The quickest way to minimize an emotional upset is to focus on physical protocol. No time for tears. Armed with hand sanitizer, wipes, masks and gloves we bravely entered into the buzz of an airport during a pandemic. As if I had sprouted more hands in the night, I was able to juggle two enormous suitcases, three carryons, a stroller, carseat and sleepy toddler—moving us through an invisible cloud of COVID-19. Sidestepping people, dodging coughs, jumping through airport rigamarole, and wiping surfaces, all while keeping a smile on my face—because even though no one could see it, I knew my kiddo could feel it.
The self-check wasn’t working so I lugged everything over to the endlessly winding check-in line, but it was obvious that things were not working smoothly there either. It wasn’t even 5am so people were confused and short-fused, and those that were hired to help seemed to making things worse. People around us eventually started dropping like flies, having waited so long that they missed their flight. With every disappointed person in front of me, we moved one spot closer. I was thankful that we had given ourselves a solid two hours before our flight—make that three, the flight was delayed. Having pulled out all my tricks to keep Daniel entertained during our hour spent in line, I had nothing left to offer except the iPad.
Two overbooked, delayed, unsettling flights later, we arrived into Burlington and a row of empty rocking chairs welcomed us to Vermont. Amazing how comforting the absence of people can be sometimes. We gathered our belongings, and found a van to fit it all into. The driver’s incessant chatter was a tad overwhelming after such a long journey, but luckily his friendliness was my first impression of Vermonters and not the hotel manager.
From behind a plexiglass wall, the hotel manager eyed us suspiciously while she slathered on more hand sensitizer. She gathered together a large stack of papers and pamphlets and verbally gave me more information than my exhausted brain could retain. After filling out the necessary paper work, and signing the Certificate of Compliance for quarantining requirements, we were rewarded with a hotel card key and a pointer finger in the direction of our room.
I looked at the monstrous pile of luggage behind me, wondering how I ever managed to get it here from Oregon, and uncertain if I could make it all the way to our room alone. But the hotel manager continued to eye us from behind her protective shield, obviously annoyed that we were still standing in a public space.
By wedging a suitcase to hold open the door, I managed to fit everything into the small elevator without any room to spare. The ding announced our arrival into a long hall, two straight rows of off-white doors stood like stained teeth, the breath of 20 years of smoking and drinking coffee still in the air.
We counted down the numbers to our room and slipped the key card in the door. A little green light blinked on, invited us through Door #5 and into a small kitchen—beyond it the fixings of a dining room, office, living room, bedroom and bathroom, all sharing the narrow space between me and the retro mustard curtains. I pushed and pulled all of our belongings in behind me and shut out the rest of the world. The fire escape route on the back of the door accentuated You Are Here. Though I would have rather been anywhere else.
Looking back on the challenges I’ve faced in my life, quarantining in a hotel room with a potty-training toddler is definitely high on the list. Thankfully we had food because my friend Ally, a former Portland neighbor, had been able to stock our fridge prior to our arrival. But food, though it does technically nourish the body, it often does little for the soul, and staying alive and living have never felt so separate.
Quarantine was thick and heavy, like sitting under a block of white tofu, hoping that you don’t suffocate under the blandness. Living by the philosophy that only boring people get bored, I’ve never allowed myself to succumb to it. But in this hotel room the hours oozed together into a pile of nothingness, blending days together. The clock’s red faced numbers ticked by at an unnatural pace, mocking me from the corner of the room.
I tried to stick to some resemblance of a schedule, for our collective sanity, but the different time zone threw everything for a loop. So instead of the schedule being based on the taunting clock, it became a loose daily routine. We started our mornings, whenever we felt like it, with maple syrup, hot water and milk— coining this beverage “Vermont tea”. Sipping our tea (mine with actual tea added) on the couch, we looked out of our “windy window” at a wall of green trees that often thrashed about, my single plant cutting sat in a glass on the sill. Art, playing, reading, TV watching, everything usually devolved into Daniel literally jumping off the furniture.
I encouraged the physical movement, and luckily the furniture provided lots of differing activities. The king size bed, for the classic jumping and flopping; the teal and tan couch for balancing along its back and arms; The yellow high back armchair for jumping, talking on the archaic corded phone, and making a tiny cubby fort; and the most fun of all, the office chair, combined with the desk for pushing off, for continuously spinning around and around.
I got away with doing less physical activities because I was absorbed in thought. Continuing the online search for a home while consumed with worry that we had contracted COVID19 during our travels, kept me quite busy. I was constantly wondering if he felt hot, or if I could smell things. Was I more tired than usual? Was that headache the first symptom of doom? Or perhaps these were all normal reactions to being trapped in a single room with stale hotel air, poor lighting and the endless mush of quarantining.
When the fear of the pandemic, stress of moving and a pile of pee soaked toddler clothes started to burry us alive, I decided that for our sanity we needed to break the rules and sneak outside for some fresh air. Armed with our masks, hand sanitizer and sunglasses, I scooped Daniel up onto my left hip and we quickly and quietly made a break for it. We took the back halls and didn’t see anyone along the way.
I flung the right side of my body against the backdoor, pushing our way out into the blinding July sun. Even through the mask, my first inhale of Vermont was lush and hot, the unfamiliar scent of unseen cows floated by and made me smile. We immediately ducked into the wild field behind the hotel, our presences kept a secret by overgrown plants that I’d never met before—tall fluffy sumac hung overhead and flowering burdock playfully grabbed at our clothing.
We weren’t outside long. But the benefits of the warmth and moving air had put some sun back in my disposition. We tried to sneak back in through the same door, but my keycard just kept giving me the red light. Admitting defeat and knowing that we were busted, we made our way around to the front doors and entered the lobby. Being greeted by an empty front desk, I kept shifting Daniel’s 35lbs from one hip to the other, not wanting to put him down. My relief at seeing the hotel manager turn the corner was met with her fear and disapproval at recognizing that we had escaped quarantine.
I flew into apologies and excuses and she kept her distance slipping safely behind the plexiglass shield. She instructed me to properly dispose of my infected malfunctioning keycard and slipped me a new one through a small slit. Rushing back to our room, we again retreated inside, closing the door, removing masks and settling in for another eternity in isolation.
Perhaps someone stronger than myself could have lasted longer, but when I learned that there wouldn’t be a reduced sentence from the possibility of a negative test (there were no available appointments within 30miles), I felt broken, and reached out for help.
My mom found an Airbnb in Montpelier, which would at least bring me closer to where I wanted to be. Through the fog of isolation I couldn’t quite grasp how I could get from Point A to Point B and felt defeated and alone. “Just call the host and explain your situation,” my mom instructed me over the phone, “Maybe she’ll have some advice.”
Though I was reluctant to do so, the alternative seemed impossible so I picked up the phone. A friendly voice answered my call and after I told her all about my situation with the magic words, “…stuck in a hotel room with a toddler…” she exclaimed, “Just come here! It will be so much better! I have so many toys and books for him! You’ll have a yard to go out in. I can do your laundry and get you groceries…” I was choking back tears at the thought of such luxurious support.
During our phone conversation, Beth had suggested that I simply explain to an Uber driver that we’d been quarantining for the last eight days and needed a ride to Montpelier (40 minutes away) to finish up. I wasn’t completely convinced that it would work, but I packed us up and checked out, with adrenaline coursing through my body. Vermont has taken a self-policed, community pressured approach to the pandemic. So there wasn’t any fees associated with breaking quarantine, I just felt horribly guilty about it. On the other hand I knew that we couldn’t last another week there.
The Uber driver turned out to be phenomenal. While we headed south, he filled me in on all things Vermont; I watched out my window, taking it all in: No roadsigns, no airplanes, endless trees, interrupted by pastures and a speckling of farmhouses. Daniel slept like an angel the whole time. When we arrived into this strange new land of Montpelier, our driver took the time to give me a tour of my new little town, making suggestions and pointing things out. And when we finally arrived, Beth was standing on the stoop, Door #6 open wide, inviting us in.