March and April 2020 were two of the toughest months of my life. The fear I felt was matched only by the speed with which everything fell apart. A week after returning from Kauai, I hopped back on a plane to LA to take care of some screenwriting business. In retrospect, it seems so stupendously stupid. But at the time, I had no inkling of how close we all were to the edge.
Sure, there were signs of change — the dear friend who stopped my hug and elbow bumped instead, the sudden inability to find hand wipes at CVS, the person who cancelled lunches out of an abundance of caution. But I mostly chalked that up to LA being LA. I still met friends in restaurants, attended larger writers’ get togethers, sat down with my manager, got a parking ticket from the overzealous folks in Weho — you know, the usual. And then, on the day I was to leave town, the TV in the hotel lobby announced that LA county was declaring a public state of emergency because. . .wait for it. . .six cases of COVID had been confirmed.
I red-eyed home: packed flight/packed subway/packed bus ride. But I made it in time to wish my younger daughter a happy birthday before she went off to school. I napped as much as I could that day, felt pretty lousy, but still recovered in time for her celebration that night. Then, on Sunday March 8th, she and her closest friends gathered at a local Dave + Buster’s for her party. That was the last time she would see any of them for months to come.
That was the beginning of the week when everything collapsed. On Tuesday night the 10th, Emerson sent an e-mail during my class saying that everything was going remote. The next night, I said good-bye to my other students. The night after that, we got the call saying the public schools were closing. I ran to the store and bought hundreds of dollars worth of groceries among the packed, maskless crowds. The next morning (Friday the 13th) my daughters and I walked to the high school and picked up some books and other stuff from her locker. Neither of them has had in-person education since. On Monday the 16th, my wife came home from the office — and she has worked remotely since. A week after that, Massachusetts entered lockdown. We were free falling at that point, with no bottom in sight.
I won’t dwell on the despair, but I will say that from it emerged one of the greatest adventures of my life. You see, I’ve always loved new calendars — looking at all the blank pages, and imagining how I’d fill the days. I enjoy road atlases for the same reason — every map is a journey not yet taken. And, one day at the very end of April, I was looking at the town map in our local phone book and thought: we can’t go anywhere, so what if we instead walked every street in our town? (Fun Fact: It’s the Birthplace of Uncle Sam.) My family and I started on May 1, and on August 1st we marked off the last of nearly 125 miles of pavement. . .and we even made the local news!
It was extraordinary how much we learned about a place my wife and I had already lived for nearly 18 years. . .and thought we knew. By the end, to paraphrase “Mother” Pollard, my knees were tired but my soul was rested.