Roach: Love in the time of COVID-19

In the middle of a pandemic, my family is having a party.
Roach's Home Office
Photo by John Roach
John Roach's work from home set-up

In the middle of a pandemic, my family is having a party.

This evening, my son, his girlfriend and their labradoodle pooch will ascend from our partially finished basement. We will cheer their climb from the cellar because it means the end of their two-week, lower floor self-quarantine since an exodus from Los Angeles and late-night arrival in Madison.

Their emergence mirrors the freedom from quarantine my wife and I experienced when we declared ourselves free of fever after a mad dash home from a warmer place.

There was uncertainty in the air when we departed Madison for our getaway in early March to visit friends. Just three days after we landed in the palms, things quickly went to hell. It took us only a few anxious hours to make the decision to dart back home. It felt like the nick of time.

We finally acknowledged that the virus is real and it wants to kill us. So, as a family, we have accepted the most mundane call of duty ever. We are sitting at home. Our only task is to outsmart a virus.

While sheltering in place, a timely family intersection has occurred as our eldest daughter has also made our home her temporary domicile while she is between leaving one Madison apartment for another. That makes five adults and one small canine using our home as a refuge from the mean, nonsegmented, positive-sense RNA thing full of 30 kilobytes of genomes that is the coronavirus. With our middle daughter and her fiancé only a few miles away, we are lucky to have the closeness families desire during times of stress.

There has never been five grown adults living in our house. In short order, each of us created our own separated space to hide, work, read, binge and observe the crisis.

The alpha female — my wife and the mother of our clan — has claimed the living room as her personal space, and with it, her favorite thing in all the world: her couch. It’s an office, a media room and a bed, all wrapped into one piece of eternally comfortable dark olive-green furniture. Pity the person who invades it. It is from there that she stands against the virus.

Our son has created a recording studio in the basement not far from his girlfriend’s virtual office created out of a desk we found in storage. Our eldest has established the family office as her remote business space, with the living room used for her nine daily online yoga sessions.

As for me, I hide in an upstairs bedroom overlooking the woods, with only an iPad, iPhone and a bag of Ruffles for company.

Our neighborhood is nearly empty of cars. The faraway drone of the Beltline has been silenced. Neighbors walk the streets waving from the prescribed epidemiologically safe distance. It’s as if we have gone back in time to a simpler era. A smaller world.

But there is concern. Food and sundries are quarantined upon arrival for several days in the garage, allowing time for the little viral bastards to die alone, next to an old lawnmower and roll of garden hose. If I could make the final image they see even uglier, I would.

There is anxiety. Will the business that provides for us survive? Can those we love keep their jobs, their homes, their health care, their security?

And there is raw fear. Every day comes news of someone we know affixed to a ventilator and fighting for life. There is matching fear for the heroes so bravely risking their own health to care for the infected.

As this is being written, April has just begun. The infection and death rates are rising. And so is frustration, because something is missing. And that something is unity.

When we need to come together, we seem to be pulled apart. We were a fractured country before the virus hit. Things have not improved, but the cost of our rancor has risen.

Every great story has a villain and ours is this virus. Our enemy is not the media. Not the Democrats. Not the Republicans. Not the Chinese. And not a president. If we cannot come together for country, can we at least join arms to fight a common enemy?

One country, united in hatred for a thing we cannot see.

John Roach, a Madison-based television producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at