To All the Homes I’ve Loved Before…

I once snapped a photo of a rusted tin house leaning weakly next to my Jakarta traffic jam. I counted at least three different chipped paint jobs, four malnourished cats, one broom without a handle, and ten-to-one odds of tetanus. A sweaty, sobbing toddler wailed out of an opening someone far more optimistic than I would describe as a window. There were two hanging lines of pants and tees in varying sizes, all the same exact shade of brown. It was the sort of brown that didn’t begin brown. 

“It’s as bad as being homeless,” my friend shuddered, shaking her air-conditioned head. 

Jakarta Blue.

We were being chauffered to our kids’ international school for an international fair, which was basically an opportunity for all the moms to show off the best things about our home countries. I was having serious misgivings about the pigs in a blanket on my lap.

I tried not to make eye contact with my driver as I wagged my finger at her. He spoke perfect English and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings about his home country. And even though that screaming little kid would never know what she’d said, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings either.

That was his home, after all. 

It’s easy to forget about feelings in a place like Jakarta. Most of us tuck them away after the first week. 


I’ve been interviewing for fresh work lately. Every time someone asks me to tell them a little about myself, I always mention how I’ve lived all over the world, moving homes every two years for most of my adult life. 

Just so they don’t think I’m bragging, I always throw in the line, “Nowhere cool, like Paris or Rome…” and then casually mention Oman and Jordan, Indonesia and the Philippines.

They laugh comfortably and I look like I’m joining in, but really it’s a tiny test to learn a little about them. What they say next is important. Do they talk about how frightening it must’ve been to live in the Middle East? Do they ask if there are actual stores and neighborhoods in Jakarta or if it’s just…jungle? Do they wonder how I liked the people, emphasizing the people with scare quotes?

And so, my answers. The Middle East wasn’t frightening whatsoever; it was home to some of the best times of my life. I tell the story of going to a Jakarta mall for school supplies, and learning quickly that Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, and Hermès did not carry spiral notebooks. Of course, there was Montblanc, but we’re really more of a Bic family. And I really, really, always like the people.

“Are you happy to be home?” they ask.

Of course I’m happy. I’m always happy to be home. Wherever that may be.


We stayed inside our Manila apartment for the entire month of March. Rumor had it that the penthouse tenants were connected to The Palace, so building management locked us all up straight away to protect them as the hospitals around us overflowed with COVID-19 cases. We weren’t really allowed to leave until we left for good in April.

I love that apartment. Walls are windows, every view is an Instagram story waiting to happen, and it even has an elevator whose mirrors pretend I am much cuter than I actually am. I could call the front desk and ask for whatever I needed: food deliveries, water, and anything else that gave me the feeling I was safe. I miss it and all my stuff terribly. 

But it’s the height of privilege to live in a place like that during a time like this and not once consider that social distancing and uninterrupted income and home security are luxuries most in Manila can’t afford. It’s selfish to feel comfortable when you know that comfort isn’t shared with everyone.

Do you have those thoughts, too, wherever it is you call home?

My mother-in-law thinks I’m a socialist.


My hairdresser in Jakarta used to tell me wild tales about her brother. I can’t tell you the diciest bits just in case you know him or some of his wives, but one of the stories that stuck was how his house would totally and completely flood every rainy season. 

Now, you should know that there are two rainy seasons a year in Jakarta, and each lasts a few months.

Just another Thursday during rainy season.

“Like…every year, twice a year, he has to start over?” I asked, incredulous, my heart racing at the idea of such scheduled upheavel.

“Every big rain,” she shook her head. “He’s bought so many mattresses…”

I shook my head, too. “Why the heck doesn’t he move?” I could not understand this at all.

“That’s his home.” She looked like she couldn’t understand why I couldn’t understand this at all.


We’re temporarily in Northern Virginia, waiting it out in a big townhouse until I-don’t-know-when. We’ve got two couches, four barstools, one television, five beds, three empty rooms, and a peeler I thought was necessary. We had just enough dishware until I broke two bowls.

My husband recently flew back to our apartment in Manila and my two older girls drove away to their university. For a few weeks after they all left, I felt lost. Aimless. I stayed up late and talked to my friends all over the world. I FaceTimed good morning to my husband when I was going to bed, and flipped it when I woke up again. I slept through breakfast EST and PST.

I am less lost now, but I still don’t take this time zone seriously. I remind myself to remember every day how lucky we are, and I am supremely grateful for this temporary home, this soft place to land in a very hardened time.

It’s not remotely as bad as being homeless, but it feels like there are two walls missing and a roof.


We took a bus to some embassy event in Amman one early winter around 2007, and short-cutted through a section of town I’d never seen. At that time, the residents were probably Iraqi refugees. Soon enough, there would be more sections of town filled with Syrians, Yemenis, or Sudanis. Palestinians had been there the longest, of course.

One of the kids was acting up. (My Southern friend would describe his antics as showing out, if that helps you imagine it better.) It was annoying but easy to ignore, until he slapped his dad. We couldn’t help but gasp, and then pretend to look away with rounded rolly eyes. If I knew how to whistle, that would’ve been the perfect time for an aimless tune.

The guy grabbed his kid’s shoulders and faced him toward the window. “Knock it off,” he growled through gritted teeth, “Or else I’m going to tell the bus driver to pull over and drop you here.”

We all looked out the window, and took in the scene while the kid screamed in horror. Clothes drying on lines hooked between windows, concrete and rubble, grafitti in Arabic, and a barrel fire.

I grew up on a farm, and barrel fires were some of the most fun and excitement I ever had. Like, once, my brother handed my mom the gas tank instead of the kerosene and she burned off her eyebrows.

Anyway. The kid kept screaming. It was the kind of cry that sticks to your chords and your guts and your heart. His dad sure must follow through with his threats. 

I wondered much later why the guy looked at refugees and tried to instill fear instead of empathy. How could anyone look at the falldown houses they tried desperately to turn into homes, and think of anything but gratitude and grace? 

Instead, he went with them and us.

I hate that I keep this moment in my memories, but like I said, cries like that stick.


I think we each have our own definition of home. Writers far more talented than I…me…myself…damn it…have already arranged the perfect words to describe it.

To some, home is a place to hang art, drink steamy tea, and have a blender in a cupboard in case you want to make a smoothie and a peeler in case you buy carrots. To others, it’s White Claws and Rosé with your neighbors in the driveway until the sun dips low enough to remind you of the waiting crockpot and bathtime and one more reading of Good Night, Gorilla.

Home is your morning route, the bathroom renovation, the boots and backpacks by the back door, your Container Store bins and swivels after binging The Home Edit, and how the smoke alarm always pops off when you’re searing filets. It’s the slam of the microwave, the grind of the coffee beans, the hisspered argument about Nordstrom bills, and too many ice cubes at once. It’s the puddle on the floor that surprises your sock until you remember the errant ice cubes. Home is the place you leave and hope to return to even if you don’t know it yet, and every unexpected doorbell ring in between.

I’ve learned that to others, like my old hairdresser’s brother and those displaced refugees and maybe even you, home is a question. Will it rain on us tonight? Will I have one tomorrow? Will I ever get to go back?

A friend in Chicago once told me she envied how I was able to move homes so often. 

“So much change all the time! You must always be in the honeymoon phase of life,” she smiled. “How thrilling.”

Thrilling. Adjective. Producing sudden, strong, and deep emotion or excitement. Producing a tremor, as by chilling. Vibrating. Trembling. Quivering.

Yes. It is thrilling, isn’t it.

Do You Believe In Heaven?

Yeah. Same.

A few weeks before my sister Lin died, she asked me if I believed in Heaven. I was holding her water bottle, positioning the straw closer to her lips, and I tried unsuccessfully to stay steady. I don’t recall the last recorded earthquake in Shorewood, Illinois, but this was the day my entire foundation was shaken to her core.

“Yes. Of course I do. Yes.” My Y was weak both times, and her sinking eyes lost a bit of flicker. There wasn’t much left, already.

On a moment magnitude scale, it was a 5.9. Moderate quake. Considerable damage.

Three days after my dad died, my mother-in-law informed me brightly during dinner, “Right about now, your father is paying for his sins in Purgatory. Hopefully, he’ll be let into Heaven very soon…”

Am I the only one who thinks of ladybugs as tiny angels?

After watching my dad suffer from lung cancer for nearly three years, I didn’t want to hear about Heaven’s rough intake process. I looked down, locking eyes with my empathetic catfish. He was pissed, too.

I pull back and involuntarily cringe when people talk definitely about Heaven. They quote scripture casually and Instagram Story their pastors’ words and they look to the sky, up above the clouds, and explain the After the way it’s always been explained Before.

“But how do you know for sure?” I never ask. I’d love a little less blind faith and a lot more shared experience. So, here’s mine.


I’ve always told my girls that Heaven is just past where you can touch. They’d stretch out and try to find their aunt, and I’d clap my hands and exclaim, “Almost! Almost! You’re almost there!” and then pull them back to me where they belong. For now. For as long as I can keep them.

Anyway. I made that up, Heaven’s close proximity, just in case one of us has to go.

“We’ll still be close,” I promised. “Just a little beyond our reach.”

But then we moved to Indonesia, and I learned I was exactly right.

Now, I’m an awful historian who spends more time on the emotions of an era rather than the actual events, but I’ll explain Indonesia’s history from 1965–66 like this: There was a genocide. It was a genocide much like any other genocide, like the Holocaust and the killing of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge and the current situation with the Uighurs, except Indonesians used hatchets.

No worries. That was ages ago.

When you move eleven hours into the future, your body needs a minute or two to catch up. We were understandably exhausted, our new sleep schedule not helped much by Melatonin or the double shots of NyQuil after we ran out of that. But during our first family dinner at the local Mexican spot about a week in, we started talking about the vivid nightmares we’d all been experiencing.

Lillie, my oldest daughter, brought it up first. “Every night, a grandma shows up next to my bed and puts a silver blanket over me. It’s like a cold fog, and then I can’t move.”

“You’re lucky,” my husband shook his head. “An old, angry lady screams in my face and then starts punching me.” He added more specifics about the beatings, but all I remember were his eyes, round with fear.

“Oh, I have one in my room, too,” my middle daughter Gracie offered in between chips and guac. “He’s sitting up on top of my armoire.”

We waited, blinking while she asked our waiter for another drink. She ordered them like, “Strawberry daiquiri without the…” and then waved her arms. I wondered if he really understood her charades, keeping an eye out for slurring words and chair dancing. She certainly wouldn’t get it from the ground.

“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I just gave him a little” — she saluted with her left hand while holding a chip — “when I saw him the first night, and he’s never been a problem. He’s just…sitting there. We’re cool.”

The waiter brought her drink, she took a sip, gave him a thumbs up, and told us, “Just say hello. Acknowledge their presence. That’s all they want.”

Esmé, my youngest, was asleep in her quesadillas. We decided not to tell her about the ghosts among us.

That night, I slept with Lillie in her bed in her usual spot. Sure enough, just before I fell asleep an old women appeared next to me, lifted her arms, and covered me with a soft, silvery, billowy blanket. I felt cold and warm all at once, safe but not scared whatsoever.

I smiled at her and whispered, “Hello. I see you. I hope you’re well.” And then she was gone.

I wish I’d said something cooler, but it’s not every day you meet a ghost.

Somehow, life in that house went on. It was us and them, and neither seemed concerned with the other. (Except for the old angry woman by my husband’s side of the bed. He never got a break, no matter how nicely he smiled or how politely he said hello.) I still can’t figure out why any of this was okay with us, especially since one of my girls found a roly-poly in her bedroom two midnights ago and had to move to another floor of the house.

I set up my writing office on the first floor, close to the kitchen and next to the stairs. Every day around noon, I’d feel someone walk behind me, passing by on a little puff of wind. At first, I thought it was our maid, but she napped in her room from noon to two. Once, I happened to be exiting my office just when that wind was blowing by, and I felt it on my cheeks. More accurately, through my cheeks.

I remember thinking something along the lines of, “Wait. What. Did. How. Wine. Now.”

Months later, I invited a new friend for tea, a woman who’d lived on Java about as long as she’d lived in Japan. While we chatted, she kept turning her head to look toward my office. At least five or six times.

“Did you know,” she asked gently, “that you’re living in a pass-through?”

I blinked twice and lost all the air in my body. It was one thing for us to see the ghosts, you know? It was next-level horror story for someone else to see them.

“They’re harmless,” she held out her hands to catch my panic. “They wish you no ill will. They were just taken before their time. Their souls aren’t ready to leave yet. They very much wanted to stay.”

They very much wanted to stay.

Oh, I felt that.


I always knew wandering souls were a possibility. When I was twelve, a neighborhood kid fell through the ice in the river flowing in front of our house. His best friend who witnessed his fall panicked and ran home, where he stayed in his room and pretended like life hadn’t just ended. I am certain he spent the rest of his days regretting the hours he wasted, even though only the first twenty minutes truly mattered.

By the time the volunteer fire and rescue team showed up with plans and machines to break through the ice, the situation was apparent to everyone. Even sixth grade me. They set up camp at our house the next morning because we were closest to the river and because my dad was friends with all of them. It used to be such a small world.

At one point, someone suggested a psychic. I KNOW. I look back on this moment in the eighties and can’t imagine that’s even in the top million options for these old men in John Deere hats and Frye boots, long before they were sold at Nordstrom.

As the memory goes, one of them knew a guy who knew a lady, and she called my house to talk to the rescuers. They tried to tell her all about the boy, but she didn’t want to know too much. Just his name.

She relayed messages to the rescue team in the water, like, “Please don’t make me spend another night down here. It gets so dark.” and “If I were a giant, I’d see a silo.”

Well, yes. This is a farm town, sweetie. Still, they kept their unorthodox faith in her and reported every clue.

I ran downstairs to the basement and gently picked up the other phone. As the youngest of five, I’d learned to listen in on boyfriend calls without mouth-breathing.

“My left foot is so cold,” I heard her say in a high-pitched, almost see-through voice, channeling the boy. “It’s so cold.”

And then she gasped. “Oh! There you are! I see you coming toward me! Just a few more steps. Over here. You found me!”

When he was pulled from the water, his left boot was off.


Also, if you don’t have a disco ball, you should totally get one.

I follow this account on Twitter called tiny fairy tales. I love it. The other day they wrote that “Heaven is just a big laundromat where souls get washed and dried before someone new takes them for a spin. The last thing you see before you’re born is a lifeguard at the top of a water slide giving you the thumbs up that it’s your turn to go. It’s also the last thing you see before you die. It’s all waterslides, baby.”

But my favorite tweet of theirs is this one: “Maybe no one’s ever really gone, maybe they become light and surround us, scatter rainbows across our bedrooms, glint off the sky colored water like a million tiny gemstones.”

Oh, I felt that.


My sister was cremated. Her husband scattered some of her at their favorite spot in Florida, but the rest of her is with my mom. During one of my visits back to Illinois, my other sister who still lived in town popped in to see me.

“Oh!” my mom clasped her hands together. “All three of my girls are here.” Her joy made my heart skip a beat.

I’ve never seen a love like the one between my mom and sister. There’s something about trying to save someone for years and years that takes a relationship so deep, you’d both drown without it.

The night my sister died, I heard the phone ring and sat up in bed with a gasp. I stumbled into the hall and waited in the shadows, not wanting to breathe. I heard my mom say, “Okay. Okay. Okay. I’m coming now.” I saw her at the other end of the nighttime house, wrapping herself in fleece and bending down to pull on her boots. And as she bent, she crumpled in half and wailed softly, her hands on her knees trying to push her back to the surface.

“Okay. Okay. Okay,” she whispered to herself. And then she was gone.

Her soul wasn’t ready for my sister to leave. She very much wanted her to stay.

“I had a dream about Lin last night,” my other sister said. “She said she could see everything and it all looked so beautiful.” There were details about the pinks of my mom’s flowers and the green of the trees from our childhood and the twinkly lights on my mom’s back deck.

My mom gasped, then stopped and stared at my sister’s glass urn, a green and fuchsia swirl of a lily she’d positioned in front of a window.

“I Windexed her house last night,” she whispered.

Of course my sister never left my mom. I’d expect nothing less from their love.

Maybe all three of her girls were there that day.


I’ve lived in a lot of homes, in Oman and Jordan, Chicago and Virginia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and a few in between. I could tell you my favorite things about each place, and it would take weeks. But if you ask me my favorite place to be, it’s right next to my girlies three. I can’t imagine ever being ready to leave them.

I will very much want to stay.

Is there a Heaven? I have no idea. But I know for sure there’s a very real place for us all, just past our reach, close enough to feel each other on our cheeks, a bit beyond our fingertips.

Just a few more steps. Over here. You found me.

I’m Covidding All Wrong

One of my ghostwriting clients told me she’s lost two friends to Covid-19. “And I can’t even begin to count how many followers…”

My jaw dropped as I typed and backspaced through a few different versions of “OMG I AM SO SORRY OMG OMG ARE YOU OKAY?!”

“They’re not dead!” She added a few lol emojis. “They’re just pissed because we aren’t Covidding the same way.”

I advised her to never workshop that phrasing on her blog. “Let me handle your crisis pivot,” I emailed back, instantly regretting the use of pivot. My clients are comforted by terms du jour, though, and this one hit the spot.

“Cool. Chat later. Headed to Botox.”

Mostly everyone I know IRL and URL is thriving by this point. They schedule beauty appointments and support their local restaurants and they’re back at their gyms. I’m not doing anything but buying Parker Thatch masks and Googling superspreaders. Botox? My daughter cut my hair with kitchen shears last night. I have a bowl cut.

I can’t show you my bowl cut. Next time.

One of my pals started an Instagram Live series, but it’s religious so I know I’ll never be a guest. Another friend is taking a social media break and touring the South with her kids, visiting colleges, renting beach houses with family members they haven’t seen in years, and connecting with a long-lost biological sister she didn’t know existed.

“Just…you know,” she told me. “Hunkering down.”


The best way to protect a brand and a reputation these days is to crop out the Covid. Bloggers and besties I’ve loved for years vague-post their weekends and workouts, zooming in tight to miss instructors and other sweaty strangers, pretending the newly-opened restaurant is their own dining room. Do you honestly believe they’re wasting that Retrofete robe dress on date night at home? I’d And, seriously. How many of us make Manhattans with a black cherry garnish for movie marathons in our basements?

You-know-whos escaped from their Covid-heavy towns in the dead of night, deleted comments bashing their decisions, and hoped like hell they didn’t get socially shamed on Get Off My Internets. No such luck, dears.

I’ve never been the guy who criticizes other people’s decisions, and I’m not going to start now. But guys like us are getting lonely and feeling weird. It’s uncomfortable to create a whole new set of rules that make us comfortable, especially when no one agrees on the rules.

Followers and friends with completely disparate distancing practices are having a rough time. I get it. One of my favorite people in the world lives two miles away. She still hugs, invites us to her home, and rolls her eyes at social distancing.

“We…” she asserts, waving her hand in an inclusive air circle, “are our own community.”

I love what she’s putting out there, but we don’t live together and everything I’ve read warns me of merging exposure and remember that family who met up one random Tuesday for dinner and mostly all got the virus and a bunch of them died? I do. Plus, my youngest has asthma and scoliosis, which I only mention so you understand my obsession with flattening curves and curving spines. It’s chaos inside my brain.

I am dying to see her, but I don’t want to see her and die. Or, worse, get her sick and then she…I can’t even write it.

She shakes her head at me on FaceTime. “I refuse to live in fear.”

Well, there’s the difference. Fear is my hometown.


A short list of things I fear:

  1. Hippos. They look cute, but they’re actually really aggressive and unpredictable and can run 19 mph. I can’t run 19 mph. I could’ve ended that sentence at run.
  2. Turkey neck. Iykyk.
  3. When I’m leaning over the sink, brushing my teeth, and then I look up at myself in the mirror and there’s a killer in a balaclava standing behind me.
  4. Waking up from a long coma and discovering no one tweezed my upper lip.
  5. Killnesses that make doctors say, “Huh. That’s a new one.”


I was born with this panic, a sick little kid allergic to everything fun. It didn’t help that we lived on a farm specializing in hay, pastures, and cows. I was even allergic to my goat, and couldn’t pet her good-bye after she was attacked by a pack of Dobermans. I was probably allergic to them, too.

When I caught a cold, it traveled straight to my lungs, ensuring I’d be home and in bed for at least a week or two, trying to catch my breath. I was the only one in my family with her own room; no one wanted to sleep with the kid who woke up sneezing seventeen times at 4:00 am, hisspering, “Aren’t you going to say God bless you?!”

Shhh is the first word I remember learning. My mom’s cool hand on my forehead, sliding to my cheek, checking for fever, is one of my gentlest memories.

I’d hear life happen from my bed as my brothers and sisters came home from school or practice or work or a date, my mom starting off their hushed conversations with, “Shhh, Karey’s sick.”

Sometimes, if I was awake and desperately seeking company, my older sister sat on the other side of my open doorway and told me scary stories about the girl who dared cross the thin gold bar holding down the carpet between my bedroom and the hallway. Shit got real when she got to the part about the hippo waiting on the other side to chase and trample her.

Shhh. Let her sleep. Pray the medicine works. Stay away. That was my family’s approach to sickness.

Years later, when our combined happiness depended on CT scans and MRIs of my dad’s lungs and brain, I learned to tiptoe, too. If I didn’t wake him from his corduroy La-Z-Boy nap, I wouldn’t have to talk to him. If I didn’t go near him, I wouldn’t give him my cold. I didn’t have a cold, but you can never be too careful. And if I didn’t go near him, he wouldn’t be able to pull me in for a hug and I wouldn’t stop breathing and melt into him, choking on all the things I wish I was brave enough to tell him. Like, I’ll miss you terribly. Please don’t leave me. Don’t go to the hospital. They might keep you forever. And then what would I do.

I tiptoed past him for his last two years.


My sister got the same sort of cancer — the kind that ends poorly — and I learned something new and even more heart-breaking about illnesses. Sure, we all still tiptoed and shushed, making mashed potatoes when she couldn’t chew anymore, heating blankets in the dryer to warm her brittling bones, effusively pretending her bedroom looked SO MUCH CUTER on the first floor in her living room.

But my sister? Man, my sister taught a Master Class on Living Until the Very End.

Her last few weeks were packed with activities. She put on eyeliner before she took her Oxycontin, wrote thank you notes to all the people who had loved her, said yes to every unexpected guest, smiling sympathetically when they complained of summer colds and backaches that were killing them, and showed up with the sun on the back patio for one last morning swing.

A few days before her ending, she asked me if her hair looked okay. She didn’t have much by this point, but her husband was taking her into Chicago to Greek Town for some gyros and she wanted to look pretty. He loaded her wheelchair in the back of their Jeep and lined the passenger seat with blankets while I assured her she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. I wasn’t even looking at her hair.

There’s a page in my memories with her being carried out the door that day, looking back at me with one of those goodbye smiles you never want to see…but you’d give anything to see it just one more time.

I knew the hippo was waiting for her out there, but she sure didn’t.

When things go south, I promised myself, I’m going to be like her.

I am nothing like her.


I wish I had my brother-in-law’s confidence. He’s been traveling two or three times a week since January, and doesn’t own a mask. He persuaded a bartender at O’Hare to pour him a beer in April despite Governor Pritzker’s shutdown. His epitaph — not that I want a world without him in it — should read “Loved beer. Hated rules.” And then something about jamokes. He has the best stories about jamokes.

On his most recent flight, the attendant provided him with a mask and asked him to wear it. He pretended he was on the phone, and hooked it casually over one ear, holding up his “Just a second. Hold…” finger until she left him alone. He hasn’t been sick once.

My friend texted me last week: “Are you up for a social distancing happy hour in our driveway?” I replied in all caps YES, adding the echo effect to highlight my enthusiasm. Yes. A hundred yesses. At least.

What I really meant to tell her is NO, sent with fireworks. (Explosives. Another fear I forgot to list.)

I straight-up can’t say no to an invitation during the time of Covid-19, which is odd because all my online friends have overposted some version of the phrase “No is a complete sentence.” I should be more comfortable with it by now. By that logic, I should also realize my worth is not tied to my weight, but I am feeling very overpriced lately, nonetheless.

Part of my panic is that I simply do not know how to re-enter society. I mean, I know how to act at the grocery store, but social rules are a little fuzzy to me. Do I wear a mask while happy-houring, or is the six-foot distance enough? My cocktail style is little sips, and lots of them. Imagine the amount of times I’ll have to touch my mask. I already have and it’s worrisome. Judging from the responses to the masks with straw holes, I know those aren’t an option. They’re like condoms with convenient pee punctures. Speaking of sips, too many and I forget the rules. What are the rules, again? Everyone has a different list.

And while I deeply, madly, truly want to return to my favorite restaurants, I’m scared of waiters holding my wine glass from the top on a normal day. When’s the last time they washed their hands? Yesterday? Add in Covid-19 on the rim, and I’m out.

And so, I make excuses. They started out strong. We’d just returned to the US from our home in Manila, so I was jet-lagged. Plus, we had to quarantine for two weeks. Three, to be sure. Then I had a cough. It was a fake cough, but it bought me another week. Then my husband flew in, transiting through South Korea and Detroit, so that gave us two more weeks. My daughter still attends school in our old time zone, which means she’s got classes from 9:00 pm until 2:30 in the morning. I open the school cafeteria around midnight. On a good day, we wake up around noon. On a great day, we’ll see you at one.

But she’s almost done with school. And the beach in front of the house we’re renting is filling up with loads of people who won’t let a little old virus stand in the way of their fun in the sun. Or burnt beer bellies, but that’s a different article.

These are frivolous concerns. I know this. You know this. Every night before I fall asleep, I thank my lucky stars I’m not an essential worker. I’m not even sure I’m an essential person these days. I don’t know what to do next. I guess I’ll Google superspreaders at restaurants.


My mother-in-law asked my husband the other day, “So, Mike.” His name is Patrick but she started calling him by his middle name when I came into the picture. He hates it. I thought you should know.

“Tell me, Mike. You think everyone’s overreacting about this flu?” She said it like anyone from Chicago would say “Would ya get a load of this guy?” I imagined her rolling her eyes at Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham or whichever Fox news anchor was spewing nonsense at the time, pointing her thumb toward the phone.

My husband responded, “No.” It took up three syllables. “I wear a mask, gloves, I wash my clothes and take a shower when I come back from the grocery store, I stay away from everyone…No.” Three-and-a-half syllables this time.

She quickly replied, “Oh, me too.”

Mike thinks she’s lying.

Is everyone lying? I know I’m not the only one isolating, but it feels like I am. Most of my friends say things like “It’s time to get back to normal,” and I know what they mean: they really, really want a haircut. My bowl cut understands.


I’m probably overthinking everything. It’s what I do. These days, I worry about everyone who died alone, those about to die alone, and those who just feel alone. I stress about what I’ve said and what I’m about to say, what I’ve written and what I’m about to write. My work doesn’t help. I told you I’m a ghostwriter, so I even worry about things I’ve written while pretending to be other people. Worse, I’m holding a lot of secrets that cause me regular panic, stomach pain, fury shakes, and an inability to stop mood-snacking.

Sometimes, old employers take credit for my things. Which is fine. It’s fine. Any ghostwriter will tell you that’s part of the gig. But after a particularly painful Instagram humble-brag pre-quarantine, I made an appointment with an ENT.

“I think I have thyroid cancer,” I told him miserably. “It could also be intestinal cancer, pancreatic, spleen, lung, or any other organ in this general area.” I waved my hand from here to there.

“Why do you think that?” he asked patiently.

“Well. Sometimes it feels like I’m choking. I sweat a lot lately. And I can’t lose weight.”

“Are you trying to lose weight?”

I tilted my head and thought about that for a second. I’m trying to lose something.

He described all the tests he could perform and all of them sounded awful, which made me more miserable. While he felt my thyroid, he asked what I do for a living.

“Not much,” I answered glumly. “I’m a writer.”

He looked at me, his face right next to mine, way too close. I hated that then, but now I miss it.

“You know,” he said. “Not every story has to have a tragic ending.”

He must be new here.