For our last day in captivity, things go remarkably like any other day.
Except, of course, that happy little moment where three nurses and two soldiers show up at our door with negative Covid test results, check-out papers for 9:30am tomorrow and green wristbands saying “Tuesday”.
(If we’d tested positive, we’d have started the 14 days all over again. There’s incentive for you.)
The knock at the door comes after a busy quarantine morning of emails, coffee, chatting on the balcony and juggling practice. I run to answer, grabbing my mask and probably overwhelming them with my manic expression. Luckily they’re just testing for Covid-19, not sanity.
We made it! Freedom, freedom, freedom! Just one more day to go, then we join this Australian paradise where you can have dinner with friends, go to work, see a play, sing with others and not spend every moment worrying about sickness and death. Unbelievable.
The three of us do a little wristband dance around the room.
Then we eat pumpkin-feta salad and Tim Tams for lunch – again.
I talk to the kids. As a learning experience, was quarantine useful?
“I found out that even if you’re locked in a room, if you actually have sunshine it helps a lot,” states my son. Fresh from the usual nine-months-of-gray Pacific Northwest winter, we all relate.
“I learned that if you keep a regular routine and get serotonin from regular workouts, that goes a long way,” says my daughter.
Calves and thighs aching from endless pliés, I nod.
As for me, I learned that you can do an effective workout in a surprisingly small space – not to mention that I like getting three meals delivered daily a whole lot more than I should admit to.
Also, that I need to work on my fruit consumption.
Of course, it helped that we’d effectively spent the last 12 months in quarantine, with our home state’s restrictions in the U.S. We could go outside, sure, and buy our own food. But when it came to online school, Zoom socializing and isolating as a family, we were already experts. If you came into hotel quarantine fresh from civilized society (as many Australians have had to do when crossing state lines), it might be a bit of a shock.
And then there’s all the essential life skills I achieved here: juggling, ukulele-playing, bird-training, Tim Tam hoarding, flawless F# major flute scales.
We drift through the afternoon and into a humid twilight. The hotel management delivers one last gift: a massive Kit Kat bar and a sweet handwritten note wishing us all the best. (Must remember to say thank-you as we gallop out of the hotel tomorrow morning.) My son and I achieve circus nirvana by mastering double jump-rope while juggling, and we record a podcast for my daughter’s university prison literature class, the three of us discussing transformative justice in a surreal quarantine moment.
Night falls. I stare out at the Moreton Bay fig where the mynas and currawongs have finally gone to sleep. The branches are huge, dense, mysterious. It’s the kind of tree you could build an entire elf village inside, or a magic house with a slippery-slide inside the trunk.
As I gaze, I think about last night, when I had – as I often do in strange rooms – a claustrophobia attack. Suddenly awake at around 2am, I just couldn’t get enough air, though I could see light through the curtains and told myself I wasn’t shut in. A little desperately, I went out onto the balcony – the late-summer Sydney night was warm, humid, stuffy. I still couldn’t breathe. I felt the panicky feeling of having nowhere else to go to escape.
Then I thought: Had quarantine taught me how to talk my body and mind through this imprisonment? I stared across at the tree, solid and reassuring in the streetlight. As I gazed at that fat, wrinkled trunk, I rooted my own legs down into the balcony floor. My head floated up out of my spine, like the leafy dark green crown of the fig. For a tiny moment I was supremely aware of myself as a giant ecosystem – of my bacteria and mitochondria swimming around my tree-like body. A reassurance spread through me that, like the tree, I could breathe, even in the humid, smoggy air. Breath after bigger breath, I visualized the oxygen that the tree was, right now in the darkness, releasing in one long exhale, surrounding us both with a life-giving halo.
Finally, calmer, I went back inside to try and sleep.
Now, tonight, I stand on the same balcony, as I have for fourteen days and nights. I stare at the same tree. Tomorrow, I’ll get to walk out of the hotel, across that road and touch it. The luxury feels almost incomprehensible. I realize how much just two weeks of comfy voluntary confinement has affected me, and how unimaginably destructive it must be to have a life sentence in an actual prison. I think about transformative justice, but also of how our quarantine has helped keep my family, my country, safe and well.
Then I head back inside to write this final blog post inside the Quarantine Hotel. (Don’t worry, I’ll still write Day 14 tomorrow.)
Outside – as the manager’s note said – the world is waiting for us.