March 22, 2020:
Quarantine Day 5:
I woke way too late in the day, sunburnt and exhausted from the boat wedding on the sandbar. Today is Sunday, which would normally have me waking up around 7am and serving those 1,000 or so people I’ve told you about. Not today. I still find myself wondering which alarms I should set before I fall asleep every night, before realizing (again) that I don’t have to. I want to try to get back into the circadian rhythms I adhered to after Hurricane Irma, i.e. waking up with the sunrise, doing menial tasks to pass the time, having just enough (sometimes a few more) drinks to get sleepy, passing out and crashing around sunset, and waking up with the sunrise again. Repeat. Repeat Repeat Repeat.
But this whole pandemic is not a “natural disaster.” It is not hurricane. A hurricane hurtles toward us, with significant speed but also a path. In Florida, we call that path a “cone of uncertainty.” I need a damn cone of uncertainty. Any cone is better than no cone, at least in my opinion. We Floridians scramble around pretty effectively when there is a doomsday path on TV. We know what to buy and do before a storm takes out our electricity, our water, our stores, our everything, because we know that all of those resources will be promptly cut off when the winds come. Floridians have that on lock. While the rest of the country worries for us before a hurricane, we have parties, we evacuate or we don’t, we do a lot of things that make sense to us, and only us, because we have been here before. We prepare, and we wait for the wind to pick up. That wind tells us when the storm is coming, and we brace for it. I’m waiting for the wind to pick up.
The wind is not picking up.
March 23, 2020:
Quarantine Day 6:
Last night, Myles and I went on a bike ride to watch the sunset near Mallory Square. If you’ve ever been to Key West, you know we make a big deal about that ball of fire setting in the sky every evening. Thousands of people gather in the square to eat sno cones, drink mojitos, and watch street performers jump through hoops of fire. We even have a guy called “The Cat Man,” who has trained a bunch of felines to do tricks in front of large groups of tourists. It’s quite the sight to see. But after the quarantine started, the Square sat vacant, roped off to the masses. I wanted to go check it out for myself.
The sunset was spectacular! We’d heard that hotels closed at 6pm last night and that tourists were (finally) encouraged to go home. It sure did show. The lack of people lent an eerily calm air to Mallory Square, something we locals don’t get to experience… ever, really. I’d always called that area a tourist trap, but last night I had a front row seat to Mother Nature’s exquisite display of blue, pink and orange streaks painted across the sky. The calm before the supposed storm, I guess.
Tonight, I’m forgoing the sunset celebration and going over to a friend’s house for some cocktails and a hair-bleaching and coloring session. It’s getting easier to find activities that include a couple of people rather than the large groups with whom I run around town during my down time. Our small balcony and lack of backyard space is getting to me, and I still cannot find it in me to sit inside all day, every day, staring at the walls or a television screen.
Wish me luck, dear journal. By the time this is all over, my hair might look like a Lisa Frank poster due to my sheer boredom.
UPDATE: My hair looks pretty cool! I opted for a more subdued look; just a few layers bleached out and colored purple on the underside. I only look punk-rock if my hair is up in a bun.
March 24, 2020:
Quarantine Day 7:
We received some sobering news today. The third case of COVID-19 has been reported in the Florida Keys, but this time it is not travel-related. It’s here, and it’s now spreading within our community. They’ve restricted the Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West, allowing in only those who produce proof of residence. It’s about time, I’d say.
That first bit of news is certainly depressing, but it’s a relief to hear that Monroe County is finally taking larger steps to ensure this pandemic doesn’t get out of hand down here. We are a pretty isolated community once you limit access to the only paved way into town. There are still some tourists straggling around, looking lost as they ride their bicycles past the ever-closing storefronts, but the island is starting to look much like a shuttered theme park at the end of a long summer season.
March 25, 2020:
Quarantine Day 8:
I swear people are starting to lose their minds. I opened Facebook today to find my newsfeed filled with frustration, hostility and pettiness between friends. Maybe it’s the mixture of boredom and uncertainty. Maybe it’s the judgment and extreme defensiveness that quickly escalates in online conversation threads. I’ve even seen it pour out into real-life fights between people who care for each other. It’s so disheartening… We are supposed to love and support each other in this time of need, but the rope that is our sanity seems to be unraveling at quite the speed.
The fourth case of COVID-19 has been reported in Monroe County, and some restaurants that had previously been doing take-out only are shutting down until further notice. The end does not seem to be in sight. The skies are darkening.
March 26, 2020:
Quarantine Day 9:
Today, we did a Publix grocery run. It’s so strange to see all these people dressed up like low-rent Heisenbergs from the show Breaking Bad, with masks and latex gloves. I saw a few people who got creative with not many resources; one woman with plastic grocery bags on her hands, another with a bandanna and a scuba mask for protection. I felt underdressed as I passed a man in a scarf and wool gloves.
I don’t expect to find paper products anymore at big chain stores, although I always check. I have nightmares about getting stuck on the toilet with nothing to clean my undercarriage. We’ve already sometimes resorted to using Kleenex and even coffee filters. A friend of mine said that when his parents were growing up in Russia, they often used newspaper when they ran out of toilet paper, but I’m not sure the fragile plumbing on this island could withstand that. Our toilets get clogged if you even think about flushing anything less dainty than 2-ply. We’ve been lucky enough to have friends toss us a roll or two every now and again. I will admit that in my previous, non-corona life, I would unfurl that roll like Tibetan prayer flags even if I didn’t need it. Now, it’s become some kind of weird game to see just how little I can use during each visit to the commode. My mom ordered me a bidet on Amazon, and I’m so grateful, but I will be using that as a last resource because they intimidate the hell out of me. It might have to do with that time I used one at a friend’s house and basically gave myself an enema. Too much information? You’d better get used to it, dear journal. We’re in this for the long haul.
March 27, 2020:
Quarantine Day 10:
We made it to the double digits! Without killing each other! Yet! Although, Myles had a near brush with death when he said something a man should never say to a woman:
“Man, I’ve been LOSING weight since this whole quarantine thing started!”
I glared at him while I rummaged through the refrigerator, looking for the milk in which to dunk my Oreos (hey, they’re vegan). I have definitely been a snack factory in the last ten days, mostly out of boredom. I have developed a pretty familiar track in my house: I go from bedroom to living room, through the kitchen, open the fridge, check to see what’s in there, head back to my room, turn around and do the whole thing over again. I don’t know why I expect my poor fridge to magically have something new and exciting on the shelves every time I open the door. That particular appliance can’t catch a break.
We had our last official beach day today. We went for a couple hours to soak up the sunshine before they closed the final beach on the island at 5pm. We went by a friend’s house to say hello before coming home after nightfall to quite the ominous scene. No cars on the road except police cars, lined up and facing north on Flagler Avenue, seemingly prepared to turn around anyone without a residence sticker. We turned onto a side road and there were even more police cars peppered along the next few blocks, tucked away in the shadows. It felt like a police state, which I imagine is not far off in the future. Oh, the times in which we live. This doesn’t feel like the End-of-Days at all!
March 28, 2020:
Quarantine Day 11:
The end of the month is coming, bringing rent and bills right along with it. To say it’s stressful is an understatement. The average cost of living in Key West is around 42% higher than the national average. Some of us are catching a break from our landlords, and some are not. Some can file for unemployment, and some can not. There have been fundraisers set up online for bartenders and servers, but when you look at the fact that over 15 million people work in the service industry, it’s hard to imagine that money spreading very far. Still, it’s better than nothing.
I’m lucky enough to have employers who insisted on paying us during the first three weeks of quarantine, and after that I will have to look to unemployment. That’s always been a dirty word to me. I was taught to work hard for what I have, and to be proud of that ethic. I’ve never been one to ask for a government handout, but at this point, any little thing helps. It’s oddly comforting to know I’m not the only one in this industry sweating the next month or two. It’s hard not to feel the crushing weight of our financial responsibilities when there is little money to fund them. Curse you, Corona.
Lauryn Lucy Brooke is a bartender who lives in Key West, Florida. Her favorite activities used to be traveling, scuba diving, and hanging out with friends. None of which she can do now. Lauryn has a Masters Degree in Journalism from CUNY.