Another week of social distancing has come and gone, as the days blend together and Arlington residents try to make the most of the reality that we’re not going back to normal anytime soon.
Over the weekend we asked our staff photographer, Jay Westcott, to narrate the past week of observations and reflections from his treks around Arlington.
Here’s what he wrote:
As I’m writing this, today is my daughter’s 17th birthday and I can’t hug her. She’s at home with her mom and step-dad and brother in Virginia Beach, safe and sound. She’s finishing her junior year of high school at home with online classes. Her grades are awesome. There will be no soccer this spring, which was something she was really looking forward to. She can’t take college admission tests until September.
I can’t hug my daughter on her birthday, but I’m thankful she is as good as can be amid this pandemic. What is her summer going to be like? Or her senior year? This pandemic is altering every aspect of our lives, and feelings of anxiety about what is coming, and how uncertain our future is, are weighing on us all.
When I am out and about with my cameras, I can feel it in the air. A former shipmate from my time in the Navy made a comment on social media that I’ll share as best I can: “we’ve only been underway a month and people are already going [expletive] crazy!”
My shipmate was referring to the recent protests and the month since the stay-at-home order and closing of non-essential business went into effect. Tensions are high and being stuck inside at home most of the time is hard.
I think about the two 6 month deployments I did aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt — the same ship that’s been in the news lately — in 1993 and 1995. In March of 1993 we deployed for the Adriatic and in April started no-fly zone enforcement over Bosnia-Herzegovina during their civil war. That meant keeping planes in the air 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. We were underway for 78 straight days before we had a break. Day after day of drawing 25 mile wide squares in the Adriatic with 5,500 other Sailors and Marines before we had a port visit to Rhodes, Greece.
That’s two and half months. We didn’t have Amazon Prime or Netflix, or Grubhub or Doordash. We didn’t have smartphones or social media. We had two channels on a newly-installed satellite television system that I helped monitor. CNN International and MTV Europe were our link to the outside world along with the mail, if the plane came. Some days it did not. Stay at home? At 23, being twice-deployed and feeling salty, I’d probably have called it a “cakewalk.”
Then I think about the living space I shared with 20 other men, maybe as big as my apartment, sleeping on “coffin lockers” stacked three high in a compartment that can be sealed watertight. I think about the hundreds of people on my former ship that have suffered and the sailor that has died from the COVID-19 outbreak and the scandal around the wrongful ouster of their Captain, who will hopefully be reinstated soon.
In just over two months’ time, the death toll from coronavirus in the United States will eclipse our losses from the Vietnam War between 1954 and 1975. In Arlington, our total reported COVID-related deaths are 24 as of Friday. I have a few friends and photographer colleagues that have had COVID-19, and seeing my Eddie Adams Workshop pal Pete Kiehart’s moving pictures and essay from his experience quarantining with the virus really hit me. These are historic times, unprecedented times.
A week ago last Friday I documented hundreds of my fellow Arlingtonians massing together for a grocery store giveaway, social distancing guidelines being completely disregarded. People need help here. Unemployment rates are the highest they’ve been since the Great Depression and may get worse. In the past month, 400,000 Virginians have filed for unemployment. Things may be dire for a while.
Last night, while I was on my way home from making pictures out and about in Courthouse and Rosslyn, I came across an ACFD ambulance stopped at 1100 Wilson Blvd. I worked in that building for two and a half years. I had to wonder: was it a call related to COVID-19? What if it was someone I knew?
I saw an paramedic walk back in from the ambulance with a no-contact thermometer. I made a few pictures, respectfully keeping my distance from the first responders doing their jobs. As time elapsed, I began to hear crows cawing. I looked up, and dozens of crows were circling overhead, high above the intersection of Wilson Blvd and Lynn Street. Their caws echoed off the buildings, reverberating down the now-empty canyons of glass and steel.
To call it ominous, to call it eerie, barely scratches the surface. It stopped me in my tracks. Standing in front of that ambulance, crows cawing and circling above me, my heart sank. I took a deep breath and made a few pictures. It’s going to be a long time before I un-hear that sound.
A couple walking a dog passed by the ambulance as the crows were above. They were holding hands, and walking at a pace casual enough for their pup to sniff about as an EMT stepped into the ambulance behind them. As I looked behind me after they passed, I saw their shoulders raise and their arms flex as their gloved hands gripped each other’s a little tighter, exchanging masked glances of love and reassurance.
I remain hopeful. More and more Arlingtonians are wearing masks, and studies are showing being outdoors around other people isn’t as bad as I had previously thought. As I pass by you on the streets or see us make room for each other in the grocery stores, there is acknowledgement in our expressions, through the now-familiar pale blue surgical masks, N95s and home-made masks alike, that we are in this now. Together.
When I see a love note on a window at a senior living center, when I see people holding gloved hands together, when I see people six feet apart waiting for take out, it’s acknowledgement that we are resiliently finding ways to make space and express care and love for each other during this. Friendships are being stoked and bonds are being built through Zoom happy hours and FaceTiming. Neighbors are singing together on their balconies in Ballston. My musician friends are inviting fans into their homes via livestream concerts.
Let’s continue to be kind. Let’s continue to be resilient. We can and will get through this together. I love you, Arlington.