One of the things I read, that comes to my emailbox and I read without thinking much about it, has invited readers to send it maps of their world under CoronaVirus. People send in beautiful little maps, colorful, with their house, their yard, their street, the park they can walk to.
I have wanted to participate but am hampered by three things: 1) I don’t remember where my crayons and drawing paper are; 2) I don’t remember what publication it is; 3) I refuse to find time to solve the first two because I am embarrassed by my map.
I wrote a story once about a sister and brother who lived on the prairie, back when the prairie was a frightening thing, just space and waving grass as far as the eye could see, without neighbors or towns, or fences. They shared a hastily thrown-together one-room shanty and were living off the supplies they had brought with them from the East. They had come there with the intent to farm, to homestead, but the sky was so large, the emptiness so silent. Something had happened and the brother had become afraid. His fear had grown until he was afraid to leave the shack, no matter how painful his relationship with his sister had become. The story ended with him rising, approaching the open doorway, standing before it, working up his courage, and shutting the door, closing himself in.
And that is what my map would look like now.
A set of five rooms. A long hallway, elevators, lobby, mailbox alcove. Weak tie to the laundry room in the basement. The sidewalk that leads around the corner to the grocery store on the ground floor of our building. Another sidewalk that leads to the drugstore six blocks away and then to the liquor store another six blocks beyond that. Maybe to the good grocery store on the way home from there, although even that is fading.
It’s like that New Yorker cover, perceiving the U.S. from the New York City point of view, you know the one, with the country fading away after the Hudson River. Only my U.S. fades away after the door to my apartment, never makes it past Third Avenue, much less the Hudson.
All the things I loved about New York have faded away without object permanence: Central Park, a ferry on the river, restaurants, the Highline, my favorite shops. My hairdresser in SOHO has detached and floated away, along with the Tai Chi studio and the grade school under the Manhattan Bridge where I used to read to first graders on Saturdays.
I – who used to travel to Chicago, Portland, Walla Walla, Dallas, Ithica, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Mexico, Canada, the Galapagos, Antarctica – am now afraid to leave my home.
I am the brother, staring out the doorway and realizing that the world is a big place and I am one small person, and choosing to remain in my small box, rather than risk stepping out where I can feel how small I am.
And how alone.