Ghost City: From My Cube to Yours

Lyssa Mandel
3 min readJan 30, 2021

The cities have become ghost towns, and I a ghost among them, pacing my small cubic space and wondering if even I am here.

At the beginning of all this, I was still making eye contact with strangers on purpose, back when masks were new, and we could exchange knowing glances, or not if I or others were wearing sunglasses, hiding the tears that may have been leaking out, in those early stages of uncertainty.

It is hard to tell what is a symptom of what. The headache, the anxiety, the loss of appetite, the sleeplessness or sleeping too much, all of it part of a ball of yarn spun as big as the earth, or at least as big as the United States. I wonder how many others like me are standing listless in front of their dressers, wondering if it matters whether to put on the blue t-shirt or the green, the socks or the slippers or both. How many others are staring out their windows at the same brick facades they saw an hour ago, or 20 minutes, or five. How many others are sitting in front of their computers with panic rising in their chests. I open LinkedIn and see productivity exploding like barrels after a good harvest; people turning their ideas into books, people turning their books into Zoom workshops, people turning their Zoom workshops into global conferences. The world is spinning even faster, somehow, and I look down at my egg sandwich on a pumpernickel bagel and engage in the Herculean effort of taking a bite. Just one bite. The body needs something, give it something, Lyssa.

The difference of this pandemic outside of the city is that it must feel so strangely regular. Lakes still freeze over, deer still approach the edge of the woods and gallop away. Somewhere in a distant land there are palm trees, the tall, silly muppet-like ones and the short, squat old-man ones, and they are unchanged by the virus. Vast expanses of grass and sky in exotic places like Wyoming look exactly the same.

But cities without people become empty nutshells. I’ve walked down my same block a thousand times looking for some new aha moment in the bare trees, but they offer nothing.

A trip around the corner to the bagel store becomes my only point of human contact for the day. And I wonder, as I engage in exchanges I’ve made thousands of times before, do I sound normal? Am I passing? I feel slow and discombobulated as I reenter my apartment, the lighting too familiar, the dust on the tabletop still there, so many things that won’t change unless I change them. But one errand today has been enough. I set down the paper bag and do 20 jumping jacks, just to remind myself that I can. Then I lie down and put in my headphones and listen to another soft voice from inside my phone reminding me about all the parts of my body, and to pay attention to each one as it floats into awareness and then melts into the couch.

There must be so many duplications of this listlessness around me, separated by walls and ceilings, unable to touch each other. But we’re all still here in our petri dishes, going inward, inward. Life of a single human, with the lens closing slowly, until all that can be seen is a pinpoint of light, and then darkness.



Lyssa Mandel

past imperfect; present intense. writer/actor/storyteller/comedian. host of What's Betwixt Us, the podcast about empathy at work. conversation engineer at zanie