My timeline stops on March 10th, 2020. That sounds so futuristic to say. Like I’m some kind of Sarah Connor, and that ’s the date pinpointed by time travelers to snuff me out before I get pregnant with the leader of the resistance. Or to make sure I get pregnant? I don’t know. My Terminator knowledge is fuzzy at best, and there’s no one here to ask but my cat. I could look it up, but the last thing I want to do while sitting alone in the epicenter of a global pandemic is Google the robot uprising.
One dystopian hellscape at a time, please.
To clarify, my Google Maps Timeline stops on March 10th at a WeWork on the corner of 31st and Park Avenue. What does that mean? We ll, apparently, I turned on “Location History” at some point, and now I receive these periodic updates via email with the total miles I’ve traveled by foot, train, or car along with highlights of the places I’d been, sights seen.
I could turn it off, but that would require reading the email to figure out how. I never paid much attention to the updates, let alone clicked on the big blue EXPLORE TIMELINE button in the middle of the message. I didn’t need a private timeline created by my stalker cell phone to tell me about my own life.
When the email appeared in my inbox mid-April, the subject line was a jolt: Kelly Jean, your March update.
I opened the message and, for the first time, clicked on the blue button. Not because I needed to explore my Google Timeline to know where I’d been. I know where I’ve been. Nowhere. I’ve been nowhere for weeks. The only sights I’ve seen are my cat and the inside of my refrigerator. I’m still nowhere. I hit the EXPLORE TIMELINE button because I wanted to see my timeline stop cold. To witness my data-driven, geotagged existence nosedive off the pointed peak of March 10th and fall into the abyss with a high-pitched, echoing yodel like the little Swiss mountain climber dude from that game, what’s it called, the one on The Price is Right. The one with Bob Barker, not Drew Carey. Well, maybe the one with Drew Carey. I don’t watch the one with Drew Carey because I’ve never been able to watch Drew Carey since he got thin. But that’s entirely my issue and not Drew Carey’s… sorry, I talk to myself a lot these day s. Anyway, like the Yodely Guy from the Cliffhangers Game, that’s the name, who falls off the top of the mountain when you guess wrong.
My timeline stops on March 10th, 2020. It was the last time I visited my favorite bagel place in Astoria, thrusting the silver bullet of my travel mug out to a smiling barista who apologized and said, “I’m sorry, we aren’t taking those right now. With everything that ’s going on.”
“Right, right,” I smiled back, adding a, “Duh” as I slipped my effort to be environmentally conscious back into my canvas tote and paid for my coffee.
It was the last time I rode the subway into the city and, despite myself, felt an inner glee at how easy it was to get a seat. It was the last time I touched another human being. Who was that last person? My accountant. Of all the anxious thoughts that clack together like mega marbles inside my skull, this is the most ridiculous:
What if the last person I ever touch on this earth is the tax guy?
And not even my tax guy, the accountant who I’d been going to since my early 20s. My tax guy was the man who, for decades, sat plunked across from me behind his desk, wearing a misshapen sweater even though it was a thousand degrees in his dark bunker of an office. It could be snowing outside, but, in there, it felt like riding in the last subway car on the way home from Coney Island. The air wet and stagnant, infused with a hint of BO, and a thin layer of grit covering every flat surface — but all so very New York that it was somehow comforting.
We’d sit together in easy silence, sipping coffee and munching on the macaroons that I’d brought from the place I knew he liked. He’d plod through my piles of W-2s and 1099s, then examine my dutifully printed-out list of deductible expenses, striking through items he applied with a thick slash from his №2 Ticonderoga, the curl of his upper lip permanently shadowed by a patchy memory of a mustache.
As we said our goodbyes, he’d hand me a large manila envelope containing my copy, and in return for my return, I’d write him a check. Maybe it was the macaroons, but he charged me less the years I didn’t make all that much, which was most years.
My accountant passed away suddenly right after Thanksgiving.
The last person I touched was the new tax guy. A baby-faced gentleman in a striped, button-up shirt, dark blue jeans, and round hipster glasses. A stranger recommended to me by a friend with the caveat, “He’s not cheap, but he’ll hold your hand if you have questions.” By March 10th, we’d been told to stop shaking hands, let alone hold them. When the tax guy greeted me by the elevator, we awkwardly introduced ourselves, unsure how to navigate our opening moment sans handshake. I offered up the Vulcan salute, and we bonded over our shared love of Star Trek.
The tax guy led me through the bright, airy reception area of WeWork. A coffee bar curved whimsically along the wall; it’s oversized cups and colorful assortment of sweeteners and various milks making it appear plausible that cartoon animals could suddenly appear to serve up lattés.
Sitting in his window-lined corner office, there was no literal handholding, but he did answer question after question as I nervously prattled away to stamp out the silence. His manicured fingertips skittered across the keys as he stared into his computer screen. In a flash, the accomplishments of the last year of my life were entered and itemized, plans made, estimated taxes calculated, and all was uploaded to a shared electronic folder. My friend was right, the tax guy was not cheap, but at least I could pay by credit card.
Perhaps it was because I left the office empty-handed instead of clutching an oversized envelope. Perhaps it was joviality created by our shared Star Trek dorkitude or the warm glow of my anticipatory belief that I was headed into to my most solvent year yet. Either way, we lost ourselves while parting and forgot to abstain from shaking hands.
Horrified, we jumped back from our unholy palmers’ kiss. I averted my eyes while we both stuttered profuse apologies as if we’d made a sudden grab for each other’s genitals. And that was it.
My timeline stops on March 10th, 2020. As the blobs of hours blended into days, then weeks, all the projected income and plans I’d chattered away about at the WeWork got tossed off the edge of the cliff with the yodeling Swiss guy. Turns out, we’d all guessed wrong. But I was too sick to deal. I may or may not have had the virus. I couldn’t get tested. My symptoms were not severe enough, so it was best to stay home. Sleeping all day after being up all night, worrying that each new cough or catch of breath was the first signal for the onset of “severe.” What would I do then? Go to one of the hospitals on either side of me in Queens that I kept seeing on the news.
My cell phone can’t tell me the day I started to feel better physically or the moment my economic future went from solvent to worthless. Or when my anticipatory belief transformed into grief. Those highlights don’t appear because I no longer travel far enough for Google Maps to quantify my existence. Friends got sick. Some got better, others are still recovering. Their loved ones got sick. Some got better, others did not. No one can gather to grieve, to help each other say goodbye.
My cat wakes me up at 5:30 am every morning. I assumed, at first, for food. Now that we are both fat as hell, I suspect it’s just because he can. I brush him. We play games. I pretend I can’t see him when he’s inside the box. I’m sad because I didn’t get to go visit my family in Florida or surprise my parents for their birthdays like my sister and I planned. Scared they will get sick while I’m so far away.
Pissed because if I were a Pixar cartoon, I’d be rewarded for quitting my full-time job to follow my dreams. Now I feel punished. If I hadn’t left, I too would be working from home with a steady paycheck. I wouldn’t be losing my health insurance. These thought marbles crack against my skull day and night. Still, the one I can’t shoot away is, What if the last person I ever touch on this earth is the tax guy?
Maybe this ridiculous thought is to remind me how ridiculous this all is. That as much as we try to normalize things, transition to online everything, post and share, like and click, nothing here is normal. Not having touched or even talked to another human being in the flesh for well over a month is not normal. Not only is this isolation not normal, but it’s also only possible because I ’m privileged. Although rapidly dwindling, I have savings. I have support. I have a safe place to “shelter in place.”
My timeline stopped on March 10th, 2020. I am fortunate because that is not the day my life ended. But I don’t know what life is going to look like when I take my first real steps back into the world. None of us do. We’ve stepped off the map into the unknown. There’s no getting “back to normal” after this because neither the world we left behind nor the one we’re in now is sustainable.
I have turned off my cell phone. My computer is next. When you stop reading these words, I will be alone. Completely alone in the dark without the blinding blue light to distract me from my thoughts. That thought used to terrify me. Now it’s a chance to stop. To sit in the silence, to think, to try hard to answer, “What do I want to come next?”
Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons is a Queens-based writer, educator, and storyteller. She also produces No, YOU Tell It! a nonfiction series that “switches-up” the storytelling. Each show brings together four storytellers to develop their true-life tales o n the page. Then they trade tales to present each other’s stories on stage. For more information on all things KJ, visit kellyjeanfitzsimmons.com