The 20 animal inhabitants at our school are acclimated to the chaos of elementary students. Since school’s closing, these creatures have received only two hours of human contact a day. Some have noticed the change.
The corn snake no longer coils up and yawns when we offer her food. Now, she rears and blusters like a commando charging a refrigerator. Her burgeoning belly marks her as a casualty of the quarantine’s 15-pound weight gain.
Formerly a practitioner of social distancing, the rabbit now runs circles around me, bats my legs, and flops at my feet. Ignoring the rabbit only encourages him to eat the bristles off a broom.
Like many confined humans, the chinchilla has seized this opportunity to redesign his space. He dumps his food dish, poops in his water bowl, and shreds the newspapers lining his cage. This bad boy has created the ultimate bachelor pad.
Our 65-year-old, football-size tortoise has much to teach about patience and persistence. With no humans to police her, this grand dame has figured out how to pop the lock on the guinea pig’s cage. The freed guinea pig touches his nose to hers.
Lisha Goldberg, Needham
I am brooding because my hair, once pale and golden, is turning brown. Quarantine has made me vain; I am upset that my early twenties are leaving me while I am stuck inside. My mother, always gentle and kind, says that my hair is still “sandy” as she puts down the groceries and leaves to go for a walk. I notice that her hair is turning gray.
She is aging in front of me, consuming life in halves. Half a sandwich for lunch, half-asleep during the nightly news, awake half the night. Half-needing to protect her family, half-needing to visit her own mother, sick with coronavirus. Half-gray, she waits half employed, to return to her classroom. Half-wanting help with the dishes, half-needing to be in control of something, even if it’s just how the dishes are dried.
I am trying to explain that halves can’t sustain us. She walks miles and miles every day — the only thing that nourishes her.
I am 22, nearly 23. When she returns from her walk, I am painting my toenails light pink and sitting in the sun. My hair is turning brown and hers is turning gray.
Ellen Seaward, Newton
Around the time our forced hibernation began, I started playing the Spelling Bee game on the New York Times app. Every day there are seven capital letters. How many different words can you spell with them?
The game quickly became my biggest daily distraction. Those seven letters would bounce around my brain each day and take my focus away from scarier and more depressing thoughts.
But it wasn’t long before I started noticing words that fit the moment. One day I spelled BLAH, and felt that way. ABRACADABRA was a fun word to find, but there is no hope of a magical solution. When I spelled IMMOBILITY, it was a perfect one-word summary of the past three months.
After watching the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, other sorts of words started jumping out at me. There was HORROR in one puzzle. When police attacked peaceful protesters near the White House so the president could pose for a photo, I spelled MADMAN.
There’s hardly ever an E or S to use. Those letters are part of so many words, and these are hard times.
So I’m still waiting to spell SAFETY. Where’s JUSTICE? There’s no ESCAPE.
Jeff Merritt, Sudbury
For the last eight years, my work home was the 5th floor of the Steinway building. While working, we heard voice lessons and piano scales from other floors. We looked out the windows at Boston Common, opened them up, let the noise from the street inside, too. Our classes were sometimes boisterous, laughter spilling down the hall toward the office. The space was alive, vibrant — it fostered stories, and us.
I was 24 when I got the job; I started the week we moved to the building. My colleagues brought me over when it was empty, as it is now—again—and said, “That’s where your desk will be.” Since then, my job changed four times. I’m a different person than when I first saw that space for all its raw potential. I was raw potential, too.
Throughout May, we sifted through everything our space collected over the years. We watched the tree branches grow buds, then tiny leaves, then full ones, the final spring we witnessed from these windows. Pollen fell and danced through the air like confetti, a wisp of what it may have been like to properly celebrate the time we spent here, to properly say goodbye.
Lauren Rheaume, Boston
Because of the pandemic, my life has changed. I do things that I have never done before. I used to go to school, but now we have class online. I used to work at the airport, but now I am laid off.
Sometimes I bring my car in front of my house to listen to music inside with my wife and our daughter. We had done that before, but now I spend more time in the car. I even went to the car to join my class on Zoom. While in my car listening to music, I like to see activityand people walking in the street. Sometimes I research some new vocabulary. .
Before the pandemic, I didn’t have the privilege to stay home every day with my family. Now I can spend time with them and think and relax. Even though this is a scary time and I can’t go to school, I am enjoying my life and learning new things.
Job Emile, Everett
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.