I was homesick before the lockdown set in.
I started missing everyone—my mom, my best friend, my brother-in-law, my ex-boyfriend. I had already spent way too much time in my tiny studette, teaching online and barely going out because I was dealing with some health problems (no, not corona virus-related). I was in a slump and I couldn’t get out. And although Paris is such a beautiful place to live in, there are times when I’ve spent too long in the city and I start to feel trapped. Rather than being glamorous, the previously charming limestone buildings feel like they’re going to topple on me. They resemble a cage. And the California-girl side of me starts to come out. I want to see green hills and sparkling sunshine and smell the salt spray of the ocean. I crave nature and escape.
Me outside the Amsterdam Tulip Museum
Fast forward two weeks and my Parisian best friend and I are midnight-bus riding north through two other countries to get to Amsterdam. It was marvelous. The view of the water, the clinking sounds of bikes rolling through, the smell of weed wafting around an alleyway, delicious street food, cheerful English. I felt like I was home away from home. Until we almost got stuck there.
Although it is dangerous to give in to rumors and panic, we did.
But also, we didn’t. I had been trying to think about anything but the corona virus. Not because I was in denial; but rather, because every piece of media and social media covered the pandemic. When I scrolled through my Facebook feed, the virus dominated. When I swiped down through Google News, articles about the American and French elections no longer saturated the news networks. Covid-19 did. And I was sick of it because I began to feel the uncertainty weigh in. Mainly about the repercussions. I have never experienced an economic recession as an adult. And now, I’d grown out of the cushion of my adolescence. How would this affect the job market, my career, my finances—how would this affect my mother and my family? I started seeking escape. I wanted to talk about anything but the current situation. I binge-watched stand up comedies on Netflix. So Brittney and I rushed outside of France just in the nick of time. But we also made it back in the nick of time too.
Our first night in Amsterdam, Flix bus changed the time of our departure. Rather than leaving at 6 AM, we were scheduled for 12 AM. The same day. We should have heeded the signs, but being the entitled millennials that we were, we didn’t want to give up our already-paid night at the cozy hostel we were staying at. We rescheduled for a later bus. But much to our dismay, our final night in Amsterdam was a bust. All restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes and coffeeshops closed at 6 PM. The government gave a firm announcement, and despite how last minute it was, everything locked up.
It was surreal to see Nieuwmarkt and the Red Light District…. empty.
Our night ended in The Hangover and random snacks purchased from an almost sold-out grocery store.
It wasn’t even 6 in the morning when Brittney rushed into the bathroom to tell me our bus was cancelled. Again. I was currently pulling my left cheek up into the mirror, slathering concealer on this cystic zit that had consumed half my face the day before. But we had bigger problems than my blemishes now. If they close the borders, how would we get back to our “home”? Neither of us were official French residents yet, so if I went to either the U.S. or Bulgarian embassy, they probably wouldn’t send me back to Paris. We jumped the gun and bought expensive last-minute train tickets to Gare de Nord. My anxiety had reached peak levels by then, and although we had two hours to spare, I rushed us to the train station because I almost didn’t believe we would make it back. I had to see the destination and the platform and the announcement myself.
The train was almost empty. Only the first car had passengers in it, and there were maybe only 10 of us in total. Nobody even checked our tickets. But we made it back to Paris, and that was the important part. Back at Commerce, everything looked as it did on Christmas morning. Closed for business, but without everyone’s beautiful clothes and Christmas cheer. The few people that were out walked alone and some concealed their mouths with masks.
Everyone wore a dim expression on their face, almost lifeless. It once again, felt surreal.
Come 8 PM the French president made his official announcement. It was, as I expected, better than the extreme rumors that had been circling online and among my friends. There was no curfew, but movements were to be severely limited. It wasn’t going to be a 45-day lockdown; but rather, 15. People could still go to work, but only if work was essential and you couldn’t work from home. You could still go outside to take a walk for exercise, but you had to go alone. Macron mentioned fines or punishments for people who broke the rules, but as I look outside my street and see no one, I notice no police or army patrols the district. I think his memo sank in.
The situation remains bizarre, but not as severe as anticipated. And yet, the homesickness began to weigh in because I didn’t want to quarantine alone. The past year was my first year ever living by myself, without family, friends, roommates or housemates. And I learned I don’t like it. Instead, I wanted to be curled up on my mom’s couch in the Bay Area, devouring my Kindle as she made homemade white popcorn and laughed at something silly on daytime television. I wanted to be with my best friend in Georgia, sipping tea and exchanging stories. I wanted to be at my brother-in-law’s in New Jersey, playing board games and with electric plugs (my nephew’s obsession).
My friends and family all tell me I should focus on my writing. And yes, I need to bunker down and finish editing my first novel. I need to continue working on the second. But I’ve lost inspiration and I don’t know how I’m ever going to find it again. Perhaps in the next two weeks I will. Besides that, I plan on reading a few books, doing my taxes, and daydreaming about canals and brighter days.
Enjoying the gorgeous Amsterdam views
What are you all doing as you quarantine?