By Kim Horner
The isolation during the pandemic was torture for many people who lived alone. Erica wasn’t one of them. She felt a little guilty when she realized she was happier than she’d been in a long time. She was lucky to be able to transition to working from home. And she loved not having any social obligations. She barely had to talk to anyone. It was so liberating. In her free time, she read, worked on the novel she’d been writing for years, and got around to watching movies and TV series people at work used to talk about. She binged on Homeland, Better Call Saul, and The Handmaid’s Tale. She understood the characters’ desperation. After all, Trump was president. COVID-19 was killing hundreds of thousands of people while the man elected to run the country and his allies downplayed the disease and even mocked people wearing masks. Police killed yet another Black man, George Floyd. Women were slowly losing the right to control their own bodies. Erica was sick of the world and disgusted with humans, especially the millions, including people in her family and who she worked with, who voted for that man in the White House (she refused to say his name).
Her new contact-free life allowed Erica to pretend she lived somewhere other than this horror show of a world. She dreamed she was on a desert island. She ordered groceries online. Take-out food delivery drivers simply knocked on the door and left; you didn’t have to see or talk to anyone. When she reserved library books, all she had to do was drive to the pickup spot at the library and someone would bring them to her car. She stopped getting haircuts. Erica could get anything else she needed from Amazon. Her lack of a social life made the transition easy. Erica hadn’t dated anyone since her boyfriend cheated on her last year. Her best friend, June, had moved away a month before the pandemic. And her sister, Evelyn, lived across the country. Erica found that texts, email and occasional phone calls satisfied her need, if you call it that, for human contact.
Erica had everything she needed in her 560-square-foot one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, with a view of a wooded area along a creek.
“Don’t forget: No woman is an island. You could join an online meetup,” June said during one of their phone calls.
“Nah, I’m good,” Erica said. The longer she was at home, the more comfortable she felt there. She spent most of her waking hours lying on her Ikea Ektorp slipcover couch, her laptop balanced on a pillow on her stomach. She had moved a small table next to the sofa for her phone, remote control and coffee or La Croix, depending on the time of day. Was she experiencing social anxiety, realizing her relationships weren’t satisfying, or just happy spending some time alone? Erica had no idea. At that point, she didn’t care.
As time went by, Erica felt as if time was suspended and she was floating in it. There was nothing to distinguish one day from another. Weeks passed. Sometimes, Erica forgot what month it was. She stopped paying attention to Facebook or the news. She wrote; she watched TV. Spring turned into summer into fall into winter. Then came spring. One day, Erica caught a brief glimpse of a news item about new vaccines and declining COVID-19 cases. Even though the pandemic was “over,” Erica still didn’t want to leave her apartment. Most people couldn’t wait to get together with friends and family, but Erica dreaded the social part of getting “back to normal.”
“So, when are you going to end your solitary confinement?” June asked the last time they talked. “You haven’t seen anyone in person in more than a year.”
They’d had the same conversation over and over.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine!”
“Look, I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t say this. Do you think it might help if you talk to a therapist?”
“Goodbye, June.” Erica turned off her iPhone and tossed it across the room. It hit the wall, left a mark, then fell behind a pile of books.
Erica left her phone there for several weeks. She didn’t miss it any more than she missed people. She thought if she were trapped on a desert island, she would be fine for a long time, maybe forever. Would she ever miss human beings? She wrote a short story about a woman who bought her own island, which she named Walden, and lived there for the rest of her life, alone. Over time, the island drifted farther and farther away until nobody knew where it was anymore.
Her phone remained behind the shelf for so long, Erica didn’t notice that her cellular service had been cut off. The next time she tried to order from her favorite Chinese food restaurant, her credit card was declined. A few weeks later, her landlord slid a note under her door that she had not paid rent. Erica wasn’t worried. Hadn’t she read about the moratorium on evictions? She opened her laptop to check online. However, she had no internet service. Erica felt as if she’d been set free. She felt lighter than anything she’d ever experienced. Erica finally had broken from the mainland. She was floating peacefully on her own chunk of paradise.
* * *
Kim Horner is author of Probably Someday Cancer: Genetic Risk and Preventative Mastectomy (The University of North Texas Press, 2019). Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The Dallas Morning News, Seventeen, Minnow Literary Magazine, 805, and Parhelion. She is pursuing an MFA in creative writing from The University of Arkansas at Monticello.