Eat, Pray, Swab

I wake most days at 4.

I step unto the balcony into the dark, humid morning, then plant my feet in Tadasana, palms open, and count 12 breaths of gratitude: for the warmth, for the calm, for the ability to breathe deep and safe, for the wonder that I am here at all.

Every day I seem to add a ritual to this one. Or refine it.

It’s my fourth day in quarantine. I miss wine. I miss walking outdoors. I miss spooning my partner. But I’m intrigued by what feels essential. It interests me to notice what I miss and what I don’t miss.

And I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. It feels important being here, encountering unfamiliar places and people during a time when our connectedness feels so precious, so vulnerable. There are over 140 Alternative State Quarantine hotels in Bangkok, facilitating this heightened awareness of interdependence amid isolation.

We communicate mostly through closed doors or text messages. My face misses smiling. I don’t know anyone’s name.

At 0700 someone places a plastic bag of breakfast outside my door.

At 0900 I take my temperature and text it to someone.

At 1200 someone places lunch outside my door.

At 1500 I take my temperature and text it to someone.

At 1700 someone places dinner outside my door.

On Day 1, 6, and 12, someone comes to my door and escorts me down the hall and up a flight of stairs to an enclave where a nurse administers my COVID swab test: a swab in the mouth, then the swab up the nasal cavity that I can’t mention without wincing.

When I marked those dates on my calendar I realized I’m actually looking forward to Day 6–to the adventure of it, the companionship.

On Day 8, if my second COVID test is negative, someone escorts me somewhere in the hotel while a housekeeper visits my room. I also get to send out laundry this day, if I choose.

On Day 15, if my third COVID test is negative, I check out of the hotel.

I’m re-living memories of being a little girl in an upper bunk at camp, late at night, reading Black Beauty with a flashlight, or being a grad student dissertating in a study carrel in the basement of the library–the delicious solitude, the self-indulgence, the anxiousness about breaking some rule and getting caught. The kind of rule girls like me always fret about and break anyway, rules about reading too much or too late or other things that make good girls feel guilty or bad. There’s something about the rarity of this situation that makes me worry I can’t possibly deserve it. It’s tapping into something tender and deep. I’ve spent a lot of time, actually, alone in little hotel rooms in Asia. For years, it meant being in Singapore, and when the anxiousness came I would take a long stroll to some water or a rooftop. This time, it seems, my challenge is to stay put and feel it fully. Or to get on my yoga mat and remember who I am.