Hunkered down in Spain, thinking of the Big Apple

American Jennifer Lutz outlines what life is like locked-down in Spain.

You can leave the house to buy food, medicine and tobacco.

In Spain, those are three separate stores, and three separate opportunities for contamination. Cases of coronavirus are rising more rapidly than we can track. We are the next Italy, the politicians and news anchors say.

In Barcelona, the night echoes with the sound of storefronts shuttering. Wheels of suitcases bang against uneven stones as tourists rush home before the airports close. But I am not a tourist; I am an American who has split her home between New York and Barcelona.

I am an American who stays abroad after the American president shutters the United States’ borders. I can return to New York, if I choose, if I hurry.

But I stay — far from my family and the two grandmothers who I call incessantly, just to hear them breathe. I stay far from the mother I call daily, begging her to stay home from work. But still she goes, afraid to lose her job. Each day my mother, with her 60 years and smoke-lined lungs, has contact with many who have contact with many others. I stay locked-in, counting each opportunity for infection.

I do not have health insurance. I cannot afford to get sick in America, and so I stay in Spain, where treatment is free. I stay in Spain, where I see how rapidly the virus spreads and I begin to understand the measures that must be taken.

A pharmacy tapes a written sign to the door, "We don’t have face masks, nor sanitizer gels." Around the corner, a different pharmacy displays a different sign, "We have calming gel," for summer bug bites. This is where we stand, caught between today’s crises and lives that will continue.

Now is the time to choose where you want to be quarantined — or locked in, if you are fortunate enough to stay virus-free. I wait on the train platform and watch the girl dancing to the music in her head, the facemask covering lips that I imagine are glossed to match her eyeshadow and blush.

I wonder if she has sanitiser gel too. We are few, the ones taking the last train from Barcelona, before transportation does or does not close.

Now, trains are running, but things are changing so quickly that the last train on any day could be the last train for weeks. I count the time I’ve spent on my own, with no symptoms to show; I am young enough to have the virus without knowing. I move as if I am a silent killing machine — threatening each person I touch. I am moving to the mountains, where the town is small, and I have a boyfriend who barely believes in these precautions at all.

The precautions are real, and they can save lives.

If we go out in pairs, the town police stop us to know where we are going. But mostly, we stay in — washing our hands before we hold each other’s. Public parks and beaches close; this is not the time for sport. But we do not complain; this is no price that we are paying — even as we lose the money that comes from our shuttered jobs.

Inside, I speak with friends in New York. "I’m just getting on the No 1 train," D tells me. It is her last day at the university. New York is a transit town, and she has no other way from New Jersey to the Upper West Side.

"I am home with symptoms, but I do not qualify for a test," R tells me from his Brooklyn apartment. He does not know how to call off from work. He has two sons to feed and cannot afford to lose a job and the healthcare it provides.

Inside, I count the chances for contamination, thinking of my family and friends in New York. I study my Spanish and pray for the land of the free, where nothing is free. — TCA

  • Jennifer Lutz is a freelance journalist.

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