Photo by Steve Brennan

A Simple Summer – A collection of essays from quarantine

Photo by Steve Brennan

Mid-March, officially without jobs due to Covid-19, my boyfriend James and I began going on morning walks.

We woke up around 9:00 every morning—not with an alarm, but naturally, something I’m unaccustomed to—and walked two blocks to J. Hood Wright Park. The week I was fired was the week that non-essential businesses were shut down, and we barely saw anyone on those walks.

Other than getting groceries, these morning walks would be my only time outside for nearly two months.

I like to think of myself as a professional nature walking essayist, as I took a class on just that in my freshman year of college. The class had many foreign language students, so we spent a lot of time on writing an essay, and the best days of class were the days that Dr. Robert (Bob) Marrs (who taught at Coe College from 1986-2014) would say, “Okay, everybody up!” and we would go take a walk. I took notes along the way: Where was I walking? What did I see? What did I feel?

J. Hood Wright Park is fairly small, as far as New York parks go. When you first enter at the corner of West 173rd Street and Fort Washington Avenue, there is a playground. We rarely saw any kids at the playground—I suppose 9:30 AM is a little early for that—and a week or so later, the city roped off the playgrounds entirely for fear of spreading the virus.

James and I would walk a square around the park, first past the slides and swings and into a large basketball court. All the way at the end was a workout area with handlebars for pullups and the like, but we usually cut through the basketball court to get to the path leading around the park.

We’d walk through the basketball court, all gray fences and concrete, and burst into a land of green grass and trees and flowers that, as our walks continued, kept blossoming. It was like leaving Kansas and walking into Oz.

That first week, I’d get such an odd sensation at this point of the walk. Each time I’d look up at the gray-blue sky, through the barren trees, and a surreal sense came over me. “This doesn’t feel real,” I’d tell myself each time, walking onward.

The corner opposite the workout area has a platform that overlooks the George Washington Bridge. Trying to get a grip on reality, I’d pay close attention to my movements as we ascended the steps. I’d try to feel each muscle in my legs move up and down, but it was no use. I didn’t feel like I was walking, I felt like I was floating. I felt numb. “Does this feel real?” I asked once. James didn’t understand what I meant, and I decided not to explain. I was worried that if he didn’t feel the same way, I might feel even more alone.

Isn’t it funny how easy it is to feel alone? Essential businesses were shut down country-wide, not to mention the fact that quarantine guidelines were put in effect for the rest of the world. I could count on one hand the friends I knew who were still working, and my boyfriend and our two roommates were unemployed. All the same, you feel alone, you feel no one will understand how you feel.

So, instead of explaining my “Am I In A Coma Dream?” conspiracies, I just said “Never mind” and looked out onto the George Washington Bridge.

I reminded myself that if I was in a coma dream, my mind wouldn’t be able to create such a beautiful view from nothing, especially since I’d never stood in that spot before then.

There’s a famous quote from Henry David Thoreau’s journal, dated April 25, 1859: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment…There is no other land: there is no other life but this.” Bearing that in mind, I tried to ground myself.

I read a lot of Thoreau in Bob’s class, so much that I was sick of nature by the time our final paper was due. Instead of a traditional nature walking essay, I decided to write about a walk through Coral Ridge Mall, where I worked nights and weekends at Abercrombie & Fitch. Titled “Smelling the Roses,” my essay delved into the fake plants and fake designer bags, deep thoughts involving Old Navy and Claire’s, and what a “moment” is. (Yes, I relied on Don’t judge me!) “When does a moment begin?” I asked. “When does a moment end?”

I got third place (and a cash prize) in our school publication, the Pearl. I still have the 2009 issue on my bookshelf, my first publication, my first paid writing gig. I got to read it out loud at a party when the issue came out—and what a moment that was.
Convinced I’m in reality again, we leave the view of the George Washington Bridge, descend the steps, and walk past the dog park. Sometimes we exit there and walk down Haven Avenue to one of our favorite bodegas, Hilltop Perk, which has the best packs of ramen around (except the one labeled “Extra Spicy,” which is far too much heat for my liking.) I prefer to take a left and leave where we entered, past my favorite tree.

I couldn’t tell you what kind of tree it is, because frankly I don’t know anything about trees. When it blooms, it is pink and reminds me of a cherry blossom. Perhaps it is. When it isn’t blossoming, you can see the trunk underneath, breaking off into several trunks that twist and spiral around each other. It’s beautiful. Something about seeing it every morning makes me happy, and I think that’s one of the hardest things to do in times like this—find the things that make us happy.

I hope I still take these walks when quarantine is over, even if it means getting up earlier to make it to work. I’ve yet to walk through J. Hood Wright Park while the sun rises, while the concrete and grass alike are a low golden hue, while the city that supposedly “never sleeps” wakes up. I want to remember to live in the present, to live in the moment. To find the things that make me happy.

Ian-Michael Bergeron

Iowa-born writer Ian-Michael Bergeron has written his weekly column in Get Out! Magazine since 2015, as well as editorials and interviews. He lives in New York City in a one-bedroom with two cats, Alexander and Thomas, and spends most of his income on shoes.

Related post