By Ruth McKee
I wake up to the news that riots have been raging in the night, sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, earlier in the week. My first response is horror that people are out gathering, now, when the virus will get them. But as my brain wakes up I realize this is also about the virus. The same communities who are being murdered by the police are the ones who’ve have had their jobs deemed essential and had to work through the quarantine – or completely unessential, and have been laid off to fend for themselves. Either way, the fires now raging have been a building for a long time. We knew this was coming, we just didn’t know exactly when.
Still, my neighborhood is quiet. I walk my dog down to Ventura Boulevard, where the shops are opening up. The handful of homeless men who camp out on this stretch during normal times are still here, along with a few newcomers. The music shop is open again, and Urban Outfitters – with signs urging everyone to wear masks and stand six feet apart. The Neapolitan pizza place is hosing down the tables on their patio and setting up for their first day of in-person dining.
Over the last week, we’ve seen the governor of California relax one restriction after another, for no clear reason. Cases have not gone down, benchmarks have not been met. More testing is in place, but no contract-tracing. This same state government that urged us all to stay inside in March, that saved us from the devastation that hit New York, is now washing its hands and telling us to fend for ourselves. All summer camps have been cancelled, all summer fairs and festivals, but they’re opening hair salons next week. Everyone I talk to is confused. No one knows what is ok and not ok anymore.
At home I bake scones for brunch and we eat them while watching the Space X rocket launch the first astronauts to space from US soil in nine years. We hold our breath as it ignites and rises into the sky without a hitch. It’s a moment of victory, and yet, unlike past space missions, not a moment of shared, national unity or pride. This is a private rocket, not a symbol of what we can do together, but of what one man can do with the billions of dollars he has managed to amass from our broken system.
In the afternoon, my daughter and I go out to meet a neighbor and her daughter for a masked scooter ride. This is a first, baby-step into socializing for both of our families. The girls propel themselves around the neighborhood streets for over an hour, chatting nonstop. The mother and I walk behind, catching up what we’ve been doing and not doing during quarantine. We are all energized by the human interaction, and make plans for next baby-steps, with this family that is equally wary about letting their guard down. Maybe we’ll do a sunset hike or a backyard movie together in the coming weeks.
For dinner, we get takeout from a neighborhood gastropub that has not yet opened for in-person dining. Not that we would eat there, or anywhere, yet, if we could. My husband and I have fallen into a Saturday night routine where we send the kids off to eat in front of their screens, and eat alone, as if on a date. It has worked so well that I’m starting to wonder whether we will ever go back to hiring babysitters again.
Halfway through our meal our daughter comes running in to show us a scary alert she has gotten on her phone. The rioting has gotten worse and the mayor has ordered a city-wide curfew, starting at 8pm. All those who have ventured out have an hour to get back into their houses.
Our neighborhood remains quiet through the evening. There is no sign of the uprising from our windows, but after we put the kids to bed, we turn on the TV and watch the city burn.