During quarantine, everyone has their own ways of coping. I make vegan desserts and deliver them to my friends on an electric scooter.
It’s something I started doing several weeks ago, having lost track of how long it had been since I’d been touched by another human being. There isn’t a concise way to describe the unique flavor of desperation that results from having your social life collapse into a singularity of Zoom dance parties, Facetime dates, and Animal Crossing islands. In a world that is quite literally crumbling under the weight of capitalism and climate change, I can’t help but feel that staring at someone through a webcam is a shitty substitute for physical human intimacy. I know I’m not the only one.
Like millions of other people quarantined at home indefinitely, I gave this life of virtual intimacy a shot. One night, I watched The Handmaiden over videochat with a girl I had been on exactly one IRL date with before lockdown. Both of us were unprepared for how weird and painfully horny Park Chan-Wook’s steamy sapphic love story would be for two queer women, separated in our respective bubbles of pandemic celibacy.
Having spent roughly half of 2018 alone in my room crying over a life-altering breakup while texting friends and listening to Mitski’s Be The Cowboy, I thought I’d be prepared for this kind of extended solitude. But after spending most of my childhood on internet forums and IRC channels, this switch to an all-virtual social life feels like a step backwards. Other times, the video calls and e-dates just feel like a performative, empty nostalgia for the Before Times.
What does it mean to be intimate when a touch or even close physical presence is potentially deadly? Is this really how we’re going to live out the waning years of capitalism? Stuck indoors in a dying world where satisfying our basic human need for physical connection has become dangerous?
I set out to answer these questions by doing what I always do when I’m upset: make my friends happy. With baked goods.
My goal was to create a kind of intimacy within the limits of social distancing, and without needing to stare at anyone through screens. I would bake a tasty vegan treat, don my mask and gloves, ride my electric scooter to a friend or neighbor’s house, and drop it at their doorstep for a contactless handoff. Once the weather started getting nicer, I began chatting people up on their stoops from a safe distance. For some reason, this ritual gave me a warm feeling approximating the physical closeness I had felt in the past.
Eventually, I started taking portraits of people receiving their goodies using an instant film camera I had gotten as a gift. I had originally planned on taking photos of my friends at raves, but ever since the shelter-in-place order, I’ve repurposed it for capturing these moments, standing six feet away as I safely peer into other people’s quarantine bubbles.
The electric scooter is a crucial component in all this. I first got my scooter on a whim back in September, unaware of the strange and scary times ahead. When I stopped commuting to work, I started using it to deliver groceries to my neighbors through local mutual aid groups. When I arrived at one woman’s door with shopping bags full of food, she expressed disbelief that I actually showed up, even though we had talked on the phone an hour earlier. In a time when we feel more disconnected than ever, there is something extremely grounding about physically bringing something to a person. Feeling connected to my community in this way quickly became my go-to quarantine depression cure, like I was re-enacting a post-apocalyptic version of Kiki’s Delivery Service.
I don’t have any grand revelations from my obnoxiously twee experience as a pandemic delivery girl. We’re still living through a plague with no expiration date. People are still dying in droves, and the government has proven time and again that it is either unwilling or unable to help the people most in need. I still find myself craving physical touch and wondering when, if ever, I’ll be able to continue loving the people in my life with the same carefree sensuality and closeness as before.
In the meantime, I think about that woman and how shocked she was when I brought food to her door. No matter what happens in the coming months, I hope that’s part of our New Normal: the idea that we can brighten each other’s worlds, even if just for a moment.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.