Rona. The coronavirus. By any name, the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to more adversity and challenges than some might have ever imagined, including quarantine. Fortunately for me, I am a homebody. One of the best parts of staying home is that my partner Beth and I get to spend more time with our fur-babies: Max, our short-haired cat, Stella Bella, our Boston terrier, and Roxy, our miniature poodle, who is the most recent addition to our family.
Roxy came to us from a puppy mill in Ohio, via our local ASPCA shelter. When Beth and I filled out Roxy’s adoption papers, we were informed that she has luxating patellas: loose knees in all of her legs. Her back patellas are particularly tricky, and her leg muscles were thin we met her, on account of not being to stand up fully in her cramped mill cart, and not getting the opportunity to walk or run around often. Having given birth to many puppies, the people of her mill decided that she wouldn’t be able to produce more poodles, which, coupled with her tricky knees, apparently made her expendable. Roxy had just arrived at the shelter when we met her, the front of her right ankle shaved from where veterinarians injected her with various medications. Her eyes were glazed, but they seemed to widen as we saw her in her partition. Beth and I were smitten and determined to make her part of our family.
Beth and I aren’t surgeons, but Roxy’s back legs have become sinewy with time and regular exercise. In the months before COVID-19 became widespread in the USA, the expression in her eyes changed from scared to joyous. She prances when Beth and I take her on walks; she runs as top speed when she plays with Max and Stella Bella; her eyes widen when she chews a new plush toy; her mouth is open and her tongue sticks out when me, Beth, or both of us are in the kitchen. She also likes to sit in mine or Beth’s laps whenever possible, especially when we watch shows or movies together. As a result, this has become a singular joy of quarantine life: watching movies with Roxy, and no screening has been more joyous for me than the one we had for a E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which took place on a clear, star-studded night, and frogs were croaking with glee in the tall grass beyond my building. Roxy’s tail seemed to wag in anticipation, perhaps because she sensed my passion for E.T.
One of Roxy’s quirks is her temper. She has no qualms about snarling when she doesn’t like something. One case in point is Donald Trump. She could be having the time of her life with her siblings or a new toy, but if she hears Trump speaking on TV or hears his voice, she growls and releases shrill Kyries of barks until me or Beth changes the channel. When we watched E.T., she reserved her Kyries for the faceless G-Men and scientists who were following E.T. in the North California forest and put him and Eliot in their on-the-spot quarantine buildings when both characters were sick and on the precipice of death.
Watching E.T. from the comfort of my sofa with Roxy also took me back to 1982, when E.T. was first released, which made me think of my mother. She was in her thirties. I was 11. By the time E.T. was in theatres, my nuclear family’s tradition of going out to dinner and a movie on Saturday nights began to occur with less frequency. Part of this was because my brother was an infant, and my older sister was in the heart of her puberty, which meant, among other things, that she hung out with her friends more often than not. E.T. was the first film my mother and I saw together since Grease, which was released years earlier. As excited as I was to see it, my mother’s eagerness was palpable with a capital E. “It’s you, me, and a Steven Spielberg movie. We’ll love it,” she said.
My mother wasn’t wrong. When Roxy and I watched E.T. eat Reese’s Pieces, My lips curled into smile. I remembered my mother’s thunderous chuckle, filling the theatre after Eliot calls his brother Michael “Penis breath.” I joined her and did my best not spit out my root beer. I failed. E.T., clean up aisle one.
The scene where Eliot and E.T. ride a bike in mid-air and were silhouetted by the moon always moves me. It is a shield of my childhood. My mother’s gasp fills my ears. John Williams’ music is a sonorous shield, protecting me from the rona if it dared to set foot in our home. Silver or flat screen: I still can’t take my eyes off the screen when I see it. E.T., stay home.
I watched Peter Coyote’s sensitive performance of Keys, a scientist, with delight. His efforts to help E.T. is commensurate with his concern for Eliot. In this respect, Keys reminds me of my father when he was well-rested and his belly was filled, especially after a meal of steak, a baked potato, and a bowl of pasta on the side.
The scene where Eliot’s and Mike’s friends help get E.T. to safety also never fails to move me. I tear up when they meet at a park, beside a metallic unisphere-like climbing structure, patches of grass and dirt on the ground.
As I stared at the TV, it occurred to me that parks don’t look like this anymore, with their colorful plastic slides and swing sets; their foamy ground, like the one that Beth, Stella Bella and I checked the last time we visited her brother and his family. 1982 was decades ago, but this is another curious development of the rona: my sense of time has been altered, not just in day-to-day progressions, but also in years. Movies are often forms of time travel for me, and COVID-19 has made me reconsider their importance to me: how they mark what’s happening or has happened in the world, as well as my own life, and give me hope that the people who run the world might do a better job. When did foam overtake dirt? When will people stop being scared of each other? When will a vaccine be found? When will the United States of America allow a woman to become its President? E.T., what’s next?
The film’s last act is simultaneously fun and poignant for me. Stella Bella and Beth joined Roxy and I in our living room when E.T. lifts Eliot’s, Michael’s and their friends BMX bikes into the air, and they pedal in the last light of a striking, fire-red sun. This is the scene of the film that I enjoy the most, because of the togetherness of the characters. Friends and family become one in the same at this moment of the film. E.T. does Eliot’s and Mike’s friends a solid, because he appreciates the fact that they’re trying to help him out. He feels them as much as his Earth hosts. As I consider this further, I also like this scene because it strikes me as a metaphor for what I want to see from United States leadership: acknowledgement. A willingness to put differences aside for the betterment of others, and work together without personal interest and dedicate themselves to containing COVID-19 with competence and confirmed information, as opposed to bluster and braggadocio.
As Eliot and company pedaled in the air, I looked in Roxy’s eyes and saw this possibility—however remote—even more so. The kind expression in her dark pupils said to me what quarantined people across Italy had said in signs and their songs sung from balconies: andra tutto bené. Everything will be ok. As loved as I felt in this moment, knowing that this occurred in the presence of Beth and Stella Bella lifted my spirits as high as E.T., Eliot, Michael and their friends were above silhouetted Redwood trees.
Max made a cameo. He sniffed his dinner: a sea-green plate of Meow Mix Chicken and Liver in Sauce Tender Favorites on the kitchen counter. It remained untouched. He sauntered down the hallway and into our home office.
Another scene that always gets me is when Eliot and company take E.T. to the forest for his trip home. E.T.’s spacecraft lands. As was the case when I was 11, the feels overcame me like water over a sandbar when E.T. says goodbye to everyone. His farewell to Eliot required a life preserver in itself. The haymaker always comes when E.T. places his finger on Eliot’s head as he tells him, “I’ll be right…here.”
Unlike other occasions, I didn’t need a box of Kleenex. Roxy licked my face dry gently and slowly. She didn’t stop until my face was dry as our sofa’s arm rests.
As the credits rolled, I picked up some stray some cotton Roxy ripped out of a Scarlet macaw stuffed chew toy. The cotton looked like Kris Kringle beard cuttings. I wondered what a rona holiday season will be like.
I applauded when John Williams’ grand musical score played. Then I remembered my mother, speaking of how she missed my brother; that we needed to get home to him, so that everyone could eat dinner on time. This included my father, who finished his bus driving shift when everyone else sat down to dinner. He was scheduled to get off work early. E.T., pass the A-1.
Beth went into the kitchen. Roxy jumped out of my lap and pranced towards Beth, her tail wagging. I looked outside. The May stars were bright and reassured, glistening like resplendent periods to all of the questions I have ever asked or will ever ask; the thought of the rona being contained sooner, rather than later feeling almost as possible as meeting visitors from other worlds and becoming friends with one of them, my hopes croaking in the tall grass.
Joey Nicoletti was born in New York City. He works in Buffalo