The days pass in a state of expansion and compression, suspension and collapse, like something only a quantum physicist could understand. In this household, we are highly fortunate, though also, by the laws of COVID-19-time, intermittently purposeless.
Maybe that’s why the dog, usually ravenous, suddenly refused her dinner and grew lethargic. She must have known we had all the time in the world to address this. The clinic was closed for the day, so we drove to the entrance of a 24-hour hospital, where a technician exchanged leashes at a distance and carried the patient inside. We were directed to the parking lot, which was filled with other families.
Side by side, we waited in cars for cellphone word from veterinarians working maybe 100 feet away (first-line heroes, along with the other staff). Hours followed, and in them, every kind of intimacy became public: a man picking up a tin of ashes; a woman carrying her unmoving cat in a box to the side door, where she left him with a technician, weeping when the cat disappeared and she couldn’t follow. The enormous acorn blocking my own dog’s intestine was eventually removed, and she returned to me almost half a day later, loopy but lighter.
We had parked next to an elderly couple in an SUV. I couldn’t help but notice the man answer his phone, listen, hang up and embrace his wife. Then they both leapt out of the car, pulling on bandanas. His said #9, Boston Red Sox.
A few minutes later, a tech came out bearing the wriggling patient. Further embracing and weeping followed, mostly the dog weeping with joy to see his people again, and the man moved to embrace the tech, too, before stopping himself. My husband rolled down the window a crack. “Congratulations,” he said, and added (because he misses them), “though I don’t think the Sox will be playing anytime soon.”
Immediately, the man reached into his breast pocket. With a latex glove, he inched a torn photo out of his wallet and slapped it against the window: his much younger, thrilled-looking self, standing beside a faded Ted Williams. For reasons not clear to me — the preciousness of this photo to him, the preciousness of their dog to them, the preciousness of mine to me, these days that Ted Williams would not recognize — I noticed in myself a tear.
“This goes everywhere with me,” he said. “I could tell you the story, but I gotta take the baby home. Good luck with yours.”
We live in COVID-time, apart, side by side, sometimes briefly together.
Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.