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July 28, 2021

Make Room in the Cuckoo’s Nest: Female Friendship During the COVID Era


Leslie Cohen is the author of two novels: THIS LOVE STORY WILL SELF-DESTRUCT and MY RIDE OR DIE. The latter, which released in April, revolves around two friends who decide to give up their search for a perfect man and devote their lives to each other --- but their careful plan soon begins to unravel with unexpected consequences. The book’s theme inspired Leslie to write a perceptive essay on female friendship during the pandemic. Her reflections of the past year and a half will especially resonate with mothers who suddenly found themselves spending a lot more time with their young children and relying on the love and support of their friends and family to help get them through each day.


We needed each other more than ever. We rushed to establish a tenable situation for ourselves, our families, amidst the chaos. We were living in strange homes, enrolled our children in a strange preschool we knew nothing about. We were up at 3am texting. Strange times, we said to each other, over and over again. But we were going to make this work. We were going to get through this, together.

We invested in loungewear. We met up at a park. We tried to figure out if our child’s new teacher was a part-time paddleboard instructor while simultaneously considering the possibility that she was a descendant of Russian royalty. Did either bode well in terms of her qualifications to supervise children? We really couldn’t say.

On the first day of school, we brought wine to celebrate. We took a walk. We stopped for coffee. We decided that maybe this was better. Normally, we’d be in such a rush. We’d never get to enjoy something as simple as sitting outside on a bench in the sunshine. We could promenade, catch up on our correspondences, pretend to be living in Victorian times. Until our horse-drawn carriages arrived, we shopped. I feel most like myself when I browse stores, one of us said, and we all agreed.

We planned outdoor gatherings. We sat next to fire pits and heat lamps and under blankets and told stories about living in too-close quarters with our mothers. I have to shout GOOD MORNING at the top of my lungs in order to get credit for the greeting. Then she’ll go through the fruit bowl and give me a status update on the ripeness of every piece of fruit. We felt like we’d be okay. We might even have some fun.

But then it got darker and colder, and rates were rising everywhere. We got nervous and paranoid and turned on each other. She’s eating inside? Has she lost her mind? Factions of the group broke off to discuss. Well, we can’t confront her about it. No, I agree. We’d better just stay away from her for a week.

We sent our kids to school in face shields decorated with stickers. The little welders going off to the mine! we joked. The face shields became masks. We debated disposable versus cotton versus polyester. We were lectured on the importance of a filter. We objected to the lecture, got annoyed by the lecturer, but then one child left school with a mask on backwards, and we needed each other again, for emotional support.

We didn’t have much going on, but our children did. What happened to Miss Molly? She has an autoimmune disorder. She’s too afraid to come to school. Miss Beth? Got a job somewhere else, or so they say. Miss Cindy? Defected to Canada, but since when can you go to Canada? We tried to piece it together, like deranged detectives with no clues.

We braced ourselves for the worst, and then watched as it happened. One of the kids in your child’s class has tested positive for COVID. Our eyes blurred as we read. Oh no! Hope he feels better! we said, but we were panicked. We rushed to make appointments. Rapid or PCR? How many days for results? We judged each other’s reactions: What happens when telling people about the disease is worse than the disease itself? We were desperate for an open pharmacy at 10pm. We said, By any chance are you awake and do you have children’s Motrin? We said, I have a cornucopia of kids’ medicines here. Whatever you need. Hope she’s okay.

We texted from the safety of our own homes. We exchanged articles about hospitals, variants, the election. We recommended a variety of potions to boost immunity and our self-esteem. We said, yes, we had heart palpitations, trouble sleeping, light-headedness, and here’s what we did. We watched TV shows at the same time and guessed their endings. We shopped online and sent each other links. We planned future vacations, fantasized about countries we’d visit, restaurants we’d dine at, when things normalized. We said, I’m going to be alone in the house with the kids tonight. Is it okay if I text you when I hear a random noise at night and think it’s someone coming to get us? And we said, Of course. I’m here.

We considered planning gatherings. But we trusted no establishment. Sometimes we forgot everything and sent out texts saying, You guys want to come over tonight for ‘The Bachelor? We can order in sushi! We yearned to say, Yes, please! But we couldn’t. So we said, OMG, sounds amazing, would love to, but maybe something outside? We checked the temperature. We sent a thousand more texts. We got tired. We called it off.

We went for an unusual number of promenades. We took our kids to feed the ducks. We ate at picnic tables that we’d sprayed with Lysol. We gossiped about the ones that weren’t there. We almost came to blows when three kids got colds. Are you going to get her tested? Tested? She’s had five COVID tests this year. No. Subject a sick kid to another Q-tip up the nose? No. No? Ummmmm. We called the others to complain. We said, How dare she say Ummmmmm? After all we’ve been through. But we always got them tested. We didn’t want to jeopardize the health of the other children. We didn’t want to lose our friends. We said, I can’t wait to look back on all of this and laugh.

Now, a year later, with rates declining, we look back. We don’t think about what we lost. We don’t remember the worry. We think about what remains. We find everything, finally, a little bit funny. We get an email from the school about this year’s graduation. We cry. We laugh at ourselves. We call each other and say, Can you believe I’m crying? They’re in preschool! We look at pictures of our children with each other, videos of them hugging in their masks. We say, See, they found a way to be together, despite everything. We say, I think it’s just been an emotional year. I don’t think I’d be crying if it weren’t for that. We say, Yeah, me neither.