- Hillary Harvey
- Quarantine Bicycle Gang
It could be worse. I could be 17 and quarantined with my two younger siblings, my parents, and my grandmother. Like my oldest daughter, Z. She sleeps all day and stays up all night. When she goes outside, I ask if she has her mask.
On the twenty-third day of quarantine, we decide to go for a bike ride on the rail trail. Z was up last night, opening and closing the bedroom door. Maybe she's getting lonely or depressed. I wake her up twice because the first time doesn't take. I tell her she should come; it'll be fun. I give her an hour to get ready.
We tie bandanas and scarves (her brother, a tiger hat) around our faces. Z puts on headphones and cycles away. When we stop on a bench for a snack, I text Z to meet us. "I was just riding and listening to music; it was so nice," she sighs.
"You see?" I say, "We all just needed to get out."
"Did you stay awake all night again?" her little sister asks.
"I can't say anything without everyone attacking me."
Sometimes Z comes to dinner angry. Sometimes she's smiles generously at her siblings and suffers patiently through her dad's jokes. Sometimes after everyone has left the table, Z tells me about her friends and her problems and her dreams.
Z was the friendliest baby. Her first word was "Hi."
We debated having more children. Z's dad is one of 11. He grew up with 13 people in a three-bedroom house. He wanted Z to travel and to play an instrument and take an unpaid internship. A working-class man's dreams for his daughter.
I just wanted Z to stay confident and unafraid. But junior year has been tough, even before school was canceled. We started to tour colleges early, this past January. I thought it would give her some perspective for the remainder of 11th grade.
One day, Z comes into the living room after going out with her friends for a walk, which was really a drive in one friend's car. "Are you going to cyberbully me if I post a photo on my Insta of me and Mo hugging?" she asks. I look at her. "I'm just kidding. But can I post a pic of me and Mo hugging?"
"Someone will report you," I say. "They're looking for young people who aren't social distancing."
Last fall, Z and I went to the climate strike in New York City. The speakers asked what kind of future could there be in a racist, homophobic, capitalistic patriarchy bent on ruining the planet? The phrase that stuck with Z was when Kevin Patel, an activist from LA said, "We will not be the last generation." Z fast-forwarded 50 years and wondered if that would prove true.
I could blame the Boomers for leaving their grandchildren a worse world, but it's the fault of everyone who participates in the way things are. I wanted Z to have siblings so she wouldn't be alone.
Z goes to a Zoom movie watch party in her room. We hear her laughter as we get ready for bed.
102 years ago, Z's great-grandmother was born during the Spanish flu. She was 11 when the stock market crashed, initiating the Great Depression. Just before she was lost to dementia, she watched through her apartment window as thousands of people fled the Twin Towers by foot over the 59th Street Bridge.
I stayed up all night when I was 17, too. I would stuff eight kids into my Subaru hatchback. We'd hide in the parks, then sneak home at four am. I would have had no trouble climbing down Z's balcony. But Z hasn't tried to escape; she thinks there's nowhere to go.
"There's a meme going around," I tell Z one day. "The pandemic is a movie and we're all just waiting for a 17-year-old girl to come and save us!"
Z laughs. "Oh, sure," she says. "I'll just get my quiver and bow."
Everything in my lifetime indicated that toilet paper has always been used and would never be hard to buy. But Z's adulthood begins with a post-apocalypse. Z does not know what it's like to pay off her student loans finally, or to tell her friends that she's having her third baby. While my quarantine has been about loss, her quarantine is about the way things will never be.
Hillary Harvey was Chronogram's Editor-at-Large from 2017-2018 and its Kids & Family Editor from 2015-2017. She lives in Kingston with her college sweetheart and their three muses.