually once in the summer for my nephew’s birthday and once in the winter for Christmas, my family couldn’t really visit. Even if they wanted to. I was OK with this for the most part, even though I really wanted to share my East Coast life with them, because at least I got to see them twice a year. But before 2020 turned to a coronavirus-fueled apocalyptic nightmare, my father was planning to try to visit for the first time, and Denise was coming, or was supposed to come, last week.
Now I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Or more specifically, when I will see my father again.
While both my sisters are relatively young and healthy, in their late 30s and mid-40s respectively, my father turned 78 in February. I didn’t go home for his birthday because I usually don’t, as it is so close to my annual visit in December. Now I wish I’d listened to my friend Audrey, who chastised me for not going to see him. I honestly thought I’d just see him in July, but with every passing day, as this crisis worsens and more people die, this seems less and less likely.
My father is healthy. But he is also kind of alone. While he does have my sisters and nephew to check in on him weekly, he has outlived both his brothers, both his parents, all his aunts and uncles, and his wife of more than 40 years. Basically all the family he was closest to who aren’t his kids are gone. But he is resilient and still sees himself as having a lot to live for, so he’s always happy when we talk, even if all we mostly talk about is the past. But as this lost month becomes two lost months and as things keep getting canceled—from events to flights—and I have my own fears about contracting this disease (I have asthma, a pre-existing condition that could make the lungs-attacking illness difficult or even deadly for me), I realize I probably can’t or won’t go anywhere until there is a vaccine, and a vaccine is a year away.
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, is 92 and lives far away in Newport, Ark. My father is 78 and is in St. Louis. And things like next year aren’t necessarily promised for people like them. When my father joked about possibly not coming to NYC this year it hit me hard because usually, I can just go see him, and I can’t. And without a vaccine, it means I probably can’t go home for Christmas this year, let alone this summer. Of all the things we stand to lose this year, you can always make more money; you can ideally always find another job, but you can’t get that time back. We can’t get back the time we lost being unable to see each other or be together. I’m grateful for my career, my job, my friends and family. But as someone who was already kind of lonely before this crisis happened, this is especially devastating.
When can I see my family again? When can I see my friends again? And will I see them again, as nothing is promised? When will we all be more than faces on Zoom or voices over a phone? When will I be able to hug and kiss those I love again? How long do I have to live alone in isolation? I know I can go for a walk or go to the grocery store, but that doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t abate this pain inside. I live alone. And I’m going through this alone. I try to stay busy and some days are better than others. But today is a bad day. Because I don’t know when or if I’ll see my dad. I wish I’d had the forethought to have gone home when I had the chance, but it’s too late. We’re all too afraid of getting sick to go anywhere, so I have to tough it out. But I write this to remind you to remember your friends who live alone, who don’t have family where they are. I’m fortunate in that I have people who check on me daily, but not everyone is that lucky. Sure, we’re alone together, but some of us are just alone.