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An incomplete list of things I miss

Mourning without mourning


Emily VanDerWerff

Mar 23 2020

12 min read


The entryway outside one of LA’s biggest hotels is completely empty. (Emily VanDerWerff)

I miss going to the movies.

I miss the popcorn they serve at the Alamo Drafthouse, which is far too unhealthy for me, really, but which is the perfect combination of buttery and salty. (Order “light butter” so you don’t have goo clinging to the bottom of the bowl.)

I miss feeling a wave run through the audience as something happens on screen.

I miss seeing other people when I go for walks.

I miss seeing other people.

I miss my favorite Mexican restaurant.

I miss the chicken fajitas I order every other Wednesday when I meet my friend at said restaurant to unwind. I miss the way it feels when the place is empty, so my friend and I can sit and talk, and occasionally discuss life with the server who always seems to be there and knows both of our names and our favorite orders. I miss that server.

I miss playing a game with other people in person, feeling that electric surge that arrives when someone rolls well or rolls poorly.

I miss the dog park my wife and I used to walk to on sunny days, to watch other people’s dogs run and play and sniff each other.

I miss the way we would sit quietly and watch the dogs and then, gradually, our attention would drift to our phones.

I miss feeling like there was a world I could tune out by staring at my phone.

I miss getting off my nightly train ride one stop early to walk the extra mile to home, fighting against the flow of foot traffic to head in the opposite direction of everybody else, the city streets growing quiet around me as I get closer to home.

I miss In n Out Burger.

(Boy do I miss In n Out Burger, and yes, theoretically, they are open, but the drive through at that place is a nightmare even at the best of times, and can you even imagine what it must be like right now?)

I miss going to church. I miss standing next to people and breathing in at the same time to speak the same words. I miss thinking about the same questions. I miss the quiet that can only be present when there are people to choose silence.

I miss shaking hands. And hugs. And weird Hollywood air kisses.

I miss meetings.

I miss my parents.

(I missed them before this all started.)

I miss going to the library, one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. I miss the cool concrete. I miss the oceans of books. I miss the people who hang out there, vibing on the quiet.

I miss being in my office when no one is there, because that’s when I’m most productive.

I miss taking the train.

I miss travel. I miss escape. I miss going outside. I miss feeling like when I come back inside, I don’t have anything to worry about.

I miss my favorite local coffee shops. I especially miss the crew at the one I go to almost daily, who didn’t miss a beat when I started coming in dressed as myself, who knew my order, who fed me little dribs and drabs of what was going on in their lives.

I miss working on Arden. I miss my crew and my cast and my writers. I miss going into a room and feeling like we were making something greater than the sum of the people who put that thing together.

I miss the little local sandwich joint that closed at the end of January and was exactly the kind of place that would see a boom in times like this, because it would have been so easy to run around the corner and grab a sandwich, and such a spot is easy to keep sanitary.

I miss anodyne chain stores and chain restaurants.

I miss all the weird local businesses I was sure were fronts for something else.

I miss the pizza delivery place that I always assumed was a thriving business but which seems to have shut down in the wake of all of this. I miss the way I would call them, and the guy would say, “I don’t think we deliver to your address” until I persuaded him that we were a literal quarter mile away. I miss how he would always say the delivery would take an hour, and then it would take about 20 minutes instead, because, again, we were a literal quarter mile away.

I miss the beach. I could go, but everybody else would have the same idea.

I miss the day I drove out to the beach at 8 in the morning to watch my friend try surfing. She invited me out with her, but I had no desire to attempt such a thing and no suit to wear, so I sat on the beach and read a book and occasionally looked up to see her skipping across the waves before plunging and re-emerging. She got out, smelling of salt and sun, and we went to Eggslut, where we got all the way to the front of the line before she admitted she can’t eat eggs and we had to go somewhere else.

I miss a million tiny days like that one, which at the time felt beautiful but now feel like a story I told myself about the way the world could be but is not.

I dread the time when all of these days, all of these details, feel like they belonged to another life.

I miss feeling alive. I miss the air. I miss the sun. I miss feeling like I could leave my house and not immediately begin a “X DAYS SINCE EXPOSURE” countdown clock.

I miss knowing, every so often, that things would be okay.

I miss not knowing things would be okay, but that we would find a way through them.

I miss knowing things would be.

The lack I feel, the things I miss — I know that I am feeling this so acutely because I have had the extreme privilege to have had those things in the first place. There are so many things to be grateful for right now. I am quarantined with the woman I love. We both have our jobs, and our industry will probably struggle in the coming recession/depression, but people are hungry for things to read online. For at least the immediate future, we will hopefully be okay.

There are so many people who, every day, struggle to build a sustainable life, all across the globe. The things I miss are things that were never accessible to them in the first place, and if this catastrophe underlines anything, it should underline that such a disparity must be fixed and should never have existed to begin with.

But this is not to say that the things I miss are all luxury items. Seeing a friend, getting a hug, giving a handshake — these are such simple things I have always taken for granted. They were always going to be there, like oxygen. And then the world emptied out, and when I see another person now, I skitter away from them like a cockroach scattering from the light.

I am not naive enough to believe that we will emerge from this exactly the same as we were before. But I also don’t think this will change us utterly, rewriting our systems and shattering inequalities and oppression. Status quos have a way of reasserting themselves. We will most likely stumble back to some version of what we had before, perhaps with a few things changed either for the better or for the worse. We will all be older but probably not wiser.

But we will also always remember this. The strange, collective undertaking of disappearing into our houses, that we all might live to see another day. The way it felt to suddenly occupy a world devoid of people, of color, of noise. The ways that seeing footage of people gathering together, standing too close — even if it was footage from years and years ago — quickly felt like something horrific. We are going to be marked by this, and we may not understand how. Historians may have to be the ones to put it in to context.

I want to believe that we are turning a corner, that the ways we are learning to take care of each other without physical proximity will become ways we learn to take care of each other always. I want to believe we are coming to see the value of a system that cares for everyone, not just those with money and power. I want to believe that the fecklessness of our leaders is about to be washed away in a last-ditch effort to fix it all and save the world, as has happened a few times throughout our history.

But it is so hard to have faith here, now, without the benefit of the full picture.

For now, I have come to realize I am mourning a thing that is not really gone. Someday, sooner or later, the world will reopen, the lights will come back on. We will see each other again, first out in the open and then, finally, indoors. There is a whole life ahead of us where this time is in the past, and we look back on it.

Yet now, I feel such grief. There was a world I lived in, and it’s gone now, swept away into the mists. Maybe someday I will get back there, but for now, I miss.


Talk back in comments: Did you know these newsletters have comments? Well, they do! Tell me in comments what things you are missing right now. We all need each other to get through this, and maybe we can commiserate some.

What I’ve been up to: We launched a new feature at Vox, one that’s designed to give you recommendations to get through the long weeks ahead. It’s called One Good Thing, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin: one good thing to take in every single day. I wrote the first five entries, but my colleagues will be writing some in the days to come. Check it out right here.

I also recommended two-player board games to play with somebody you might happen to be quarantined with, and I interviewed Dr. Orna Guralnik of Showtime’s Couple’s Therapy about how those of us quarantined together should work to keep our relationships healthy. It’s a really great interview!

Emily VanDerWerff

You’re saying that most of this is really self-motivated, but the thing I keep hearing is, “My spouse is annoying me so much” or “I just can’t put up with my roommate right now.” Even if you’re structuring your time very carefully, how do you account for other people in that scenario?

Orna Guralnik

You can separate that into two separate issues.

Especially with couples — but it happens with roommates, too — it’s very easy to make something that is your own personal ambivalence toward or difficulty with implementing these kinds of ideas, and turn it into a conflict with someone else. We’re all very good at that.

So if you know it’s a better idea for you to be getting out of the house, but you don’t manage to motivate yourself to do that, it’s very easy to somehow blame your partner, your friend, your roommate for why you’re not getting out of the house and ask them to be responsible for it, or complain that they’re not motivating you.

It’s really easy to interpersonalize a personal dilemma, so try not to do that. Try to own your decisions and not drag whoever’s around you into your own inner conflict with getting yourself to do something. Most of our fights are about some way that we interpersonalize our own dilemmas.

Check out the rest!

Programming note: Are you watching Babylon Berlin? Are you reading along with my recaps? For as long as I can muster it, I’ll be covering two episodes per installment in Wednesday and Friday editions of the newsletter. If that’s too much, and you feel like your inbox is getting overwhelmed, let me know! This week, Liz Shannon Miller will join me to chat about episodes three and four, and then another special guest will join me for episodes five and six on Friday!

Read me: T.S. Eliot was a total asshole, but every time the world goes nuts, I turn to “Little Gidding,” the final of his Four Quartets. An English professor read it to my class in the days after Sept. 11, and I’ve always found it calming.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

You might have also heard that he wrote some poems about cats…

Watch me: If you read last week’s Monday newsletter, you know I love Dave Malloy, so allow me to present his Ghost Quartet, a musical I’ve never seen that he uploaded to YouTube. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but it’s mesmerizing, full of that Malloy magic. It’s just one part of a fascinating reaction to the quarantine, which is artists making themselves more available than ever on social media, performing free concerts and offering up their works for free. I suspect there will be a book in it for someone someday.

And another thing… I’m making bread! I don’t have any cool links to share here. I am just in to the whole “making bread” experience. I find it very soothing. And evidently half of Los Angeles had the same idea, because I cannot get my hands on any yeast, and my flour supply is running low, too. Oh no!

This week’s reading music: “Emily” by Joanna Newsom and “This Too Shall Pass” by Eric Holm

Episodes is published once per week and is about whatever I feel like that particular week. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox

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