We are spending a lot of time at the cemetery these days. (We’re not alone.) It’s in walking distance of our house, it’s a large grassy car-free space that isn’t closed and that allows the kids to run free, and, best of all, it provides a more structured opportunity for us to ponder our own deaths than the constant, freeform daily background hum of what-if-we-all-die. The kids run around among the gravestones and find their own names (it’s a Catholic cemetery, and there are so, so many Alices and Hughs and Kevins and O’Keefes), and I push the stroller on the paved paths, sometimes simultaneously listening to coronanews podcasts on my phone about how it’s only a matter of time before coffins are stacked on the pews of the churches in New York.
Alice in the cemetery: “Mom, if I die before you and Dad, will you leave presents on my grave?”
The only time I really feel okay is on our long lonely walks. We’re not homeschooling really at all. Kevin is working from home, but I am still on leave, so I take the kids and their scooters and the baby in the stroller and we walk and walk and scoot and scoot until the poison somehow drips out of the day. We sometimes center it very loosely around a bakery curbside pickup snack but the important thing is that we stay in motion. The best routes are just the ones where nobody else is, but that’s not too hard when “best” has come to mean, for instance, empty parking lots next to construction that’s come to a halt.
I feel mildly anxious whenever we see anyone else out walking, nervous that the kids won’t get out of the way fast enough. We keep seeing the same woman with her golden retriever. The first time, the kids dashed up and scooted beside her and talked to her, from a somewhat-less-than-six-foot distance. Alice circled back around and told me that her name was Ellie and her dog’s name was Sounder and the next day when we saw them again I actually muttered under my breath “Jesus, you again?” because I was so nervous about the kids bothering her again and just having to deal with the whole “you can’t get too close” thing. But then I got used to seeing her and now when we go out I hope that we will.
We are just craving people who aren’t us. Another day (it’s been like several months of this, right?) Alice and Hugh scooted up next to another woman whose body language made it very clear that she did not want to be walking anywhere near them and I yelled sharply for them to come back.
“Remember we need to be giving people their space,” I said when they were back next to me.
“But Mom, she liked talking to us!” Alice protested.
“Did she? What did she say?”
“She asked if we were healthy!”