On Friday nights: an Orthodox rabbi chants the week's Torah portion, pre recorded and uploaded onto YouTube, into my ears. I follow along in my hardcover copy, purchased for five dollars at a used bookstore in Central Massachusetts. The cats visit, people come in and out of the room. My Hebrew is flimsy. I lose track of the text and have to chase the words until I catch up.
Ten years ago, May: I pack up an office, and walk out of a building I would never have left without being kicked. What follows: entire days disappearing inside the Barnes and Noble on 82nd and Broadway, other days forcing myself to leave the house, then darting back inside, the vibration of humans is too much. Depression is an organ - not like the spleen, but the liver. If I'm careful, maybe I can cut off a piece and keep going. I whittle down my collection of Judaica, give away copies of the Torah to the less angry and indignant. I keep my prayer books, as if somehow, I already know.
I left the house a few days ago for the first time in six weeks. Our Brooklyn neighborhood feels the same, except for the signs about wearing masks and people wearing them. You can still get empanadas and pizza and groceries, but you can't get your nails done. Underground, the subway stops and I realize how long it's been since I heard the sound. Before I went on this walk, with my housemate and her dog, I imagined I'd stay in the house until whatever kind of end was announced. Don't go off the porch, or beyond the yard. Be flawless at quarantine. Tuck in to ordering groceries, experience low levels of dissatisfaction with what arrives. Make my own terrible coffee, entertain myself with the truly awful real life reenactments on crime shows. Keep working, bake occasionally, don't read the news.
Before all this, I'd take the train 45 minutes into Manhattan, and buy a coffee and an almond croissant from the Breads Bakery kiosk in Bryant Park. I'd hide the coffee in a thermos in my bag, but I'd have to eat the croissant on the steps of the library before I went in. Always, I'd forget napkins. Inside, people either wandered around, eyes as wide as their camera lenses, or charged forward, disappearing into rooms and down stairs. In the Dorot Reading Room, I took a volume of Torah down, glanced at the concordance, a dream of a compendium of words that I once knew what to do with. I read the weekly portion in English, feeling alternately bored and confused. Sometimes I would text a friend who was also reading it, things like, "There are sea monsters in this section," and "Devarim is out of control."
Everywhere, people contemplate the afterwards. I'm letting that scab from a broken heart stay put, so I can watch it. I'm crawling back towards what feels urgent, soft, and constant. A religious man chanting imperfect words. A precipitous drop back into normal, or an entire undoing.
Chanel Dubofsky writes fiction and nonfiction in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Instagram at @cdubofsky. She wants you to check out the National Network of Abortion Funds, which builds power with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice.