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Having spent my childhood between Beirut during two wars and NYC in the 1970s–’80s, I have learned to be prepared. I tell myself, “I fear nothing and live for human solidarity.”
Half my Pilates clients are away, some are over 70 and canceled out of fear, and the rest just don’t think it’s a good idea right now. I am officially income-less. My production of Palestine in Chicago will be pushed back at least two to three weeks as of now. I have waited 10 years for a theater to want to do my play again. Now I’m pretty sure it ain’t happening.
I’m making a pink glittery unicorn T-shirt for my niece. I have no problem staying busy. I don’t feel like I have ADHD anymore, because without the confines of other people’s structure, I can do things at my own rhythm.
My shrink says that many traumas will be reactivated during this crisis and asks me how I am doing.
“This is kind of like Beirut, but easier.”
“Oh right. Well, for you it’ll be easier, then.”
I predict the return of telephone calls. I hope no one calls me. I’m an introvert; I hate the phone.
In the store the guy behind me has a cart filled with bottled water. “You must be Lebanese,” I say.
He laughs. “How can you tell?”
“The bottled water.”
There is no need to stock up on water in New York, but that is what Lebanese people do.
I tell people that niqabs (veils over the mouth and nose) were originally worn in the desert to keep sand out of people’s faces, just as masks now are supposed to keep the virus out of our mouth and nose. I explain that Arabs invented soap and the word “quarantine.” No one cares.
There were 6,000 911 calls in the city yesterday. In Beirut, I would hear bombs and artillery fire, and then the sirens. Here it is just sirens. Which is eerie, more unsettling.
April. My birthday. My cousins organized a Zoom call for me, and people rang me on the phone. I made a cake. I sang “Miss Mary Mack” with my niece, talked to my nephew, and virtually jumped on a trampoline with my goddaughter. Expect nothing, do nothing, no pressure—perfection.
I’ve knit five scarves. I make pudding, even though I don’t eat pudding.
CNN keeps saying that other countries have more beds in ICU and better medical systems to respond to the virus: “Why? It’s a long story.”
I want to scream, “Socialized medicine! Duh!”
Easter is soon. Maybe Jesus will come back and fix this mess.
For many Americans feeling unsafe is too much. But the whole world lives this way all the time. American exceptionalism needs to die and stay dead.
Meanwhile, I am living in a Beckett play, making up things to do and say so that I exist. There is something satisfying about that.
May. George Floyd is dead.
My heart shatters.
My nephew changes his Instagram profile pic to one of John Carlos with his fist in the air, and shares a photo of the George Floyd mural on the wall in Palestine. The kids are alright.
June. Between the virus and George Floyd’s death, I think about the importance of breath.
I make connections with Palestine, explaining that the IDF trains our cops, that the move used to kill Mr. Floyd is from Krav Maga. I’ve been told that expressing Palestinian solidarity is “co-opting” the black struggle. I should be quiet.
Cornel West keeps mentioning Edward Said on TV. I’m grateful, because no one seems to know that my father’s work helped us get to this point.
I’m glad people are getting radicalized, but I worry about all that gets left out. I worry about the inability to make connections.
I wonder where I fit in this new BIPOC acronym. I just got chased down the street by a nutjob who screamed that I’m a stupid white bitch who doesn’t care about Black lives.
“I’m Palestinian!” I yell, for all the Upper West Side to hear.
“Yeah, bitch, and I’m Cherokee.”
What. The. Fuck.
I am not Black. Or Indigenous. Am I POC? I never seem to have a place here.
A nice gay boy asks if I’m OK.
July. Extroverts text and call too much; they need to call other extroverts.
Outside New York, no one wants to wear a mask. Almost everywhere else in the world, people value community. Here it’s the individual, who always seems to be complaining.
We have another family Zoom call—relatives in Beirut, New York, South Carolina, Connecticut, London, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle—my mom’s generation, my generation, the kids.
My cousin, on his way to Beirut, stops at different ATMS to bring cash and medicine to family members. Lebanon is in free fall for other reasons, but still they test everyone on the plane before and after the flight; anyone who tests positive is sent to a hotel for two weeks. That seems like the proper way to do things.
I kind of loved lockdown at the beginning. Now some days the silence is too much and I just cry.
Nothing is happening; everything is happening.
I am invisible. I am exhausted.
“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
Scenes From a Pandemic is a collaboration between The Nation and Kopkind, a living memorial to radical journalist Andrew Kopkind, who from 1982–94 was the magazine’s chief political writer and analyst. This series of dispatches from Kopkind’s far-flung network of participants, advisers, guests, and friends is edited by Nation contributor and Kopkind program director JoAnn Wypijewski, and appears weekly on thenation.com and kopkind.org.