Reflecting on a Solitary Life Compounded by COVID-19 

As I sit on my patio at 7 a.m., sipping an Americano, my plants anxiously await being fed, groomed, and watered. They are oblivious to the fact that it is day 66 of lockdown due to COVID-19. Sounds like prison. Feels like prison. My 300-square-foot studio apartment in Montrose, California—a far cry from the 3,800-square-foot condo I shared with Carl Peter, my boyfriend of seven years, in Michigan, my birthplace—isn’t much larger than a prison cell.

I wish I was a plant.

Talking to my plants are the only conversations I have had in public without wearing a mask once it became mandatory. I don’t have any children, pets, or a significant other to hunker down with. Feels like solitary confinement. Thank God for my 19” TV (not a typo), Facetime, and Wi-Fi.

Montrose, California is a quaint town housing bars, restaurants, unique shops, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, a bank, a post office, and the Montrose Bowl built in 1940 (used exclusively for private bowling parties). Honolulu Avenue, the main street, has been hosting the Montrose Harvest Market every Sunday since 2002. The avenue is lined with tents filled with produce, hot ethnic foods, yogurts, homemade jams, French baked goods, plants, and arts and crafts. Bands take turns serenading patrons with rhythm and blues, rock, and country music. The banner suspended above the road, for 18 years, reads “SUNDAYS 9 AM TO 2 PM RAIN OR SHINE.” Who would have ever thought to add the words, “EXCEPT FOR A PANDEMIC”?

Not until March 19, 2020.

On August 8, 2018, Carl Peter died suddenly. I was distraught. Our romance was unmatched. We met at a Starbucks. I was the barista and he was the customer. Sparks ignited like Fourth of July fireworks. He was a majestic German man with gorgeous locks of white hair who had played soccer for 52 years. He was my European heartthrob. One of the regulars at Starbucks would say, when Carl Peter wasn’t there, “Hey Blondie, where’s Dagwood?” and painted a watercolor of Blondie and Dagwood and gave it to me. It now adorns my vanity table. Carl Peter and I were inseparable.

Since I had lived in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s, I decided to rediscover the land of milk and honey. I never lost touch with my California friends, but a twenty-five-year absence was a shock to my system. Rent, insurance, and gas were twice that of Michigan prices. But the cold, snow, and ice storms had become my enemy. I’d had enough, even though leaving my family and friends made me second guess my decision. If it wasn’t for the loss of Carl Peter, I would still be living in Michigan, going through the quarantine with him, tolerating the cold, snow, and ice storms.

And not alone.

Dazed and confused, I packed up all my cares and woes, boxes upon boxes, researching moving companies and auto transporters. I headed west like a madwoman on a mission, in search of my “new” normal, with a thousand questions dancing in my head. Am I crazy? Am I too old for this? What about a job? Can I afford California?

Before leaving LA in 1994, shortly after the Northridge earthquake, I was working in the film industry. Ironically, I was the costume designer on a Disney period film, Goodbye Miss Liberty (based on a true story). It was about the 1918 Spanish Influenza. Some of the sets were dressed with antique medical equipment, while actors portraying doctors, nurses, and patients donned vintage hospital uniforms and gowns. And here it is 100 years later and our world is reliving it … all over again. Daunting. What does that say for 2120?

California is entering Stage 2 now, with 90,000 + cases of Coronavirus and 3,600 deaths to date (approximately 220 cases and 9 deaths per 100,000 residents). Parks, beaches, and some retail businesses are reopening with restrictions. Even casinos and pet salons. Scary. Some say it is too soon while others are elated. I am concerned that people will jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

Montrose Harvest Market partially re-opened on Sunday, May 17. A large sign with guidelines was posted at the entrance. I walked there wearing my mask and glove ensemble. For the most part, people followed the guidelines, with one or two exceptions. The market was half the size of the “old” normal. Chalk lines were drawn at 6-foot distances. Produce, French baked goods, yogurts, and homemade jams occupied the tables. The missing links were hot ethnic foods (I miss the tempura shrimp sticks from the Tornado Potato vender), plants, arts and crafts, and bands, all to return as part of Stage 3.

As I sit on my patio at 4 p.m., sipping a glass of Pinot Noir, my plants fed, groomed, and watered, I hear a bird splashing in my birdbath behind me, oblivious to the fact that it is day 66 of lockdown. I remain still. I don’t dare turn around for fear I will scare him off. I don’t want him to leave. I enjoy his company. I call him Carl Peter.

I wish I was a bird.

—Barbara Anderson


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