On Living in Captivity

There was a day last week when I noticed many of our meals were purple. Purple wonton soup, purple rigatoni, purple scrambled eggs. Other than a handful of drooping spinach, the cabbage was pretty much the only vegetable we had left. We could’ve gone out to get food with other pigments if we really wanted to, but we’d been told not to. And the grocery store has become a two-hour ordeal of masks, arrows taped to the floor, hand sanitizer and paranoia.

Six, seven, eight weeks inside now and our attitude toward staying home has gone from is it really necessary? to it’s the right thing to do, to whatever. I spend a lot of time standing in one spot wondering what I came into the room for. 

My husband goes to work when it’s available. Everyone on the job-site has a tape measure so they know exactly what two meters looks like. Our sixteen-year-old daughter is doing her best with the homeschooling thing but honestly, she mostly lies on the floor staring into one device or another, groaning. She misses her friends. The other day I bribed her with takeout sushi just to come for a drive with me. Even our two dogs don’t expect a walk first thing in the morning anymore. A body at rest stays at rest.

Recently I burst into tears when my friends’ face appeared on my laptop screen. “I’m sorry,” I said, “that’s not the reaction I was expecting.” 

But she was crying too, “What the hell is going on with us?” she said, her hand clamped to her mouth. This is a woman who has taken cases to the Supreme Court of Canada, she’s tough. “I just miss people,” she said. The novelty of zoom anything has worn off. I have never looked so closely, so often, at the lines on my own face and as my daughter would say, I’m over it.

What about the big chunks of 3 am insomnia and the weird dreams. In one, my daughter and I accidentally went to France – – we were terrified when we noticed the croissants on the table. What will we do, how will we get home? We badly, very badly, wanted to be home. We wanted to be safe. 

In another hot-flash dream, our baby tiger grew so fast that when we woke up it was licking the ceiling. The tiger gave birth to a slimy white reptile then ripped it to shreds on the living room carpet. I interpreted the dream as a deep-seated fear of what living in captivity could lead moral human beings to do. Or maybe it was because I binged on Tiger King while eating an entire container of Pralines-and-Cream Häagen-Dazs. The Tiger King is in a cage now too. After what he did to those majestic cats, his kind of captivity makes sense.

I’m a grad student so I already spend most days alone in a small room looking out the window. Being antisocial by choice is one thing, being told I’m not allowed to be social by someone in government, is a limitation that scrapes at my idea of civil liberty and personal responsibility. Another problem is the waiting. Patience, a skill I know little about, comes from the family of words around pathos, which means to suffer.

Aside from being so financially dented we’ll likely take years to recover, in privileged North Vancouver, we are mostly… annoyed. It’s embarrassing. Snipes about the thermostat, the sound of chewing, and that’s how you load the dishwasher? I’ve been thinking about how unfamiliar we are with hardship, and because of that, how vulnerable.

But mainly, as I walk the pristine forest trails near our home, any time I want, I’ve been thinking about prisoners. I watch the death toll rise, numbed by the infinite scroll of stats and opinions, and I think about different kinds of lock-down. About my Dad, alone in his room at the extended care home with no visitors. He was already stuck inside his dementia, now he doesn’t understand why he’s been abandoned. About my closest friend, captive in a brain ambushing her with early-onset cognitive impairment. About women and children who were already trapped in abusive relationships and unsafe homes.

I’ve been thinking of the imprisonments of addiction, disability, and unemployment. Of being limited in one way or another by gender, race, or poverty. I’ve been thinking of Indigenous people, born into cultural confinement by virtue of a colonial system they didn’t ask for. I’ve been thinking of all the jails I could never see before because they weren’t pushing up against my own easy-street life. Now that my own freedom has been stripped away, replaced by time to think about it, to feel it, I see these imposed structures much more clearly. Now that I’m being inconvenienced by a lack of Lysol Wipes and a shrinking RRSP.

I’ve been forced to look at myself. At how many freedoms I’ve always enjoyed but never really noticed, and certainly didn’t cherish. Invisible freedoms of affluence and education, food security, and choice.

Slowly, the restraints are coming off. This weekend I met a few friends at a park and we yelled at each other across two meters of grass. Soon, I hope, I’m going to hug those friends, visit my Dad, and swim in a public pool. I’m going to go to my local coffee shop and shake people’s hands for much longer than necessary. More than that, I’m going to remember. I want to remember what it feels like to be told, No. No you can’t. You just can’t. 

And I hope this infra-red vision remains with me long after the masks are put away, the streets are filled with cars, and our veggie drawer is once again a rainbow. I hope I don’t get too preoccupied with the details of my own economic survival to see the walls, still standing, where they have always been, the invisible barriers that already, before Covid-19, imprisoned so many. I hope I remember that what was temporarily taken away from me, so many others never had to begin with.

This essay is for The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio – May 17/2020. Click here for audio.

34 Comments
  1. Barbara Bernhardt

    Very eloquently put, and I was sorry to hear of your Dad…I remember him well from Vancouver Bike Club days.

    • Tara McGuire

      Thank you Barbara. Dad still wants to get out there on his bike!

      • Barbara Bernhardt

        Those cyclists! I don’t know if he remembers anyone from the 1980s VBC…but I was quite involved at the time….I recently had a crash on my heavy e-bike and broke an arm…so I too am keeping going….although may trade that tank in for a smaller folding e-bike. Did I read that you were on CBC tomorrow am?

  2. Jayne Tellier

    Beautifully written Tara. Thank you for expressing what so many of us have been feeling but didn’t have the words. You are an amazing writer. Thank you for sharing your gift 🙏♥️

  3. Jenny C

    I have been fascinated by how we have “adapted” to this way of being. I look back at March 18th, and recall the frantic, anxiety ridden behaviour surrounding me…and within me. That was followed by exhaustion, weariness… which was followed by frustration, and now… it’s best labeled as “meh”, maybe complacency? Maybe “I’m working with it”…? You are a wordsmith Tara… I’m grateful you share your gift with the rest of us. Huuuge hug… when we’re next allowed of course .. xo

    • Tara McGuire

      I’m working with it too. It’s not easy, I wake up anxious every day. I’m just trying to gain some perspective. Talking to trees helps! xo

  4. Ange Frymire

    Oh my, Tara! Your words are profound. Your reflections wax the imperfect ways we are learning of ourselves and the world(s) we’ve created. I’m very grateful for your blog. Thank you

  5. Karen

    You have a wonderful way of summing up so much of what we know but don’t take the time to ponder on too long. I do hope this time will open our hearts to see more of the world around us rather than just the purple veggies on our plate. .

    • Tara McGuire

      Yes, I think heart opening does take work, and time. Now we have some. Thanks for reading!

  6. Monique Dansereau

    What a pleasure to read Tara. So many points that we can all resonate with.

    • Tara McGuire

      Thank you! So lucky to have friends to zoom with – even though I don’t enjoy looking at my own face! I so enjoy looking at yours. xo

  7. Elaine Scollan

    Once again Tara, you have captured in words, in some instances, my exact thoughts and worries. Your writing is a joy, I have missed you! Thanks for returning to my inbox!

    • Tara McGuire

      Thank you for opening your inbox Elaine! We really are the lucky ones. It’s the marginalized people who always suffer the most. Especially now. x

  8. Sue Muir

    Thanks, Tara for your words and perspective. Sometimes our current life feels like a dream we cannot wake up from. But at least we know we are in this together.

  9. Thea Dunn

    Very well written. I hope that everyone with our “third world problems” realize how fortunate we really are. This is without a doubt, a challenging time. That being said……in some ways – may we all realize how fortunate we are that this is not our daily lives. I remember traveling to communist Poland as a child of 12 and being bewildered by standing in line daily with my cousin to get groceries……only to walk into a store with 95% empty shelves and meat that was already green. Daily trips as they had an “ice box” not a refrigerator. I hope that after this is over everyone can remember how little we actually need and how destructive us humans are to the planet which has miraculously started to heal without us polluting the air and beaches so thoughtlessly while we are safely at home.

  10. Anne S.

    As always, lovely lady, your huge heart and raw emotions flow through your eloquent words. Thank you for always sharing your human side.
    Embrace the “purple”, it is symbolic in so many ways. xo

  11. Carla Hotel

    A stirring, important read. Thank you for focussing the lens Tara. Learnings for the long term.

  12. Nancy O'Krafka

    I’ve missed your musings, Tara. You are indeed a gifted writer.
    Take good care,
    Nancy (Steinson)

  13. Karen Pinnell

    Thank you Tara for sharing many of the thoughts we are all feeling. It does give you time to reflect on what’s really important in our lives. You are an amazing writer.

  14. Sandy

    As always, Tara, your words sharing a piece of your heart and life, always leave me wanting more! Although this Covid-19 has affected so many people in a negative and in times painful ways, it has been sort of a blessing in disguise for me! I have some medical issues that always made it difficult just to get to work, and once I was there I was met with other issues that made it challenging just to get through the day. I would spend my evenings and weekends in bed just trying to recover enough to make it through another week. Covid-19 and my Boss sent me to work from home on March 23rd, and it has been the best thing that I could have asked for! My relationship with my Husband has improved (hard to believe I am saying that), I am eating better, getting more sleep (don’t have to get up @ 5:30 to prepare for my 60-90 minute commute) I feel less anxious, less stress, I’m saving lots of money 💰on gas and lunches, and I am just all around a happier person. The thing that worries me the most right now, is being sent back to that way of life, that as I know now, was sucking the life right out of me. That scares me! Sure I miss my friends and family, but I know I will see them soon. But for now, I am going to continue Love being in my little bubble safe and sound! Sorry for rambling 🤗😃 Take Care Tara ❤️

  15. Janet

    I love the idea of your purple turning into a rainbow!

  16. Cheryl MacKinnon

    You’ve got such a gift, sharing what many k ow yet are scared to admit out loud. Love to you and the family…we need a dose of rainbow right about now ♥️

  17. Terry

    Tara, hank you for sharing your soul !
    xo

  18. cathie borrie

    Another excellent article. MORE, please.

  19. Vicki Reddin-Gauthier

    After listening to your CBC reading of this essay, I’m shedding some long suppressed tears Five and a half years ago, when he was 56, my husband was diagnosed with a rare, usually fatal brain cancer. I have been his full-time caregiver ever since. A full life as I knew it was no more. He survived the cancer -so far- but has extensive brain damage that affects speech, comprehension, executive functioning, and the list goes on. He has needed 24/7 care from day one. People ask how we are doing during this pandemic, and my answer is usually, “About the same. No big changes in our life.” I have been waiting for someone to connect the dots of their loss of personal freedom to those of us who do this all the time. Thank you for doing that. My hope is that many people acquire those ‘infra-red’ goggles and don’t remove and discard them, post-pandemic. It gets lonely here, too.

  20. Jane Trussler

    Wonderully read and written thank you for sharing….really appreciating your skillful reflection.

  21. Sandra Morrison

    Thank you for your words Tara, they are always well-considered and lead me to pick up a few and mull over them before replacing them on the trail.

  22. Barbara Bernhardt

    Beautifully spoken on Sunday Edition! Even better with voice. Thank you.

  23. Meagan

    Hello Tara! So wonderful to receive your newest post. There are some potentially universal themes here. I too have the long episodes of sleeplessness, and even a dream about panicking suddenly when realizing I am at a posh tropical resort and there is a pandemic going on!! We even had the dishwasher loading spat the other day, and forget chewing… apparently my breathing is too loud for my teenage daughter. I too have wondered when grocery shopping will cease to be so traumatic and anxiety provoking. Thank you for helping me realize I am not alone in these odd quirks of quarantine.
    And I hope you get to see your dad soon. What an extraordinary life he has loved so far! Good thoughts from my family to yours.

  24. Glenda Woodley

    Thank you for putting into words what we are all feeling

  25. Lisa

    So good to hear your voice, your words, thoughts and observations on the radio again. Brilliant

  26. Heather Pirie-Hewat

    Your message is such reality…. (as per always, love reading what you write)

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