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Quarantine, Seen from My Window

In this time of self-quarantine, we’re joking about “travel plans” to the attic and “weekend trips” to the living room. But I, sincerely, have found in quarantine my new favorite hangout spot in my apartment: my profoundly uncomfortable windowsill.

I’ve been working from home full-time for six years, and – we’re all friends here, right? – most days, I work from bed. (I reacted to this article, headlined “Working from your bed is better than slumping at the kitchen table,” with this GIF of Captain Holt from “Brooklyn 99” screaming “Vindication!”) Tenants in my building have no control over the heat, which tends to be overzealous in winter; as a result, my window is open almost every day. 

All this to say: In the year and a half I’ve lived in my beloved apartment, I’ve spent a lot of time absorbing the sounds and the routines of this exact location on this exact block of central Harlem.

There’s a playground outside my window, and a preschool next door. The playground is named after a hyperlocal figure who died when he was 20. All day – and I say this with utmost fondness – kids are screeching and playing on that playground. In snow and in scorching heat and in encroaching dusk, I listen to those kids. They are always having an absolutely fantastic time. I know the songs their teachers sing to coax them to go back inside. I’m several stories above the ground, but I often get questions on conference calls about the kids who can be heard through my phone.

Of course, that’s all past tense now. The preschool’s been closed for two weeks. Occasionally, now, I’ll hear the bouncing of a basketball or, at night, the bass of a boombox. Mostly I hear the sirens en route to the hospital further down the block.

Even so, it’s springtime in New York, and it’s been a lustrous one, as if in apology. The sunshine has been bright and warm almost every day. Most afternoons have a glorious hour or two when you can sit in fresh air and pretend it’s another season – another season of the year, another season of life. 

That’s how I find myself wedging my body into my windowsill for a while every day. Like a cat, I’m roused from my usual spot on the bed by signs of activity outside. I look to the window with interest, noting the puddle of sunlight on the sill. And then I stand, stretching, and step into that light, satisfied. 

I didn’t do this last spring. I wasn’t as intrigued by the daily goings-on outside my window. But right now, my block is both a less and more interesting place than ever. Fewer people, but the ones who appear fascinate me. Delivery workers, focused and tense. A neighbor who pried open a squeaky window to blast “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and greet everyone else who joined in singing along. A lone parent and child at the playground on a Saturday afternoon.

Being alive right now is scary and difficult. No amount of silver linings will make up for this unnecessary loss of life. But I am grateful for this small space in my apartment, these small spaces in time when my world narrows to whatever I can see from my windowsill.

Featured photo by Catherine on Unsplash.

Published inPersonal

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© Mary Gaulke 2023