Seeking Connection: Just keep swimming

Quarantine, Day 8.

I am thinking about zebra fish.

If you raise a zebra fish in isolation, in a boring tank with nothing to look at, it becomes depressed. It will float listlessly at the bottom of the tank for hours, staring into a corner. Add some other zebra fish or colorful pictures just outside the tank and the zebra fish reanimates, swimming more actively and upwards towards the top of the tank.

I empathize with the poor zebrafish secluded in the boring tank.

You see, my husband has COVID.

David is a physical therapist who works in-patient with the elderly at our local hospital. This means he has spent nine months working with COVID patients.

Yet, the coronavirus pulled his ticket two weeks shy of getting his second vaccine, the timing a middle finger from the universe.

He has developed the dreaded COVID headache and awful fatigue, but has maintained his sense of smell and taste. He’s fared better than some and worse than others. Because he works with the elderly, the Health Department suggested he quarantine for a full two weeks.

Izzie and I have, miraculously, tested negative. But we are suspicious of those results and, out of an abundance of caution (remember the good ole days when we didn’t even know the stupid phrase an abundance of caution?), decided to quarantine to make sure we weren’t unwittingly spreading this deadly virus.

Which brings me back to the zebra fish. Our home has shrunk, albeit temporarily.

David was assigned certain rooms in which to exist; Izzie and I got the rest of the house. The kitchen was designated as Switzerland. Anyone can travel there, but wear your mask, stay on opposite sides of the room and disinfect as you leave. And for the love of all things holy, don’t pick up my La Croix.

I’ve spent most of  quarantine in the sun room, dining room or my office. I can lounge on the sofa to read or watch Netflix (David got the room with the TV).

I can practice my guitar, work on the ever-present jigsaw puzzle or write on my laptop.

I have ample time on my hands, but am unmotivated to do much of anything. It’s a weird state of suspension, tedium tinged with an underlying sense of dread, of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I wander from room to room, a wraith staring out windows at a landscape that doesn’t change.

Everything is gray and brown and wet, the weather too foul to even get outside.

I stare longingly out at my studio during yoga class times. The driveway is full of cars, my beloved yoga students less than 25 feet away. But they may as well be on the moon.

My tank is boring and I am suffocated by loneliness.

I love being alone but I am desperate for hugs.

This year was the first time in 28 years that I couldn’t kiss my husband as the ball dropped in Times Square. It’s both a small inconvenience and a gaping wound that won’t heal.

Humans are interconnected, designed to be together. And screens just don’t cut it.

When scientists set iPads outside the depressed zebra fish tanks, the poor creatures grew anxious and panicked, the shifting pixels traumatizing their little fish brains. They prefer staring into space over staring into the vast digital nowhere.

They perked up if photographs or pictures of modern art were placed outside their tank. Color and shape seemed to brighten their mood considerably.

But the happiest zebra fish were the ones that had fish friends introduced to their tanks.

Shoaling refers to a fish’s tendency to congregate in schools. Being in the group offers numerous benefits to each individual fish. Shoaling fish mate more often and feed more vociferously. They also swim upwards, a piscine sign of health and contentment.

Writers are taught that you don’t write it while you’re in it. Meaning, there is certainly some insight to be gained from this imbroglio, but I’m too close to it to see it yet.

I need time and perspective to cull meaning from this particular act in this cosmic theatre of the absurd.

I know that my predicament is temporary, and I will see my friends and family and students soon.

Until then, I’ll just keep swimming. Ever upwards, ever onwards.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness” and the online host of the OM channel.