Living through COVID-19 at the Battery Park Senior Apartments

MASK AND GLOVES: “I’m not going out unless I’m armored to the teeth,” says Battery Park Senior Apartments resident Barbara Gravelle. These days, she notes, much of her time is spent in isolation inside her 11th-floor apartment. Photo by Thomas Calder

A poet, Barbara Gravelle says she is used to self-imposed isolation. These are typically creative periods. But during COVID-19 she’s been unable to focus on her writing.

At 81, Gravelle is no stranger to life-threatening events. In 1962, she lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis while in Miami. By 1967, she and her husband moved to Detroit, experiencing firsthand the riots that turned parts of the city into ash. Soon thereafter, she relocated to San Francisco, where she mourned the deaths of many close friends who perished during the AIDS crisis.

But none of her past experiences have prepared her for the current pandemic. “I will admit to terror,” she says. “Terrible, terrible terror.”

For the last two decades, Gravelle has called the Battery Park Senior Apartments in downtown Asheville her home. Like many right now, she is anxious, spending much of her time alone inside her one-bedroom apartment on the building’s 11th floor.

The property’s management team, Gravelle says, has provided residents with hand sanitizer and imposed restrictions on social gatherings, as well as elevator use.

But Gravelle still has concerns about sanitary conditions within the building, as well as community buy-in. “We’re older, and not everybody is on the internet 24/7 like me,” she explains. Despite state and county mandates, some residents initially struggled to grasp the importance of social distancing, Gravelle says. “We have a lady here who loves to hug everybody, and she was determined to do so.”

As a founding member of The Residents Council — an ad hoc group formed last year — Gravelle was asked by neighbors to confront those who were noncompliant. For a while she did, requesting that they adhere to the required safety measures. But as the crisis continues, she has become more cautious about interacting with others. Her fear is that if the local hospitals become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, her advanced age might impede her chances for receiving lifesaving medical attention. “In many cases, the elderly are expendable,” she says.

Despite her growing concerns, Gravelle says she does appreciate the calm that has settled over much of downtown. “And it’s nice to know I can park anywhere I want to,” she adds with a laugh. “That is a plus.”

Still, she looks forward to the days when she can return to seeing her physical therapist on a more regular basis and when she and her neighbors can reconvene on the building’s rooftop garden to enjoy a sunset together.

In her current isolation, Gravelle says, “I get bored and depressed. … I don’t always have somebody to talk to … somebody to share thoughts and fears with.”

If there is any solace, she continues, it’s in knowing that her situation is ubiquitous — especially among her neighbors and friends inside the Battery Park Senior Apartments.  “Everybody is on edge here and everybody is grumpy a little bit,” she says. “But then again we’re all of us in this together. We will do the best we can. I’ll be sweet even though I don’t feel sweet.”

This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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3 thoughts on “Living through COVID-19 at the Battery Park Senior Apartments

  1. Barbara Gravelle

    This is a well-done article and photo. Thomas Calder, you are an admirable photojournalist.

  2. MereNan

    Lovely story. Thank you for sharing. I’m certain many of the
    residents get very lonely….as many of us do who live alone.
    May this coming new year bring us closer to more happiness.

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