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A Saturday unlike any other

Updated: Apr 26

They say your wedding day is the best day of your life. Or maybe, for you, it was when you graduated from high school or got your college degree. Or maybe it was the first time your small business showed a profit, or that night you introduced your boyfriend to the Marx Brothers.

Then, there are the worst days of your life. Personally, I try to avoid this taxonomy. Maybe it’s when Grandpa died, or when you got your DUI. Maybe it’s when you woke up in the hospital, or when you lost a big investment.

We’re attracted to these notions of the “best” and the “worst.” I admit that I feel juvenile now when I pull either one of these out. Even in an internal dialogue with myself, I quickly discard the notion.

I have become struck, instead, by those days that are simply “like no other.”

You can get married more than once, it turns out. So that won't necessarily be a day "like no other." You can graduate with multiple college degrees. You can get more than one DUI, too. When you start stacking any one of those experiences up against the next, "best" and "worst" quickly dissolve in the face of "been there, done that."

Those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, on the other hand, that’s where the universe takes it up a notch. These are the experiences that can’t be slipped into a slot on the Richter scale of “best” and “worst,” and you usually don't even try. Oftentimes, these experiences are both, anyway.

For example, today was a Saturday like no other.

Silver lining

Today started like every day has started recently. For weeks, quarantine had me running in figure eights in my parking lot. In fact, I've run that way for exactly 30 of the last 41 days. In Lima, Peru, we’re not allowed to go outside for any reason other than going to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the bank or the hospital. And, with the exception of the hospital, those locales all have extremely limited hours of attention.

What my morning routine came down to, thus, was running—seemingly infinitely—in my own tedious infinity signs in the twelve-car lot behind my apartment building, closed in with seven-foot walls. It was better than not running at all, and honestly, I was still returning to my apartment sweaty and satisfied.

That is, I was satisfied until my left foot started to bother me. I had just come out of recovering from a nasty stress fracture in my pelvis, so when I started to get a similar ache in my foot’s bridge, I took it seriously. And, after almost two weeks off my running routine, I was still waking up early to at least keep the habit. “Just a matter of time til I get back to it,” I told myself.

Work was slamming me at the same time, too. It turned out I needed to wake up at 5:00 a.m. anyway just to keep up with the volume of requests. Weekends were no more, I was hard at it seven days a week, and this week I was on my way to break a record of productivity with more than 90 hours on the clock.

So, there I was, waking up on a Saturday at 5:00 a.m., not able to run, but at least able to get started on another day. Being Saturday, at least I wouldn’t have to keep my email open. Instead, I would be able to hunker down and get some work done without any interruptions or surprises.

There wouldn’t have been any surprises if it were like any other Saturday.

Two hours into my day, I took a quick break to walk across the street to the grocery store. I knew I had to get there shortly after 7:00 a.m., when they opened, or I would lose an hour waiting in line. After 10:00 a.m. the line generally stretched around the block, because in quarantine, everything was closed on Sundays. The grocery store closed at 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, as did the gas station, because curfew started at 6:00 p.m.

From Saturay afternoon until 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning, no one was allowed on the street for any reason.

My trip to the grocery store went quickly, thank goodness. “At least that was fast,” I thought. That was the regular negotiation I had with sanity. It constantly played through my head, that same structure every time: “At least this, at least that.”

That glimmer of silver lining helped buoy my mood after I got back home, finished my 9:00 a.m. meeting, then found myself delayed in work. How typical. I set a certain block of time aside to get certain things done that never took as long as I intended them to. It was always an extra 15 or 30 minutes, and those quarter and half hours added up. By lunch time, I was an hour behind. “At least it’s Saturday and I can still ignore my email,” I thought.

Eat to celebrate, celebrate to eat

Even if I worked until 7:00 p.m., it would still be better than working until bedtime (like I’d done every other day of the week). As I peeled a carrot and sliced potatoes for lunch, I felt good. I noticed a few more things were running low in the kitchen, but we had enough to get by until Monday when the store opened again. At least I could wait to think about it until next week.

The potatoes were boiling and the pan for the oven was greased with no-stick spray, waiting for the delivery of dressed veggies. David had already cooked the rice in the rice cooker and the kitchen smelled deliciously of garlic. I thought of turning some music on, but the quiet felt good on my ears. I felt peaceful even as I ticked mentally through what I planned to work on when lunch was done.

I turned to the sink with a red bell pepper in my hand. It was at the end of its life, so I knew it had to be chopped and eaten or I would feel lousy for throwing it out. I wasn’t in the mood for much pepper, but perhaps I would feel better about not running if I filled up on more veggies than usual.

When I squeezed the handle and opened the faucet to wash the pepper, nothing came out. My hand was still on the handle, and I looked at it inquisitively to see how far I’d turned the knob. Had the water been cut?

Living in an older building, this had happened before. But not during quarantine. It had happened when major work was done on the pipes the winter before. But at 2:40 p.m. on a Saturday of quarantine, just over three hours before curfew, there would be no one working on the pipes now.

“David!” I called. I knew he would hear the stress in my voice, and I knew my request would sound like a complaint. But, if I were being honest, it really was a complaint. I wasn’t complaining at him, but I could feel the irritability rising in my chest and knew he would feel it, too. We were counting down to a 35-hour curfew, and even longer until the store was open again. We couldn’t go without water.

I asked David to call down to the maintenance workman from the building’s regular staff. The tenants and apartment owners had pooled money to keep him on during quarantine. He was living temporarily in the building to continue helping us with all the daily and miscellaneous maintenance tasks, despite the fact that his job was considered non-essential. By staying on a mattress that one of the apartment owners had donated to the cause, he was technically residing there, never leaving, and therefore not breaking quarantine. He had been a big help.

David had to go downstairs to the front desk to find Mr. Palermo. When he came back, he said, “It’s not good news.” Apparently, the water had not been cut by the city or by the district. It had not been cut by Mr. Palermo, either. Something was wrong with the main water pipes, and every apartment above the first floor was without water.

Whatever it was that washed over me was not dread. It was more like an illness that suddenly befell me. I was too exhausted to be panicked. Some jumbled complaints came out of my mouth in the form of rapid rhetorical questions. “What will we do?” I counted the bottles of water on the counter, those bottles I perpetually bought at the grocery store every day of quarantine. We had six liters. We could flush the toilet three times, or maybe twice if we kept one bottle to wash all the dishes I had just dirtied making lunch.

The vegetables had finished boiling and, without another word, I turned the burner off. I stared at the water as it stopped rolling, now tinted orange with carotene. Somehow, I was still determined to eat lunch, and I refused to think any further than that. I couldn’t stand to think of what came after.

“The gas station is still open!” David said. I looked at the clock, and it was only 2:47 p.m. Of course! His words snapped me into a fit of action. David watched lunch while I went downstairs. Just three buildings down was the gas station, and I bought three two-liter bottles of water and two enormous bottles of five liters apiece.

I lugged the bottles upstairs, watching the elevator tick slowly to our apartment on the fifteenth floor. Then, it was David’s turn. He went downstairs and returned six minutes later with the same number of bottles as well as some news from Mr. Palermo. “They’re going to try to send someone today,” he said. But neither of us was even remotely hopeful. We were now less than three hours from curfew.

Somehow, we felt at ease. We had enough water to flush the toilet four times each before we could buy more on Monday, and we could even wash the dishes! At least.

Lunch was ready five minutes later, and we sat down to eat.

Garlic potatoes

Sometimes, I feel I could pretty easily live off vegetables. That’s not to say that I would be a willing vegetarian, because I love meat, too. But, I have to say, today, this Saturday unlike any other, my plate filled of potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers and broccoli was immensely satisfying. Maybe it was the ungodly quantity of garlic I put on them. Maybe it was the extra butter. Or maybe it was the sudden glee that I could wash my plate properly when I was done. Whatever it was, I enjoyed lunch so profoundly that David and I didn’t even speak or look up from our plates.

The only other thing that could attract our gazes, it seemed, was the dog.


Charlotte is a Shih Tzu of great character. She approves of some people and not of others, and is vocal when she decides she doesn’t like you. Her attitude is particularly comic for me and David, not only due to her size but thanks to her limited number of teeth. Over ten years old now, she’s lost so many that even her meanest glare and growl are the antithesis of anything intimidating.

What can scare us, however, is when Charlotte starts to teeter back and forth as though struggling to stand, just like she did today during lunch. The poor thing is epileptic, and this is the first sign of an attack.

David left the rest of the food on his plate and picked Charlotte up to carry her to the balcony. One of us has to sit with her for the duration of an attack to help keep her calm (and to keep her in a concentrated place). If we don’t, the involuntary vomiting, defecating, and urinating her attacks trigger would leave the whole apartment a disaster zone.

I knew it would be several minutes until the attack finished, so I took three to eat the last of my potatoes. David’s plate sat across from me with a strangely quiet scene behind it, the coffee table stretching into the patch of sun coming in from the windows. Had I walked over to look out the window, I would have seen the streets of Lima—a city of ten million—with only the last of the supermarket customers walking home.

With the supermarket and the gas station both closing in four minutes at this point, we wouldn’t be able to buy more paper towel. How on earth would we clean up after Charlotte’s attack without more paper towels or any water?

“At least…at least…” I struggled to find the silver lining. There were bigger, more important things to be thankful for, but they didn’t come to me right then. At least I was swamped with work instead of without a job, I could have thought. At least we were without water due to some problem that could be fixed instead of living without water due to some city-wide disaster, I could have said.

Instead, I ate my last potato and stood up to join David.

Agua

By the end of Charlotte’s attack, I tried the faucet in the kitchen as a habitual tick more than a thing of hope. And, miraculously, a thin stream of water came out! We still don’t know whether Mr. Palermo found someone to fix the problem or if he fixed it himself. We don’t know if it’s really fixed at all, or if the water will run dry before nightfall. The hot water still doesn’t work, so we aren’t holding our breath to call it “fixed” just yet.

At least I was able to wash the dishes, and we were able to clean the floor after Charlotte’s attack.

Curfew has just started, and I’m facing another two hours of vespertine work before dinner and bed. Who knows when I’ll run again, or if I really have another fracture in my foot? Who knows if I’ve gained weight, or if my boyfriend is sick of me after 41 days of quarantine? Who knows when the next time is that I’ll shower with any certainty as long as the hot water (or all the water) is out?

All I know is that today is that today has been a Saturday unlike any other.


Are you sure this one isn't something to do with Vespas?


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