Quarantine Diary: ‘11 days with just each other’
Editor’s note: Zack Dinerstein and Lisa Tauber are Americans living in Tel Aviv. A few days after they got back from a quick getaway in Paris, Israel added France to the list of countries from which travelers must go into isolation. Now Zack and Lisa are among some 80,000 people confined to their homes in Israel. This is their journey, in their words.
Day 1: ‘At least we have a porch’ (Lisa)
It was just a week ago that I sat on the cold airport floor charging all of my electronic devices and trying to cough gracefully into my elbow’s crook. On a whim, taking advantage of the day off work for Israel’s elections, my husband, Zack, and I had bought tickets to Paris for a long weekend. Coronavirus was already a thing, but not such a thing that we couldn’t go to the City of Lights. Sure, corona had been in the French Alps, but that wasn’t Paris. Italy hadn’t happened yet. We figured we’d be fine.
As I sat on that cold airport floor, the Internet told me that Israel had blocked flights from Italy, Thailand, China. And were forcing Israelis coming back from those places into self-quarantine. Zack and I quickly debated. “Is this stupid?” I texted a coworker. “Nah, France isn’t on the list.”
We shrugged. We boarded. We wore masks (and acknowledged they did nothing), and we obsessively washed our hands, sang happy birthday twice and applied hand sanitizer. We ate croissants, marveled at Impressionist paintings, and had a perfectly romantic long weekend.
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We came back, we went to work for two days. People joked that we were contaminated, har har, but not really because France wasn’t as dangerous as Italy. Or China. Then, on Wednesday around 4 p.m., news reports started piling in that Israel was going to force a quarantine (bidud in Hebrew) on anyone who’d been in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, or Switzerland in the last 14 days. Oy. We were now to be two of the ~60,000 people self-quarantining. No wonder the Ministry of Health’s Website crashed. And the grocery delivery’s site.
After the news of the newly blocked countries went live, but before it made it to the Ministry of Health’s official site, I was stuck in an ambiguous dance — do I leave? I was supposed to moderate a panel for my company’s 10-year anniversary party. I wanted to stay. Some of my colleagues joked while hugging me. Others gave me looks of disgust for staying. Human Resources told me to wait until the official announcement.
And then it came. And out I went with several other coworkers who’d been skiing, or touring, or maybe lived with someone who had done those things. As if I don’t spend enough time with Zack — he and I being newlyweds who moved to Tel Aviv without many friends or family — we’d now be stuck in the same apartment for the next 11 days with just each other.
Well, at least we have a porch.
Day 2: Did the kitchen get smaller? (Zack)
Lisa and I spent the entire day cooped up inside together, working from separate corners of the living room/dining room. She, curled on the couch with her laptop; me, perched at the kitchen table, taking Skype calls.
Normally, we both work from offices surrounded by coworkers. I loathe working from home. I never feel like I get enough done — I’m always distracted by the dishes piling in the sink or the nag of some New York Times article yanking at my short attention span. And with no clear line between work and non-work, it’s difficult for me to stop working. I feel the presence of a giant magnet just off screen dragging me back towards my to-do list, constantly.
Today was fine — I knocked out a bunch of projects — but I’m worried about how it’s gonna be working from my living room every day for two weeks. By the end, I’m predicting it’ll be a drag.
Later, prepping for dinner together, I decided to chop tofu and broccoli while Lisa whipped a bowl of peanut butter and soy sauce into a sweet, savory paste. While chopping, my elbow poked her side, causing a drop of that sauce to splotch onto the floor.
Nothing about the size of our kitchen has changed since yesterday. But all of a sudden, it felt much too small. Cramped. Like there wasn’t enough room for two married people to stand comfortably, elbow to elbow, under that portion of ceiling.
“Maybe I’ll make the sauce after you’re done in here,” she said, and moved to the living room.
Later on, while heating the stir-fry over the stove, Lisa asked me, “Are we going to hang later tonight? Maybe watch a movie?”
I replied that I might write for a bit before it gets too late.
She paused. “But, sweetie… we haven’t spent any time together today.”
I’m sorry… didn’t we just spend the whole day together?
If we’re both going to make it through this in two, sane pieces, we’re going to need to find ways to preserve time alone while still living under one roof. Now that I think about it, that’s something we’ve rarely done before. When we’re not together, we’re with friends or at the gym. If I want time to myself, I’ll head to a coffee shop. Walk through the park.
But now, those coffee shops and parks might as well be glittering jewels at the bottom of the ocean. And, like deep-sea diving, without a specialized suit, there’s no way I can reach them (at least, not without raised eyebrows, a hefty fine, or possible jail time).
Previously, if Lisa and I were home together, we’d be enjoying the same experience. Cooking, reading, Netflixin’. We were rarely home together not spending time with each other.
This is often due to space. In a cramped, Brooklyn-sized one bedroom, existing in the same room means you’re basically on top of one another.
Tel Aviv is different. Here, we have a bedroom, big living room, separate kitchen, and a balcony. Room to stretch.
But, even with the space, I’m still not sure how to say, ‘Honey, I’d like to do x tonight in a separate part of the house,’ without it sounding like, ‘Honey, we have spent WAY too much time together. The thought of spending more time together is giving my brain a Charley horse. Please, leave my general area.’
I want healthy time alone over the next two weeks to feel like a refreshing walk through the park, not like a slight.
Maybe this will be something productive for us to talk about, no?
Quarantine: the world’s best, free, mandatory couples counselor.
Day 2: ‘I wonder if this is what rehab feels like’ (Lisa)
Ah, the luxury of self-quarantine. No commute — wake up at 8:15! Start working at 8:30.
Zack woke up earlier today (not sure why) and when I paraded into the living room ready to start working, I saw him in real clothes. Having showered. Like a person who’d be seeing other people! There went my plans to sit around in pajamas for most of the day. I recognized he was doing quarantine right. If I stopped showering or looking presentable on the first full day, who would I be at the end of this experience? Plus, I had video meetings.
So I made myself presentable, and settled in to the most important task ahead: ordering groceries. I’d tried without success to place an order the night before, because the Website kept crashing. After all, 10,000 new people were suddenly put into self-quarantine all at once.
Step 1: figure out what we actually need. For a New Yorker who has not once lived outside a large metropolitan area, being without a convenience store is tantamount to isolation. Fitting, isn’t it?
When I finally finished my Quarantine Meal Prep Google Doc, (~1 hour) and managed to log onto the grocery site, I faced my next challenge: translating every item into Hebrew so I could find it. The site has the world’s worst navigation and it took me a full hour to make it to the delivery screen and what do you know? My first option was Sunday at 2 p.m. You see, Friday was already all booked and the grocery store is closed on Shabbat (because, you know, Israel).
I reported my success to my favorite new WhatsApp group: 14 Days. I’d found the group via Facebook on Wednesday while feverishly looking for information on how to handle the self-quarantine. What a delight it’s been to see other lepers’ pets, their Netflix rosters, and pro tips on how to stay sane. Some of the strangers in 14 Days only have a few days left.
I wonder if this is what rehab feels like. Watching your friends complete their treatment before you and pining for when it’ll be your turn. 10 more days.
Follow Lisa’s journey on Instagram here.