My son is upstairs doing his homework online. School is closed, of course. Hour by hour, things change. Universities and workplaces sent people home. Public schools closed for three weeks. Then, Shelter in Place was ordered. Now schools may not re-open…
So, maybe this is uniting us all, because that’s what shared stress does. We’re all home, our kids are home, we’re trying to work from home. Only, we’re separated. Our hugs come through texts and phone calls. These push-pull forces in our communities are like the opposing forces that make orbits: planets circling a star, electrons circling a nucleus. We're held together by the force of human social need, but pushed apart by our survival instinct.
It started with a tickle in his throat, a lot of questions, and instant tension.
I’m risk-averse. He’s risk-cavalier. Suddenly, that tension defined us. It came from nowhere, slid through the mail slot in the front door, snuck up through the Argentine ant cracks, and took up residence in our house. A hundred decisions to be made, a hundred different kinds of uncertainty, but two very different perspectives. Damn that tension.
If I focus in on just one decision, it might go like this:
“I have a jazz band practice this afternoon,” he said, after complaining that he didn't feel well.
“If you don’t feel 100%, don’t go,” I said.
“But I don’t have a fever.”
“The CDC doesn’t say anything about needing to have a fever. They say stay home if you don’t feel 100%.”
This Fact-war ping-pong continued until he said, “I’ll text Martha and see if its OK with her if I come.”
Huge red flags. I swear I could hear that tension gremlin giggling from behind the sofa. Human social behavior during risk. Group choices, for example, are the single largest cause of avalanche deaths when skiing in avalanche terrain. It’s so easy to surrender responsibility. But social etiquette can kill.
“So, you’re going to ask permission to come, even though you might be sick?” I asked. “Don’t you think you’re putting her in an impossible situation. What if she doesn’t want you to come, but she doesn’t want to say ‘No' either?”
I could see from his face that the harder I pushed, the more resistance I’d get.
“Listen, just make a decision and tell her," I said. "Go or don’t go. But don’t ask her.”
My husband is one of the most selfless people I know. So, when he changed gears, when he "owned" his decision, it tapped into that selflessness. He didn't go.
But the tension ogre - orange, naked and warty - rolled on the floor, laughing at us.
Now I’m upstairs watching a movie with my son. A text dings from my husband, downstairs. “Thanks for dinner [LOVE Emojis]!” An hour earlier I’d put on slippers, walked in to his bedside table while he averted his head so he wouldn’t cough on me, served dinner onto his very own plate, blew him a kiss, and exited, leaving the slippers at the door.
Love in the time of COVID-19.
He tried to get the COVID-19 test, but couldn’t. Tests are limited to people over 65, people who’ve visited China, Iran, South Korea or Italy in the last two weeks, or people with underlying health conditions. “Just assume its COVID-19,” the nurse had said. Why does the richest nation on the planet have so few tests?
The tension troll is grinning wickedly, doing hand-stands and sticking out its tongue. The blond comb-ever, the orange skin… they look strangely familiar.
She said, “Assume you have COVID-19”. It sounds so simple, but it completely changes our lives. Our friends are counting the days since they last hugged my husband, or gave him a ride in their car. They’re holding their breath, waiting for symptoms, wiping down everything they touch. My son and I don’t have symptoms, but we’re housebound until two weeks after my husband recovers, three weeks total. We’re persona non grata outside our front door, we’re the Darth Vader of COVID-19. We joke about taking over the planet, using our “evil powers” to make people do what we want: “OK, Safeway, give us all your ice cream, or we’ll cough on you…”
Boredom, interspersed with moments of melt-down. Loneliness under duress, decisions in a vacuum, the tension dude, my only constant companion, now gnawing on me. Yes, I melt down. I mean, full-on sobbing into my hands melt-down. Then, of course, I wash them.
COVID-19 stop-frame clarity:
- The feeling of Armageddon: the tension everywhere, the lack of traffic and people, it could be an earthquake or a fire … but then I hear the rattle of the garbage truck outside emptying our bins. Ok, an Armageddon with services. It messes with me, this cognitive dissonance.
- The email from a search-and-rescue colleague in Bishop, “Bishop is crammed with climbers. Tell your friends to stay home. We have 20 ventilators and TWO ICU beds TOTAL here in Bishop. We have a very elderly population and all the tourists are buying the grocery stores out.”
- I walk past Whole Foods and there’s a line to get in.
- Hours of Zoom meetings. When I tell folks we have COVID-19 in the house, they back away from their computer screens. Haha, very funny.
- Sitting in a chair in the door of the bedroom, chatting with my hubby as he gets better. Our new “quality time”.
- When I go online to my MMO RPG game, it’s packed with avatars. I mean, so crowded we’re on top of each other. This is where everyone is.
- The surge of connection when a friend leaves a bag of her garden bounty on the porch and talks to us from the bottom of the porch stairs. She’s so real, she’s so… so… so not a text.
There’s still a hundred decisions we’re making every day. The tension gremlin is like a shadow dogging every step. But my husband is almost better. In two days, he’ll be free to roam about the house. In these crazy days, that’s some kind of freedom.