Laughter has been as scarce as toilet paper and hand sanitizer these recent months. There are glimmers of good news now and then, but the bad far outweighs the good. March 14 the facility where Peter has lived for two years closed its doors until further notice due to COVID-19. “Further” has yet to be determined. Still, who am I to complain when tens of thousands of families will never see their loved ones again?
Oh, Peter and I have talked on the phone and FaceTimed. He always sounds quite jolly when we talk, but it isn’t difficult for me to get him going. I say something silly, he laughs and comes back with something sillier. We’ve been doing that for years. After we’ve talked, whoever facilitated the call—Haley, Brandi, Jordan—lets me know that he smiled the whole time. I appreciate them telling me. Smiles work wonders when reasons to laugh are so scarce.
Peter understands that there’s a serious health crisis, though it would be a stretch to think he understands what a pandemic is or the devastation it has wreaked around the world. His world is limited to the locked doors behind which he and 15 others live. He’s safe there.
When we FaceTimed last week, aided by Brandi, I happened to be sitting outside in the sun—sunlight destroys the virus, they say—and I didn’t have time to corral my flyaway hair. “Is that you?” Peter asked, frowning. He had her phone pressed close to his face the better to decide if the image on the screen was indeed the woman he married.
“I look different with all this white hair, don’t I?” I asked.
He hooted. “Oh, is that you?”
I nodded. “I look like my grandmother.”
“Well how old are you?” he wanted to know.
I sighed. “We’re both over the hill, Pete. I’m eighty-one, and you’re…”
“SIXTY!” he blurted.
“…Eighty-two.” My turn to laugh.
Thursday we visited through the garden fence, again with Brandi’s help. She made sure Peter was outside at one o’clock. He wasn’t quite sure about the masked woman standing near the gazebo. He walked toward me hesitantly. “It’s you!” he said finally.
Leslie and Martin arrived a bit later. We three stood in the sunshine, at distance from Peter, and chatted as if it were a normal day. Peter’s grasp of the virus’s severity is fleeting. “Is ‘it’ just here?” he asked circling his arms around. “How long will ‘it’ last?” he’d say every few seconds. Again and again we told him that the whole world is affected and that no one knows for how long. Each time he’d roll his eyes, shake his head and repeat, “‘Is it just here? How long will it last?”
He took some comfort when Martin told Peter he was safer inside than we were outside. Finally, I encouraged him to go see if there was a cup of tea in the dining room with his name on it. Certainly tea won’t cure this pandemic, but it can’t hurt.
Header photo: I forgot to take a photo of us at the fence, but Peter hasn’t changed much since this one was snapped two years ago when he was only 80.