words by: meagan roulet
images by: sofie hojabri

This morning, as always, I embark on the internal debate of whether I actually want to go for a run. My bed is warm. I slept with the window open last night so I know my feet will be cold when they hit the floor.

Like clockwork, I feel my inner monologue begin: I went for a run yesterday and my right ankle was being slightly testy so perhaps it’s best I take today to rest. I’ve already hit my twenty-five kilometers for the week so I don’t really need to run today.

I am waking up slowly and it will only be a few more minutes before I realize that going for a run is the only thing I have on the agenda for today. It’s March 29, 2020 and I’ve been in isolation for fourteen days. 

* * *

Leaving my house this morning, the streets are more quiet than usual. Sidewalks, that are usually overrun with lines of brunch enthusiasts, are now barren. The odd human makes their way down the road, reminiscent of a lone tumbleweed in those country western movies that I’ve always found slightly too cheesy to sit all the way through.

My pace starts slow and easy. I turn the usual corner from Notre Dame to Courcelle and slowly get my legs moving as I turn, once again, onto St Antoine. As I always do in the early hours of the day, I run along the South side of the road, desperate to soak in as much sunlight as possible. I am aware this may be the only time I spend outside my house today.

I hit my stride around one kilometer in and know myself well enough to know that the run won’t feel this easy for too long. While I currently feel as if I could cruise for hours, I know it won’t be long before I start to analyze the way I am breathing.

Is it more difficult than usual for me to take deep breaths? Have I always had to clear my throat this frequently while running? Do I always have a slight pain in the left-hand side of my chest?

I approach an intersection and find myself face-to-face with a pedestrian button that I need to push. We stare one another down. I cover my hand with the end of my sleeve and press the button. I make a mental note not to touch my face and to throw my top in the washing machine just as soon as I step through my front door.

Translated to English: “Alan if you are reading this I hope you are well, I don’t have your number but now you have mine. Don’t hesitate to call me. Take care of yourselves and remember the best vaccine against this virus is to stay at home as much as possible.”

The intersection I am at—traditionally one of the busier intersections in Montreal—is sleepy this morning. The driver of a red Toyota and I stare at one another. I am more conscious than usual of the window that separates his air from mine.

The light turns green. Following my usual ten kilometer route, I know exactly when my legs will begin to tire and my body will start to feel heavy. Whether it is because I am anticipating it or not, this hits exactly as predicted, halfway through the eighth kilometer.

As I often do when my runs begin to feel tough, I start to compose haikus in my head. Five, seven, five. Five seven, five. I time syllables to the cadence of my feet hitting the concrete and play with different words to hit the proper format of today’s mid-run poem. Five, seven, five. Five, seven, five.

I’ve distracted myself long enough and the run has started to feel easy again. I’m now headed back in the direction of my home. The race is on. I make a mental note of my haiku and vow to jot it down just as soon as I’ve thrown my top in the washing machine. And washed my hands.

The day has begun to come to life. Not as enthusiastically as usual, but still, there are signs. I pass a father who helps his two small children negotiate the entrance to their apartment. He looks up as I pass, and we smile at one another.

I watch two men in the McDonald’s drive-through air props one another. They stand three meters apart from one another and hold their arms out straight—their fists hanging in the air, each one a foot apart from the other.

A young woman stops below an open window to chat with her friend above. She stands in the middle of the sidewalk and everyone seems to happily navigate two meters around her. I find myself aware that this situation would be deemed highly unusual by anyone not living through this period in time.

Moments before I arrive at my front door, I hear music playing loudly out the window of a neighbouring apartment. While this might have annoyed me a month ago, I stop in the sun for a second to close my eyes. My face is warm, and I breathe. My breath feels normal now—long, full, deep. When I open my eyes, the man in the music-window is watching me. He waves. I wave back and keep moving.

At my apartment, I slip the key in the lock and push the door open. I’m conscious that I don’t know who else may have touched my door and then I’m doubly conscious that this is a thought I never would have had prior to the past couple weeks.

I kick my shoes off. I pull my top over my head and banish it to its washing machine fate. I head back into the kitchen and wash my hands. Hot water. Soap. Twenty seconds. I time it by singing happy birthday to myself in my head.

Finished, I grab my notebook and pen from the kitchen table, committed to getting today’s haiku down on paper before it lives and dies in my mind:

We all feel alone
but strangers are smiling at
me more than before.