Confinement hardly describes our 100-day shelter-in-place experience. Paul and I took regular outdoor walks. We made weekly trips to the recycling center, sometimes driving by The Korner’s take-out window for pizza. We used masks for monthly runs to Price Chopper and picked up prescriptions at Kinney Drugs drive-through. Zoom, FaceTime, and MessengerKids connected me with friends and the granddaughters. I appreciate the privilege to have had such an easy time. It was like riding a carousel, around and around, almost pleasant, but going nowhere.
In contrast, my emotions pitched high and low. Every time we neared the date for the border opening so we could reach our Canadian family, the date was pushed back. First May 21 to June 21 to July 21 to No Time Soon. Up and down, forward then backward, like a roller coaster. Reunion with American family is just as tentative. I cling to hope that I can attend my niece’s Pennsylvania wedding. My dad’s long-term-care facility remains in lockdown to keep him safe from the virus. A Findlan family fishing trip might go on without us.
I start planning 2021. The coaster clicks on the tracks ascending gradually. We will reschedule our Disney trip. I will take the train to New York City with the granddaughters. Visitors will come to our 1000 islands home. I make an itinerary for a Pennsylvania vacation. Without warning I hurl over the crest, then plummet downward. The velocity wrenches my neck. My stomach churns. Will we make it to next summer? Will I ever see my dad again? How does this end?
We get word that immediate family may enter Canada under restrictions. I head to the border. In summer, a line of 10-20 cars at customs is typical. Today I pull up behind one car and a Florida RV. Customs protocol is second nature. Windows down, sunglasses off, know my license number, hand over the passport opened to my picture. Today I wear a mask. Plus, I carry a letter providing my son’s address, phone number, and his permission to offer a place of quarantine. I have a picture of his permanent resident card on my phone, proof that he resides in Canada.
My on-line source painted a rosy picture of immediate families reuniting north of the border. Foreign nationals would be required to quarantine for 14 days. Nothing to it. But wait, that was simply the colorful façade of the funhouse. I bump through the doors where the unexpected waits to terrorize.
The scowling monster pops up first, a uniformed guard reluctant to hear my plea. I earnestly provide all the documentation. I tremble and perspire.
“Where are you going?” As if to imply his goal is to stop me.
“To my son’s in Gananoque.” Then I ramble about quarantine, how I live just a few miles away on Wellesley…
He interrupts, “Do you have your son’s birth certificate?”
“No, I don’t have that.” I am the child who is 48.5 inches tall standing against the attraction sign: You must be 49 inches to ride.
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth?” he demands.
“You just have to take my word for it,” I sob. My voice quavers, “We are used to crossing several times a week and I haven’t seen my granddaughters since March 18 when the border closed.” He is certainly aware of those dates. Not to offend I add, “As you know.”
Perhaps my graying hair and teary eyes soften him. He returns my passport with a printed set of instructions and issues a severe scolding over the birth certificate. I barely hear his admonishments except the part about the $750,000 fine and four-year prison sentence. I am intimidated and elated all at once. I accelerate out of the dark and into the sunshine on Canadian soil.
For thirteen days I ride the Ferris wheel. At the top of every revolution I get a glimpse of the immediate future. We will move out of the basement apartment (wink, wink) and into the main house with Reed and the granddaughters. Family activities can resume outside. Reed will take us boating and tubing on the St. Lawrence. At the bottom of every rotation I wrestle with the fact that each time we go home and return, we face a repeat of the funhouse quarantine. I cancel my trip to Holly’s wedding.
Amusement park rides have always given me motion sickness. The thrills and chills of the pandemic can hardly be characterized as amusement. But the coronavirus experience, like a bizarre Stephen King carnival, incites adrenaline rush and fear with spins, drops, acceleration, and reverse motion. My equilibrium is skewed. This requires something stronger than Dramamine.