How it feels to live in fear of each other

Updated 7:13 PM ET, Thu May 21, 2020

In a series of essays called The Distance, Thomas Lake is telling the stories of Americans living through the pandemic. Email thomas.lake@cnn.com if you have a story idea.

(CNN)A lonely boy crosses a field in the late afternoon, leaving a young woman lounging in the grass. He might be 7. Near the edge of the field he sees a man and four children throwing a Frisbee. He asks if he can play. The man pauses, stumbling over his words, and finally says no, with some forgettable explanation about viruses.

I am that man. Sometimes I don't recognize myself. I am a distant figure in a season of darkness, with children who may remember the day we left the field in the middle of a game because their father was afraid of a little boy.
Thomas Lake
Do you remember who you used to be? Before you were told that anyone could kill you? Before you were conditioned to avoid people the way you might avoid malignant obstacles in a video game? Before your brain rewired itself toward a continual search for the proper angle of evasion, the likely field of airborne dispersion, the space least contaminated by human touch?
I recall the way it felt to hug an old friend. The enveloping arms, the smell of hair, the whiff of perfume or aftershave.
I recall how alive I felt on the basketball court, colliding with other men, and the thrill of standing in the shower afterward, taking inventory of my cuts and bruises.
I recall going to church, really going to church, a small room full of believers, a song of mercy and forgiveness, and when it was over the children would run wild.
THE DISTANCE

Americans living apart and together in the age of pandemic

Do these memories belong to a different person? Sometimes I see a scary man wearing a mask. He looks at me when I look in the mirror.
    I did not yet own a mask