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Our lives during the pandemic

Seven short essays gathered by the Boston Book Festival as part of its At Home Boston community writing project

Essays gathered by the Boston Book Festival as part of its At Home Boston community writing project examine life during the pandemic.
Essays gathered by the Boston Book Festival as part of its At Home Boston community writing project examine life during the pandemic.Adobe/Globe Staff

Katie’s video wasn’t working on Zoom, so I couldn’t see her face for our last class. Juliana didn’t make it to class at all. I had taught them in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, watching them grow as thinkers, writers, and people, and this was the end.

I never imagined that my students would become floating heads on a screen for brief weekly sessions rather than the living, breathing teenagers who burst into my classroom for class or help with an essay or because their friends were there or just because. I never imagined seeing students — athletes, artists, historians, mathematicians, noisy, thoughtful, quirky, determined, anxious, dancing, laughing, flirting, falling, thriving — flattened to two dimensions.

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KATE H SCHLESINGER, Worcester


I often revisit the scene in Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” where Ammu and Velutha meet at the riverbank. The Big Things are overwhelming — the caste differences that forbid their love — so they focus on Small Things. An insect has built a home out of rubbish and leaves. They tend to minutiae like life depends on it.

The pandemic is a study in Small Things. On a walk, I hear a blue jay’s liquid screech. Enjoy fuchsia eruptions of rhododendrons in the Arboretum. Inhale ash from my neighbor’s backyard, conjuring nights of s’mores and songs. Spy a family of squirrels relocate to the rain gutter.

AMRAPALI MAITRA, Jamaica Plain


When was the sky ever so saturated, so clear, so blue? Absent that smoky haze? These cerulean depths — a Côte d’Azur overhead — invite a daring swim in a sky of pure color, as the Cooper’s Hawk dives for prey; and standing outside now, watching him, I feel giddy, caught in the undertow of these waves of clarity.

When was it ever a two-hour walk to the turtle pond and back? Before this pernicious twist of coronavirus slipped into circulation, it was a 30-minute outing with DixieDudeDog at most. These days, I just never know. Between pauses to stare at the sky, mute, and in awe, I meet the neighbors, all home now, out in their yards, with tools and trimmers — busy with projects long-planned, and now, at last, well underway. Bill and his kids are planting a garden, and we spend some time talking about all that.

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And when I’m nearly back home, two women stop me, ask directions, and seem in no rush to move on. I’ll visit the egg farm on Hancock Street later this afternoon, walking there, of course, and pet the gray barn cat; and when was this cat ever so friendly, before?

DEBORAH VATCHER, Plainville

My grandmother called me over to her apartment complex to pick up a leftover meatball sub. She didn’t want it to go to waste and wasn’t taking no for an answer — I don’t think any grandmas will accept a “no” from their grandkids, especially when it comes to overfeeding them.

I donned the mask I made of leftover fabric from my attempt at crafting dog bandannas and set out to retrieve the package. Grandma was standing outside when I arrived — folks who don’t live there aren’t allowed in — and I approached her with my phone facing outward. My 7-month-old nephew, her great-grandson, was on the screen, babbling away with a bottle in his mouth. “Can he see me?” she asked, absolutely thrilled to learn that he could. “Oh, no wonder he’s shouting so much! Look at me, a crazy lady in a mask.”

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After ending the call I was informed I would be taking her to get “one of those things” as soon as stores reopen. “I can’t take my money with me,” Grandma said, and using it to buy a magic machine that lets her see her great-grandkids whenever she wants is a pretty good deal.

DAINA WYNOT, Braintree


My father had a massive stroke on April 13. My mother called me and said, “If you want to see him, you should come now.” Without thinking about COVID or my mother’s fragile immune system, I leaped into the car and drove to their home. I looked down at the man who had raised me and I scanned his face and hands, committing them to memory. I told him I loved him and I believe he mumbled that he loved me, too.

I am a palliative care doctor, and during the pandemic I’ve had to call families and tell them they couldn’t come to the hospital to see their dying loved ones. I have withstood their anger, tears, and begging, knowing it was safest for everyone — patients, staff, and families themselves — if they stayed away. I did my best to be compassionate, but it wasn’t until I felt the primal need to see my father one last time that I truly understood the terrible loss families experience when they are denied the same. And now I feel the heaviness of it deep in my chest every time I reach for the phone to make another call.

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JANE DELIMA THOMAS, Brookline


It’s mid-March and our dog doesn’t realize that we’re all home in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. A school day. A work day. She doesn’t mind that when we go for our usual walk in Dorchester Park, we see no one. Not the guy who also has a beagle or the lady who doles out treats from her pocket.

It’s Easter and our dog doesn’t understand that no one is coming over for dinner. She doesn’t know about being over 70 and having lung disease. Instead, our dog jumps onto my lap as we Zoom with family to celebrate virtually. Safely.

It’s mid-May and our dog doesn’t notice that the bike path along the Neponset River is more crowded than usual. She wags her tail and sniffs the grass as runners, cyclists, rollerbladers, and walkers pass by. She doesn’t care that most of them are wearing masks.

Soon it will be June. My sons will turn 9 and 11. School will end. Our dog will continue to meander through the days, unaware. That’s all we can be sure of.

JENNIFER SERAFYN, Boston


The last hour of a Ramadan fast goes by the slowest. I always find myself watching the clock more closely in this last hour, but today I am extra vigilant. My 12-hour shift at a facility for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive for COVID-19 will start at 7 p.m. At 6:50, I enter the donning station, ready to gear up in personal protective equipment. I hesitate. And I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt.

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Shortly, I must take off this PPE to break my fast when the sun sets. Using a set of PPE for only 30 minutes seems wasteful. We usually take a break halfway through our shift to conserve our limited supply of PPE. The other choice is to break my fast early. Again, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. But I swallow my guilt along with a swig of water and finish donning my PPE by 6:59 PM.

Before I go in, I pray that my fast, though incomplete, is still valid. I pray for a cure, a vaccine, the government to make decisions with the safety and health of people in mind and for all of this to be over.

SHAHRIN ISLAM, Boston


These essays are part of the Boston Book Festival’s At Home Boston community writing project. Until June 30, send your essay (200 words or less) about life during COVID-19 via bostonbookfest.org. Some essays will be published on the festival’s blog and some will appear in The Boston Globe.