Quarantine as Refuge by Cherryl Jensen

Cherryl Jensen: I am a writer and Straw Dog member living in Amherst. I’m in my last semester of the MFA program in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I’m writing a memoir. In my other life, I published several articles in newspapers and magazines. I’ve had several poems published.

Quarantine as Refuge

As an introvert living in a world designed for extroverts, I find myself not unhappy in this time of sheltering at home. I know many people are feeling antsy or even depressed by the lack of interaction with others. For me, it is a respite from a world that has often seemed overwhelming.

Even pre-Covid-19, I often spent whole weekends at home, reading and writing, working crossword puzzles. Now, I may not venture beyond these four walls for three or four days in a row. Granted, my daughter gets groceries and does other errands. And I can do many of my usual activities via Zoom: my yoga classes, exercise classes, and writing group. 

The world has always seemed too much for me. I can’t go to a large city without feeling the assault of cars and taxies honking, sirens screaming, tires squealing, people shouting. Even in relatively quiet Amherst and Northampton, I cringe at riders gunning their motorcycles on city streets, shy away from people talking loudly on their cell phones or leave a restaurant because I can’t hear over the din of conversations.

Not only do loud sounds bother me. Strong scents give me headaches. I prefer non-spicy foods. Even my skin is hypersensitive, breaking into rashes just from walking in the woods, attracting mosquitoes when friends go unbitten, bruising easily.

For as long as I can remember, people – parents, siblings, colleagues, friends, lovers – have said I was too sensitive, overreacting to jokes or slights. I have often questioned my own perceptions. Am I too easily offended? Do I not have a sense of humor?

I’m not happy we are dealing with such a deadly disease, especially one that targets black and brown and poor people inequitably. Nor am I unaware of my privilege, that I do not have to work as a nurse, grocery store clerk, bus driver or any of the other front-line essential positions that put people’s lives at risk. The only large group event I’ve attended in three months was a protest at the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer. For that, I was willing to risk exposure to Covid-19 and to beating drums, honking horns, and shouting people.

But, though I am hesitant to admit it, I find comfort in the pressure to stay in rather than face the world’s assault on my senses. I hope we find a cure or vaccine for this disease and our society can reopen. But I also hope we do not return to the old normal but find new ways of dealing with the inequities that this disease has so starkly illuminated. For myself, I will also strive for a new normal, one where I can balance the introvert in me with the demands to participate in a world of extroverts.