Quarantine

What can I say about this virus that hasn’t been said? I haven’t worn a bra in weeks. I have noticed but not fully acknowledged the scum buildup in the toilet since I put my cleaning lady on paid leave. I have dug my overgrown nails into my calloused fingertips to prove to myself that I’ve done something creative during this unbearable lull. I’ve cooked for the first time in many months. I’ve played the Sims for hours. I’ve considered making a TikTok.

I’ve rotated my desk ninety degrees to provide better lighting and a neutral background for online classes. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never see my own students, whom I’ve had for a year and a half and love dearly, again. I have cried about that. I’ve commended the Vietnamese government for closing schools right away and also lived in visceral fear of being dragged away to a quarantine camp.

I have watched my neighbor across the alley put her laundry up every morning and take it down each night, measuring out, like coffee spoons, this halted life. I’ve listened to her smack her kids, I’ve listened to them cry, and I’ve carried on watering my plants; overwatering them; having faith in them; killing them.

I’ve dreamt of the dead. I watched footage from inside a Wuhan hospital of a man slumped, greyish-yellow and waxen, in a wheelchair, his daughter holding his lifeless body up. I’ve watched videos of Italians singing from their balconies, breathing joy into their cities as if performing CPR on these times as their parents and grandparents become statistics. I have called my grandmother.

The virus gets closer and closer to me – it’s in the cities in which I’ve lived, it’s in the hospitals in which my family members work, it’s in the family members of my friends, it’s in my own family. It hasn’t infiltrated my house, but it is in my neighborhood. The last time I drove down the main road, it was all but empty – storefronts shuttered, sidewalks empty, quiet. It’s just so quiet. It’s a heavy silence – like we’re lying in wait, like we’re under siege, like we’re pretending to sleep.

Other than that, it was perfect

Rain starts falling. I walk away from the hellish, jager-fueled fun that’s being imposed upon this otherwise serene peninsula of paradise. Tables are heaving with tribal tattoos, sanskrit tattoos, tattoos that are I’m sure very meaningful; sunburnt, roadrashed bodies are gyrating to the greatest hits of the aughties, and no everybody-knows-this-song can stop me from fleeing the scene and stepping into my own personal Natasha Bedingfield song in which I can feel the rain on my skin.

It’s still too loud over here but the white noise of the rain drowns out some of the barbaric yawping and some of the incessant thumping which has been the sonic backdrop of my misery for three days and nights. I walk around the pool, which is perfect. I walk barefoot across the grass, which is perfect. I sit on the tree swing, which is perfect. I’m being pelted by raindrops, which should annoy me, but in a masochistic twist, is perfect. I’m meant to seek shelter, but the shelter is a steaming hog shed precipitating with ethanol-infused sweat and cigarette smoke.

I’ve tried to like it here. I ordered a bucketful of mojito of my own volition within an hour of our arrival, and I continued drinking from buckets until I was drunk enough to sing Folsom Prison Blues when the karaoke started. I was the first one to take off my clothes and jump into the pool, and that was only the first of several instances involving public nudity during this nightmare of a trip. I’ve been having some actual, genuine, organic fun here, but mostly I’ve been lurching between forced fun and utter misery.

When I’m not forcing myself to have so much fun, I’m in the throes of an existential crisis. So I’m in this hammock, which is perfect, having an existential crisis while the thunder of distant Fun sends me into a psychiatric tailspin.

Everything is just so fucking perfect here – the green mountains give way to the white sand which gives way to the blue water. The sun and the breeze and all that. The hostel itself is a giant white and blue villa through which fresh air flows freely because every door and window is actually a slatted shutter. Seating is ample – bamboo benches with identical pristine blue cushions are placed throughout the corridors and scattered across the grassy areas. There’s a basketball court, a volleyball court, a terrace for twice-daily yoga, an outdoor gym, a perfect blue pool in close proximity to a well-stocked bar, a nightly buffet feast (Taco night! Sunday roast! Vietnamese bar-be-cue!), and RFID wristbands that make it easy to pay for all of the things you need, want, and want more of.

It really is lovely, in principle.

But when I saw them unloading a van full of sound equipment, I felt the first shudders of turbulence. It was the resort equivalent of an ominous rumble in the gut, or a sudden drop in barometric pressure, or a strand of hair that isn’t yours in your lover’s bed. I took some precautionary measures, like Valium, and lied to myself about not beating but joining them. At dinner, I met some people and had an interesting talk – not the vapid where-are-you-from bullshit that’s unavoidable at hostels, but the kind of conversation that constitutes human connection.

I had an idea that maybe our little group could move things to the beach while the semi-human knot of Bootcamp Traps and Instagram Asses sucked different types of powder into their faces and sort-of danced before retreating to the dorm rooms to have sex with each other. Maybe we could find somewhere away from the stage, where the DJ with the stupid fucking name and the stupid fucking hat would be “making” stupid fucking music. Maybe we could stock up on some beers and find an unoccupied picnic table somewhere at the far reaches of this perfect place and have a nice evening in spite of the looming prospect of Fun.

Then the music started and I wanted to kill myself. I watched as people Put [Their] Hands In The Air™ and sidled up to people who were about as attractive as themselves and yelled in each other’s ears a few times before sort-of dancing with each other. I watched as the DJ disappointed everyone and they continued to pretend to enjoy themselves. I saw them silhouetted by moving lights and slopping buckets of liquor around like Fantasia’s possessed brooms. They stumbled around, they sweated profusely, they stuck their fingertips in baggies and saw false gods.

I was in such a state of despair that I couldn’t even get drunk. Kasey and I retreated to a bench in a corridor to talk. We were still being assailed by the Mancunian DJ – the noise was truly inescapable – but at least we could talk. People occasionally walked past and thought we were in the middle of a breakup because the pain on our face registered as emotional turmoil, which it was. Are we assholes for hating this? Are we wrong for thinking this isn’t fun? Are we old now? 

The music lasted until 1am. The slurred, strung-out voices lasted until 5:30. I left the room to plead with the fun-havers to go elsewhere so that everyone else could sleep. I cried. I ground my teeth for three hours during my sleep.

At 9:30, I went down for breakfast. The Mancunian DJ was sitting across from me at the table. He had taken charge of the music, yet again, and was bumping his bullshit from the speakers, so I turned down the music to a tolerable volume. I sat down and sighed and took a sip of shitty coffee. He got up and cranked the music back up and then sat down again and committed the gravest of sins.

“Smile,” he said to me.

The sleep deprivation and the exhaustion only just kept my seething rage from boiling over. It was surface tension; fury kept at bay by little more than the promise of a nap. I put my coffee down and gave him that look – you’ve seen it – the one that women have evolved, over the course of many centuries, to use in lieu of actually castrating men with rusty cleavers.

“Go on, say something positive,” he said.

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I said.