Marina Stephens: From Inside Out

In my life, there were three periods when I found myself locked inside, while life went on in the world outside the limits of my confinement. The first one was when I was a teenager in the USSR working as a guide/translator with Italian tourists. When time came, we said our goodbyes. They invited me to come visit them in Italy. Then they left to travel somewhere else or to go home, anywhere beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. I was certain that I would never be able to follow where they went because I lived in the country that was on a permanent lock down. My Soviet friends understood and shared my feelings. I was sad but not devastated. My lockdown was shared by everyone around me, and that made it bearable.

The second time was much worse. When my husband was arrested in a foreign country, put in jail, and then subjected to a three-month house arrest, which I shared with him, it was only the two of us who were locked up. Our family and friends, people on the outside, did all they could to lift our spirits. Our children took turns to be with us. It was incredibly important. Yet, everyone else came and went as they pleased. They left us and went on with their lives, as they should have. The two of us were left behind. That lockdown was painful and scary but, thank G-d and everyone who helped us, it was short-lived.

Then, this year came the pandemic. This time, the whole world seemed to be on the inside. My circumstances, as those of my friends and family, of most of our SB community, were so much better compared to others. Most of our hardships were shared and relatable. No more large community gatherings. No friends coming together for a meal and a hug. No one could find toilet paper, for G-d’s sake. Should I go on? So, the pain was not that sharp for a while. Truthfully, my everyday life changed little. Only one person I knew, an old friend of my father’s, passed away from COVID-19 in New York. Otherwise, two other acquaintances contracted the virus and quickly recovered.

My personal tragedy came not from the virus but from the lockdown. My father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last 15 years, moved into a care facility in late November and began to decline fast. By mid-March, I was no longer allowed to visit him. Thankfully, by then, unlike many other nursing home-bound seniors with clear minds, my father was too far gone to understand the horror of what was transpiring around him. He died in mid-April from Alzheimer’s, not COVID, but what did that matter? I already lost him. Of course, I understood all the reasons, still it made me view critically everything that was and still is going on with lockdowns.

Now things are changing. Surprisingly, I find myself disheartened in a different way. Life is coming back to normal for most of us, but there are many people around me, people I care about, who do not feel safe to partake in it. They are scared and may have good reasons to be. Still, I imagine how they will feel when the rest of us move on, and we will. We will begin to gather in groups, first small, then bigger ones. We will go out to our favorite restaurants and plan a vacation or two. Some, though, will be left behind, looking at the rest of us through Zoom, FaceTime, or the windows of their homes. True, it will be their choice. Not less sad, though. I hope all these sacrifices are absolutely necessary, yet I cannot help but wonder.

Marina Stephens is a lawyer and a writer, who grew up in St. Petersburg USSR and immigrated to the United States in 1978. She is the wife of Len Homeniuk and mother of Jessica, Madeleine, and Anton.