31 paragraphs about quarantine and sports.
“I figured that by the time I was ‘done,’ some semblance of normalcy would have resumed.”
1. Most of my friends were (are) athletes. After our college careers, they started to do long-distance running, signing up for 10K races and marathons. I did not. I coached basketball; I tended to believe that getting my high school girls on the line, blowing the whistle, and watching them sprint was a form of workout — for me.
2. Two months ago, Broad Street Magazine invited past contributors to add to its pandemic blog. I dismissed the invitation almost right away; I am a slow, painfully meticulous writer. An example: I am currently working on an essay about 9/11. So I figured that by the time I was “done” with my coronavirus ramblings, some semblance of normalcy would have resumed.
3. Yet, here we are.
4. As a woman who lives in between places, the shelter-in-place order caught me in California with my parents, after Seattle, between Colombia and Malta. My bed asks why I am still here, and I do not have an answer.
5. I am not trekking in the Scottish Highlands; instead, I learn that my father slams the door really, really loudly.
6. My travel companion, a stuffed alien, is — as my grandmother likes to say in Mandarin — dirtier than a rag. These days, he screams at me to wash my hands before I touch him.
7. A poll: Are you more worried that my bed talks to me, or that my stuffed alien does?
8. The adjustable basket in my driveway where I used to dunk as a child, imagining Kobe, is no longer there. Like this:
9. Every movie we stream now feels like a horror film: When someone reaches in — buffering, buffering — for a handshake, their hands about to touch, I want to scream, “Run!”
10. I was #10 on my college team, in honor of WNBA star Sue Bird. I wear my jersey, still, in my thirties, on full-contact, sweat-spilling basketball nights with my friends — wore it. Past tense. All of it, past tense.
11. They’ve chained off the courts, locked the gates, and removed the rims.
12. Non-essentials, they say.
13. I have never understood people who enjoy running, who claim that it is addictive, a drug, even. A runner’s high. I think it might be a hoax. All I feel is agony.
14. The other day, a propeller plane flew overhead against the marble sky. Behind it, a sign: “Buy American. Not China.”
15. I am lying on the lawn. My mother’s flowers are blooming — roses, dandelions, and others I do not know. I am crying. I do not know why.
16. Twice, when I went for a jog in our idyllic neighborhood, a car squealed by, revving, its passengers mocking and honking at me. I try not to notice that most of them are white and male. I try not to sprint for cover.
17. Did Jeff Bezos really ask for donations? Did our President suggest injecting bleach?
18. My mother bought industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper.
19. I don’t remember: Is walking in the middle of the road normal?
20. Wild upsets, buzzer beaters, sold-out stadiums — Sabrina Ionescu, sea of Oregon green, nostril-flaring queen of March Madness. But she’s not there. She’s home too, doing interviews online, her hair down, trying not to talk about what could have been. Should have been.
21. I understand, she says. We say. We count our blessings. But behind her pixelated eyes is a pain, a fury — a tidal wave rising, rising.
22. Out of my windows, two ducks fly from roof to roof, waddle up and down our driveways, the streets. In recent weeks, the pair has picked up a third mate, a friend, I think. They do not social-distance, and I am jealous.
23. As we watch The Last Dance, a series about Michael Jordan’s run with the Chicago Bulls in the nineties, my friends and I exchange flurries of texts, Insta-stories, Facebook posts, half-baked adrenaline. It almost feels normal, almost a live sporting event — but not quite. We pretend. We go on pretending.
24. As of June 27, seven people have died of the coronavirus in Taiwan. In the United States, more than 127,000.
25. Even in normal times, my friend likes to say, “Everything’s fine.” It squeezes through her lips, half of it a question; each time, she looks like she’s about to dissolve.
26. My hair has grown out of control, thick and heavy as weights, and I think of shampooing it — all of it — as some kind of an upper body workout.
27. My friends’ exhausted faces on Zoom, frozen mid-sentence. I want to touch them before they disappear. Sometimes I think all we have left for each other are our words, but I am saying all the wrong things. When they ask me how I am, I choke. Network difficulties.
28. I am sucking air, my breath labored and heavy, my feet pounding, hot against the asphalt. I am in the best shape I’ve been in since college, but, like toilet paper, like hand sanitizers, I am running out.
29. Just four, five months ago, in a dim-lit gym, my high school girls shared water bottles and Chapsticks and high-fives. They were breathing hard, fingers locked behind their heads, side-by-side along the line. Again, I put the whistle in my mouth. The girls groaned. “Bea,” one of them always said, “Run with us.”
30. Back then, my face was mask-less; I didn’t yet know what mouth sweat was. My girls could still see my smile when I said, “You will survive.”
31. We will, right?
Bea Chang, a MFA graduate of the University of Washington, Seattle, has been published by Colere: A Journal of Cultural Exploration, Toasted Cheese Online Literary Journal, Memoir, Broad Street and the Awesome Sports Project. Her essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, earned a Notable Mention in the Best American Essay series, and noted in the Best American Sports Writing series. She is the 2020 recipient of Anne G. Locascio Scholarship from the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference.
You can read Bea’s previous Broad Street piece, “The River My Father Promised,” here.