On Tuesday I drove the twins to their middle school so they could clean out their lockers. This was the last time they would be on campus as students since they’re moving on to high school in the fall. I pulled into a faculty parking spot, and they climbed out of the car, wearing face masks, empty backpacks slung over their shoulders. As I waited for them to collect their belongings I watched the school secretary greet students at the gated entrance and remind them to keep their distance from one another. Ten minutes passed, and my girls shuffled back to the car, backpacks full, heads down. Returning home to continue our shelter-in-place felt too depressing, so I suggested we take a drive.
The car was quiet as we headed north on 101 towards Petaluma, one of California’s oldest towns, established in 1851. The main street of its historic downtown is still lined with Wild West facades. Ava and I had been there two months earlier, pre-quarantine, so she could have head shots taken by a local photographer, and I had been charmed by the alleyways covered in murals and the winding river that bisects the city. On this visit we drove aimlessly, happy to be out of our house and neighborhood. After awhile I parked on a side street to give the girls a snack. We rolled down the windows, listened to one of Ellie’s Spotify playlists, and ordered washable face masks with filter pockets from our phones. The bandanas and disposable hospital masks we’d been using now seemed too flimsy to protect us for the duration of the pandemic. The music and the welcome change of scenery lightened the mood and loosened the girls’ tongues.
“When did you and Dad first say ‘I love you’?” Ava asked, prompting me to share the story of my senior year at Middlebury, where I had returned after a year studying in Paris. I talked about my surprise at finding Harlan in most of my classes (we shared a major: Art History), the party at which I wrestled with my jealousy toward another girl who had a crush on him, and the night of our first kiss. When I finished, she sighed, “Aw. That make me so happy.”
The girls and I left the car only once during our excursion, to walk along the river. We donned our masks and retraced the steps Ava and I had taken with the photographer in March, finding the spot where he took her favorite shot: a photo of her sitting at a 45 degree angle on a metal ramp that led down to a series of wooden piers, crossed legs dangling over the water as her auburn hair caught the sun.
On the drive home we kept the conversation light, choosing not to talk about how long it had been since the girls last hugged their friends, the Billie Eilish concert we did not attend during our non-existent Spring Break, the martial arts and screen acting classes Ava no longer takes, the eighth grade graduation ceremony that will take place only virtually, my spring chorus concerts that were called off, the Junior Prom their brother missed, or my dad’s aborted first-ever trip to Israel.
We also avoided discussing the sleep-away camp they likely won’t attend this summer (always the very best part of their year), the grandparents they won’t visit in Houston, the spike in virus cases that are the inevitable result of states prematurely lifting their quarantines, the pause that has been placed on their childhoods and the uncertainty of their futures. We did not compare our current reality to that of Station Eleven (the dystopian novel we read a few years ago about a worldwide flu pandemic).
Instead we discussed, in great detail, the members of BTS (their stage names, personalities and special talents), Harry Styles’ newest music videos (and how cute/hot he is), the app game “Guess the Spy” (which our family had a blast playing a few evenings earlier in our living room) and the unique and special Mother’s Day dinner we had on our driveway the previous Sunday, my parents sitting at folding TV tables positioned 8 feet away from the outdoor dining table Harlan and I had rolled over from the backyard.
Forty minutes later we pulled into our driveway. I turned off the engine, and we sat for a moment in stillness, taking deep breaths, soaking our escapade into our bones so we could revisit this feeling of spaciousness and freedom the next time we felt the walls closing in. Then we got out of the car, walked through the garage, and stepped into the house, putting ourselves in quarantine once again.