A Misadventure


Saturday, Day 1:

    To think that I felt so good! 

    But nah, that’s apparently the one thing that’s too much to ask of life these days. It generously gives me a whole spectrum of extreme emotions ranging from panic and dejection to manic cheerfulness, and never anything in the middle, like plain old-fashioned “good”. What happened to settling down in a middle-aged lull of quiet, even feelings of “been there, done that, and I’m okay just sitting here and doing my thing”?! My back hurts from carrying this emotional burden—I need a nap, not another existential crisis. 

    All I wanted was to get some exercise and have a nice conversation with a friend, and now I might die. Thanks for nothing, life.

    It was a nearly 4 hour hike in Garland Park with a local pal, up and down and up again through a forest painted in all the right autumn colors, yellow leaves falling right before my eyes, and the late November sun shining over the whole idyllic thing with warmth only reserved for a crisp California mid-morning. It was perfect, almost too pretty to be true—our conversation flowed and we stopped from time to time to admire the views, hungry for nature even though we live in a small village in the country where nature is never lacking or tame. 

    I felt strong. My leg muscles were working, my lungs were open, and I picked cool rocks for my garden and stuffed my pockets with large, greasy buckeyes. We met other hikers, couples with dogs, which I pet and talked to in a baby voice, and we had our masks on for those encounters, but we did lower them as we climbed, and now I regret that. 

    It didn’t feel entirely prudent in the moment either, except reason didn’t factor in any of my actions that day—I was filled with Earth’s old energy and I was alive under a high blue sky, and what’s healthier than absorbing into the great outdoors, anyway?! My need to be free, just for a minute, was stronger than the habit of duty: I exist in a perpetual state of feeling obligated to be responsible, to be a good mother, an emancipated woman, an activist, and whatever other roles I had undertaken in adulthood. And I just can’t get a break...

    It’s been a long week leading up to the hike. In fact, my pal and I rescheduled twice before we finally managed to meet. I was wired from dealing with cranky boys, a tired husband, and the aftermath of a farce called an election which out-farces even the most ridiculous political events I’d witnessed in Eastern Europe. My hands were bruised from digging in the dirt while working in my garden—the only thing that kept me grounded during the month of November. My brain, as per usual, was buzzing with the chaos of creative composition in the background, too busy to process it as the foreground was preoccupied with the trivial business of everyday life, namely: how to get through the last remaining week of school and work before Thanksgiving break without completely melting down. That hike was in no uncertain terms an escape, and I relished every step I took on the trail. But I should have kept my mask on. 

    I blame myself for being too trusting, or careless, or whatever the reason was for having my mask down most of the time (I’m still processing the entire experience and hindsight hasn’t yet revealed its wisdom).

    Social interaction is weird for me even in “normal” times, and as rare as it has become since the beginning of the pandemic, and full of formal safety rituals and protocols, it’s almost maddening to try and navigate. It’s an awkward guessing game. 

    I usually err on the side of caution and I avoid being around people altogether—especially in the first months of lockdown when we bunkered down at home and overdosed on DIY and art projects, and only left the house for groceries. Then, there were the summer protests, and the occasional visit to the dentist or the doctor’s office. We kept seeing my in-laws, mindful of their age and the risk factors, and we went in public once or twice, always outdoors, wearing our masks religiously. We were nervous the entire time we were evacuated from the wildfires, having to walk through city crowds and among tourists (be they diminished) when we went whale watching. I haven’t seen any of my Bay Area friends, and I canceled any and all travel plans abroad. 

    Summer was kind to us, because we had the luxury of being self-sustained in our Carmel Valley home, with enough space between us and others to go down to the river on hot days, or walk through the airfield at sunset. 

    But sometime in August school resumed, and we had to take a calculated risk. Homeschooling in the spring was a disaster, and there was no question that we needed to seek help with distance learning. The boys began attending the Y at the community center, and we knew what that meant. There would be other kids there, and those kids’ parents would be working and seeing people, and even with all the safety precautions there was the possibility that someone got exposed one way or another. And we saw these parents at drop-offs and pick-ups, we talked to them, and we let our kids play together on the village green after school to get some fresh air and their crazies out. I continued to stay 6 feet apart and I kept my mask on, used hand sanitizer on the boys and on myself, and I enforced a strict hygiene at home by throwing them in the bath immediately upon our return home, but in all reality the chance of getting the virus through one of those encounters was always present. 

    I never stopped being scared.  I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with any of this.

    The science deniers and the far-right conspiracy theorists pissed me off, and I filled my social media with posts about the absurdity of politicizing a health crisis of such proportion. If I could stop the word and force everyone to do their part, I would. I voted, hoping that reason will prevail and that the next administration would finally take adequate action to mitigate and slow down the spread. 

    Meanwhile, John has been on the verge of burning out ever since his company adapted from DNA to Covid testing, because there just too much work to be done, and the stakes are so very high... I wept upon reading the news and hearing the latest number of cases and deaths, and raged at those responsible who made it all worse by abusing their power. I thought I did everything right, and it didn’t seem enough, but it had to be. 

    It will be years before I’d be able to fully understand the implications of this pandemic, both on personal and social levels, but I already know that life has been forever changed by it. It’s hard to admit that we will never be back to normal, because the boundaries of “normal” (if they ever existed) have been shattered by the impact of all the extreme events of late. It makes more sense to learn to live differently than to try and gather the pieces of our old lives. 

    A change as profound as this requires an entirely new world view—one that has room for accepting the worst along with striving for the best in life. Avoidance and self-deception were properties of a simpler time.  We’re not entitled to our pre-2020 willful ignorance anymore because our eyes have been forced open to the uncertainty and the fragility of life. A pandemic would do that to humanity. 

    We don’t like to think about the worst; we refuse to acknowledge death even though there’s nothing surer than dying. And yet, the only thing that could give us perspective about how finite our time is here, and make us realize its value, is our awareness that there’s indeed an expiration date. 

Maybe I’m being morbid and fatalistic, a leftover trait from when I was Bulgarian, or perhaps it’s the writer in me who can’t help but seek drama... But I never got used to the news, the growing numbers, the stories about previously healthy people dying alone in a hospital and saying goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime. I hate it, I fear it, and I often think about it happening to me.

    I don’t flirt with death anymore. Once I lived long enough to gain something worth living for, I was done taking my time here for granted. I don’t need a near-death experience to believe that it’s real and it can happen to anyone, including myself. I know it and I live with that knowledge—I will die one day and it will be over. I don’t want to die, but it’s inevitable. 

    Do I do enough to postpone death, though? Did I truly do everything I was supposed to do, and not do, during this pandemic, while the potential for sickness and death lurked in every contact with the outside world? Granted, the political situation is a mess and the response to the pandemic is absurdly insufficient, but I have no control over it beyond my own actions... 

    If I love life so much, and if I want to prolong it, then why did I lower my mask on the hike that morning? 

    I’ve done it before. I met another friend a couple of times for a hike at Garland, and we both had our masks off up the hill. And probably there were other instances when I presumed that the person I was with was healthy, and that the chance of getting the virus was minuscule simply because we had a shared, unspoken understanding: we are being as careful as we can given the circumstances, and we wouldn’t knowingly expose each other. 

That’s the problem right there, isn’t it. When all other options are used up, we resort to wishful thinking. 

    Covid is a ghost that haunts us all. It is an invisible but threatening presence, and the concept of safety is abstract—no one is immune. Absolute quarantine is a privilege, or comes at a great cost.  And just like our society has been slowly unraveling under the pressures of so much adversity, our sense of rationality and stability is almost gone. 

    I used to know how to behave in public, how to create and maintain relationships. In a few blurry months the pandemic erased everything I thought I’d learned in ten years living in America: I no longer have a foundation on which to base my social interactions other than on fear for my life. 

    That’s an almost primitive mode of existence—to be reduced to mere survival—for which I wasn’t prepared. None of the social skills I’d gained or the life experience I have are of any use to me now. I trust my intuition as much as possible, and common sense too, yet I don’t think anyone can maintain a state of high alert for long before they get overwhelmed, and crash. 

    We are desperate for human touch, for having a drink and a conversation with a friend... We miss things we used to do as a matter of course, things that even bored us until recently: dining out, date nights, going to the movies, party celebrations and concerts, traveling for work, meeting new people, walking on the street, going to the mall, having relatives over... 

    We adapted as well as we could, by working remotely and giving up social/public life, and while there’s no agreement whether or not that’s an appropriately small price to pay for the greater good (the proverbial “inconvenience” vs “oppression” argument), it is crystal clear that physical distance is the most efficient way to prevent infection until science catches up. Of course, capitalism is brutal and inequality doesn’t afford this to everyone, putting essential and medical personnel, and working people at a higher risk, but again, that’s another story. What’s asked from all of us, who do in fact have  privilege, is to stay put and hang in there. 

    Easier said than done. Even the firmest believers in science are stir-crazy, and reaching their capacity to behave rationally. 

    There’s an entire genre on TikTok and IG of people documenting their mental health status throughout the pandemic; it’s a trend that started as a niche, self-depreciating comedy but blew up to be the mainstream mode of self-expression. 

    Nothing is normal.

    Social conventions don’t apply anymore.

    Reality is warped and there’s no point of even trying to pretend we are okay. 

    People let it all out, turning their very life and personality into a meme. Moms escape their kids and hide in their parked cars to rant. Teachers share their struggles to teach from an empty classroom via Zoom, and students channel their frustration with trying to learn at home while having panic attacks. Day drinking is normalized, all pets are now emotional support animals, and the ultimate topic of how insane 2020 has been is openly discussed—and embraced—with an almost masochistic pleasure. Humor these days is obsidian dark, but it’s one of the few coping mechanisms we have left. 

    While technology is now an intrinsic part of our reality, life online is just not enough sometimes. 

    I get a lot out of Instagram: I watch funny cat videos in leu of therapy, and original social justice content as an education. I use IG as a virtual diary where I can vent, share, confess, think out loud. There’s no gap between my social media persona and myself in real life, and I utilize the platform well for purposes of connecting with others and as an outlet, without which I’d probably be screaming at the sky by now, or take even more drugs than I do already. I never had issue with the Internet as it’s been my link to family back home ever since I left Bulgaria. I’m lucky to be in a good position to cope, and still I struggle. 

    So, I slipped. I’m coming to terms with it. I chose to meet someone, to assume they were healthy, and to break protocol by lowering my mask.

    I did so out of a mix of nature-induced naïveté and the fatigue I felt from living in a state of emergency since March. It’s fucked up. It’s so random and ironic I’m not even upset—if anything, I feel bewildered. It’s like that dream scene in Twin Peaks, where people speak backwards and everything is symbolic, only I’m awake and I have no clue what any of those symbols mean. 

    After the hike I got home, and John came back shortly after me. He had taken the boys to the mountain to stay with the grandparents for the night. I can’t, for the life of me, remember if we touched or kissed upon greeting, because I was getting ready to hop in the shower, and he did too, so we ended up together in the bathroom, in close proximity. I do remember that I washed my hands and rinsed my mouth with Listerine while John updated me on how drop off went, and then I trimmed his hair. We showered one by one, and while I was getting dressed I received a text from my hiking friend saying that he just got his test results back, and that they were positive for Covid. 

    At this point it had been a little over an hour since we were together at Garland. I told John about it immediately from across the hall, and that’s when my self-isolation officially began. John remained in the kitchen and I in the hallway, talking it out, almost casually at first, the gravity of the news sinking in by the minute. I put a face mask on and tried to piece the exact timing of the events, questions popping up faster than I could recall all the facts. 

    Was it possible that I already had enough viral load to have also exposed and infected John? Did my friend seem sick? Why didn’t he tell me that he was still waiting for his Covid test results, and why did he choose to meet even though he didn’t have them yet? 

    I felt a kind of weightlessness, a strange sense of unreality that was too real at the same time. 

    Logically, the probability to have been infected and the chance to develop symptoms seemed small, but I knew better than to underestimate my situation. Nearly 14 million Americans were sick, 260 thousand + dead. This was serious. 

    John and I remained separated all evening and through the night, talking about all possibilities and making plans to get tested in the upcoming week. None of us freaked out. I didn’t cry. My mind was working on scenarios by inertia, and I kept moving in a sort of a daze. John slept on the couch in the office, and I went to bed at 7 pm after popping two melatonin and a sip of NyQuil for a good measure. I dreamed about being abandoned by John and trying to get into a party but failing. At 3 am or so I had to kick the cats out and went back to sleep full of more vivid dreams I can’t remember. 

Sunday, Day Two: 

    Normally I’d feel amazing after having slept for 12 hours, but I woke up with a sticky, fuzzy brain. I felt good physically, aside from some soreness after the grueling hike, and of course it was too early to have any symptoms. 

    A Schrödinger’s situation if there ever was one—a limbo of being suspended between “it’s nothing, I’ll be fine” and a million “but what if’s”.  As I brushed my teeth I could hear John out there in the kitchen, and I suddenly felt upset. I put a mask on and marched over to him (but not too close) to tell him that he just can’t stay here with me. I wouldn’t be able to stand it, having him in the house but not being able to touch, for who knows how long, and the kids—away from both of us. 

    John tried to joke that he’d rather kiss me and get it too, so we can ride it out together. It was such a genuinely sweet thing to say, and I loved him for it, but it made me mad just the same. “This isn’t funny!” I yelled and kicked him out. 

    Not really; we both agreed that the best course of action is that he joins his parents and the boys for a few days until I get sorted out—develop symptoms or get tested, whichever came first. He packed and left, and I was alone at home for the first time in forever. I have to say it: barring the possibility of having a deadly virus, it was ideal. 

    I was aware of my privilege to have a comfortable place where I could quarantine, available help nearby, and just how lucky was the timing of it all! John was about to take most of the week off for Thanksgiving, the boys only had two half-days at school left, and I was flexible enough to adapt my schedule accordingly. So I took a deep breath and I vowed to make the most of this strange and unexpected intermission. 

    First, I cleaned. 

    I cleaned like my mom had taught me, the way I clean when I’m stressed and need to put things in order so I can feel in control. Usually my compulsion to clean is not a positive thing, being a symptom of childhood trauma-induced anxiety, but that day it served a purpose. I wiped all surfaces, did laundry, vacuumed, and ran the dishwasher with all my water bottles. I changed my toothbrush and my pillow case. I even swept the yard. It did me good to be physically active, to do something with my hands, and as silly as it was, it gave me comfort to think that the house was disinfested: the placebo effect of cleanliness which I always have associated with health. 

    Next, I took care of my own body. It’s funny how once I started on the path of indulging the idea of my own mortality, it was all I could think about. Surprisingly, it wasn’t an unpleasant concept—that of not being here. As I said before, I don’t avoid the subject of death, and I’m not quite scared of it, either. But I am afraid of failing to live up to my most optimal potential before I’m gone, or even exceeding it once or twice, just for fun. 

    That’s the major misgiving of the human condition, isn’t it? Only wanting the things we don’t have. Waiting for a “right” time to do the things we want. Trying to be something instead of embracing who we truly are. And not allowing ourselves to fully be who we truly are, because we are afraid that’s not good enough, that we will be ridiculed or hurt, or that the world will reject us. And yet, no matter how hard we try to get somewhere or to be someone, we can only BE, and we always end up exactly where we started. 

    I’d hate it if I died before I wrote my book, without having had a dog, or too soon to see the boys go to college or get married or whatever it is that they will achieve one day. But my biggest regret would be that I simply didn’t get enough time to BE with them. I need more love; to love them and be loved by them, and nothing else comes close to a life’s purpose. And that’s when I decided that I’d live, Covid or no Covid. 

    It’s such a cliche, to only be able to define living by the fact of dying, and to truly appreciate what you have once you are at a risk of losing it, but I get it. 

    The human mind is imperfect. 

    We are self-aware in our existence, yet since existing is the only mode we know, we can’t possibly imagine not existing. Furthermore, it takes such an enormous effort to be in touch with our own minds, that we prefer to do it as rarely as possible—detachment from our own inner stream of consciousness, at least for neurotypical people, is indeed necessary to preserve mental energy and to allow us to focus on the tasks at hand—and it’s also not exactly fun, being alone with your thoughts. It’s easier to dull them and compartmentalize than to be constantly aware that you are here, now, that you are you and that you are who you are. Have you ever tried to sleep and then boom! a memory of that one cringeworthy thing from eight years ago pops up, and it’s over. 

    And really, life can seem like a long and tedious business sometimes; it is quite impossible to spend it jumping for joy every minute, and unrealistic too, because life is mostly pain. 

    From our screaming birth onwards, it’s all one convoluted, confusing string of trying to get the hang of it, failing, learning, and trying again, using the tools you’ve been given in the time that you have. Feelings of complacency and even apathy towards our own existence are to be expected as a way to reconcile the matter-of-fact nature of life’s reality with the concept of life’s unique, singular value... 

    Sure, it’s a miracle. It’s precious, and full of amazing events and opportunities and experiences. It’s all we have, life is. 

    But knowing this, and keeping it in mind, are two very different things. 

One will give you perspective, and the other will literally make your head explode. 

    People oscillate between the two; they go about their lives as if it is the most mundane and ordinary thing, which it is. But every once in a while they need a little boost, something to shake things up and remind them they are still alive—and only by the power of contrast this becomes possible. We seek a thrill, we alter our state of mind, we push the boundaries and we take risks just to feel that we are real, and that we are really here. 

    Death isn’t among the most preferable ways to highlight life for us, but it’s probably the most effective. Among the grief and the sorrow, the fear and the trauma, there’s the ultimate enlightenment—at the steepest of prices. 

Life ends, live it while you can, fill it with love, and everything else is irrelevant. 

    I’ve figured very few things with absolute certainty, and one of them is this: you’d solve almost any issue if you could deconstruct it and strip it down to its core. On the subject of death, there’s so much circumstance to work through, and the finality of it is too paralyzing to look straight into its broken heart and see its essence. 

    Death brings loss and grief, and the most profound anguish imaginable—sadness for the end of love. To stay alive is to hold on to love. 

    And so, I drew myself a hot bath to give myself symbolic last rites. 

    In my culture we wash the bodies of the dead prior to the burial. We care for our loved ones for the last time with this ancient ritual, which seems macabre but could also be strangely nurturing and intimate. It’s a way to say goodbye by a final loving act before we never see and touch them again. 

    My body was very much living, and I almost scolded myself for having such thoughts, but I allowed them to take me where they may. 

    The irony of this entire thing was not lost on me. In a way, it was perfect. I had the privilege of a support system, and luxury of indulging in a sort of a vacation from my own life... I had the house all to myself (it occurred to me that I’ve lived here for over two years now but it was the first time I actually got to take a bath, which is usually reserved for the children), I had food and supplies, I had internet, and most importantly I had what appeared to be perfect health. 

How bohemian it was to lament nothingness while being afforded everything! 

    I examined the bruises on my legs, the skin on my stomach, the cuts on my hands, and I relished in my fleshy form until the water grew lukewarm and the cats started congregating by the tub, staring intently and cautiously sniffing at me to figure out what was going on. 

    I bet cats never factor death into the equation of how to live their life. Unlike humans, they don’t doubt death—they instinctively avoid it but otherwise they don’t mull over it too much. Cats just live (and boy, do they LIVE), and then they die, and they don’t bother worrying about it. Here I was, worrying what a shame it would be if I died of Covid because I just got in shape and started writing again. I was already regretting all the orgasms I won’t be able to have, or the places I won’t get to see. 

    And that is textbook first world problem: worrying about random things you’d miss instead of being too busy to stay alive. That thought, coupled with the cats’ staring which weirded me out, seemed to snap me out of it. Contemplating my potential and untimely death had run its course. 

    Though I have to be completely honest...I never once dared contemplate the death of someone I love. I didn’t, and still don’t, have the strength or the emotional capacity to even imagine it. I got dressed in my best sweater (“eat, drink, and wear your new clothes”), and looked around house. It was too organized, and I overwhelmingly started missing my children. Who was going to make a ball out of baby bell cheese wax and throw it at the wall now, where it would stick and remain unnoticed for days because it blends with the bricks of the fireplace? The empty kids’ rooms unnerved me and I closed them, so I didn’t succumb to depression. It was a waiting game. I hate waiting, so off to bed I went went. 

Monday, Day 3: 

I found this in my notes: 

    The best part of the day in November, no doubt, is between 8 and 9:30 am. It’s crispy cold, but bright, so bright. The sun illuminates the cobwebs that hang loose between the pines, and it hits your windshield at a sharp angle, refracting in the moisture gathered overnight, blinding you on your way to the village store to get milk. It’s a short drive with the heat on, just long enough to shake off the last fragments of your dreams from your eyes and wake you up completely—not quite suddenly as coffee does, but there’s no rush just yet. 

    The country road on a fall morning in North California is slow, abundant with life, and death too. You count one, two freshly run-over small creatures: sacrifices of men’s coexistence with nature to the scavengers. A large vulture perched on a telephone wire keeps watch, ready for breakfast, and crows hop nearby, unfazed by traffic—clever birds with complicated minds and social relationships we don’t understand or even notice, because we’re preoccupied with the chaos in our own minds. 

    But a rare moment of clarity is here, and the brilliant light of this morning sets you free, and you finally notice—everything. How kind the store owner is to everyone, all the time; courteous to his old neighbors and young tourists alike, selling them cigarettes and booze before noon without judgment, asking after their families and making small but meaningful talk. How quiet this place is, even though it holds the joys and sorrows of so many people... The valley cradles us and gives us room to be, a place to safely get through the day’s work, and to be rewarded with an eyeful of the widest skies and the most golden hills. No matter the outcome of today, you know it will be a good day.

    There won’t be a quick trip to the Village Market for me. I’ll stay home, alone, waiting: for Covid symptoms (unlikely so early in the incubation period) or a date to get tested. 

    I put a full face of makeup on to celebrate the fact that I could. On normal Monday mornings I’m too tired from the weekend to even look at myself in the mirror, but today I was free from all responsibilities to others and only had to take care of myself (and the cats, who were growing exceptionally needy in the absence of small boys to chase them around). I had coffee, took my meds, and set on to research testing facilities in the area. 

    Turns out, that wasn’t as straightforward as I’d hoped. The few labs that did in fact provide on-demand/rapid Covid testing gave priority to health and essential workers or symptomatic patients, and being asymptomatic, I was going to have to wait for an appointment at one of the state provided locations. 

    It was Thanksgiving week, and the labs were overbooked by people who planned to travel (?!) on top of being overwhelmed by the current spike in cases. I also messaged three of my doctors, hoping that I could procure a referral and be sent to the Community Hospital lab in Monterey, or to LabCorp, where I had other tests done this year, but I didn’t have any luck hearing back. The best I could find was an LHI.care appointment on Saturday in Salinas, and the results would be ready 4-6 days later. 

    This meant that it would be nearly two weeks since my hike before I knew if I was sick or not, and only at the time of testing... The whole thing was disparaging, and I was filled with guilt once more. John would have to stay away and take care of the boys instead of having a few days’ rest, while I fiddled my thumbs. 

    I texted my hiking friend—he had developed chills and slight congestion, and had lost his sense of taste and smell, but didn’t have fever. He told me he wasn’t deteriorating, but that he was very fatigued. I promised to keep checking on him and to keep him posted, and spent the rest of the day writing. Silver linings, right? 

    By 5:30 or so I was exhausted, and I showered and made myself a sandwich. It was so quiet that I could hear the clock ticking in the kitchen. It’s never quiet at 5:30 in my house! I got the fire going in the living room, watched two episodes of The Crown, and went to bed, playing Two Dots until my eyes couldn’t focus anymore, and I passed out. 

Tuesday, Day 4:

What a weird way to live... 

    I had forgotten how it felt to be alone, even though that seems to be the most natural state of being. I’m only alone when I leave the house to go on a writing retreat in a hotel room somewhere for a few nights, or on one of my “mommycations”. We’ve been together constantly, for months, and at first it was driving me crazy, but then I got used to it, and now I was missing the noise and the calamity. 

    I didn’t miss the stress, though. I wasn’t yelling at anyone or feeling anxious, and it was wonderful. My skin looked better—the dark circles around my eyes were softer, and I didn’t crave a drink at 10 am. Most of all, I had my thoughts to myself again, and I didn’t need to push them away to the back of my mind just because I didn’t have the time or energy to oblige them. I had nothing else to do but eat, sleep, think, and write it all down, and I didn’t hate it. 

    Still, I kept looking for a way to get tested sooner than Saturday, so I could have John and the boys back as soon as possible, because while it was nice to have the house and my own brain all to myself, it didn’t feel possible that I would last two weeks without my family. I finally got through to one of my Montage doctors, and they told me that referrals were given only to people who were exhibiting symptoms, or were downright sick, but they wished me luck, just like everyone at the kids’ school did when I let them know, and my friends online as well. 

    It was comforting to hear that people cared, and frustrating that there was nothing anyone could do. I bet Jeff Bezos doesn’t have to sit and wait for a test, but since I was a mere mortal, I was going to have to grin and bear it. 

    As I was looking up home testing kits online, I got a call from Julian’s teacher. She reminded me that it was Parent-Teacher conference time, and I was running late. Panic! I scrambled to log into the zoom meeting and to switch to “mommy mode”, wondering if I’d slip and say something odd because I was a hot mess. I didn’t; it was an awkward 15 minute conversation about how Julian was refusing to keep his camera on during class, or finish his assignments. I thanked his teacher for her service—all teachers are trying really hard these days—but I was brutally honest. I didn’t care about his grades. I knew that screen fatigue was was setting in, and that Julian was sick of it all. Both of my children are behind academically, but that’s because they are trying to navigate a system that operates as if everything is normal when nothing truly is. 

    As we talked, I realized that I had failed to coordinate with John about these P-T conferences, and that I had missed the meeting with Johnny’s teacher as well. I logged in just the same, and luckily he was available to talk. This time I lucked out; Johnny’s teacher is absolutely amazing and he loves my son. There were things to improve and work on, but I felt confident that we can get through this as long as we have the help of people like Mr. G. And in all honesty, kids nowadays live in a suspenseful sci-fi movie... Everything is virtual, society is falling apart, the outside world is contaminated and unsafe, and their parents are slowly but surely losing it. Who cares about math or spelling?! Not me. 

    I wrote for a couple of hours in the afternoon, but I was preoccupied with thoughts about how far behind on life I felt, and I gave up. I put some Christmas decor up around the house, watered the plants, and went out for a drive around the village to make sure it was all still there. It was, and it was decorated for Christmas too. The sense of unreality persisted, so FaceTime’d with the kids, and signed off for the night. 

Wednesday, Day 5: 

    What is time? Who am I? 

    It was unclear, despite that I woke up, did my morning routine, and went on to do my work according to the plan I had made for myself: email my parents to update them (that nothing is happening), check in with my hiking friend, call John and the kids, write, rest, wait. Aside from writing, all else felt surreal, and admired to myself that I am good at being alone and at staying home, but this was next level. 

    I wished for superpowers, so I could achieve the perfect balance and be alone when I wanted to but never lonely, or without my much fulfilling dose of the boys’ company. Gosh, I love them! I need to take breaks from them but I never want to be without them. Stockholm syndrome much? Probably. But either way, I hated not being able to kiss and hug and touch and see them. 

    Somehow I got through it. The mail finally came around 2:30 pm, and that was too bad, because it included the home testing kit I was hoping to receive first thing in the morning, so I could send my sample back immediately. Unfortunately, FedEx didn’t pickup on Thanksgiving, and it was too late for the final cutoff time for the day. Oh well. John stopped by to bring me supplies and to save me from wallowing in my feelings. He gave me sweets and flowers, and what more could I possibly want? I played Two Dots (got to level 70, which is where I usually start losing because everything is on fire, much like in real life) and went to sleep with my heating pad on. Still no symptoms, unless you count my descent to madness. 

Thursday, Day 6:

    Happy fucking Thanksgiving. What a stupid holiday that is! I had vowed not to celebrate it after trying to for several years, but I never saw the appeal. I don’t care for turkey or for colonialism. 

    I was starting to think that I don’t have Covid after all. No symptoms, and felt normal, if you could call talking to myself out loud “normal”. 

    This was also the day I finally got over myself and got on with it. 

    You can always count on me to make a big deal out of nothing every time, and blow the smallest thing out of proportion for the purposes of my writing and my need to be the main character in my own life. Well, tomorrow this may change, but today I was done philosophizing, and I set out to work. 

    I changed the cat litter, took a walk, tidied up all the things around the house I don’t ever have the time to put away, did a photo backup and some reading for pleasure, and wrote for 3 hours straight. I also deleted Two Dots because the dots started catching on fire too fast and I started to stress out. 

    The cats were more confused than ever by the absence of the kids, and behaved like maniacs to make up for it. Sparkles was only interested in running away, and he prowled like a puma around the house, looking all serious, pawing at the closet doors to make them rattle and get my attention. Midnight seemed to get bigger and fatter by the minute. He ate when he was bored, which was most of the time, and acted cute and cuddly the rest of the time. When he got the zoomies, he ran through the rooms sounding like a full-sized horse. Shelbycat was sweet as usual, and a bit braver—she napped out in the open, not needing to hide from the monsters for deal life. 

    I finished putting up the Christmas decorations, dug in the garden for a bit, showered, and watched reruns of The Crown before passing out. 

Friday, Day 7:

    Woke up early to swab my nose then drove to send the home test kit back by dropping it in a FedEx box, and to pick up a prescription but little that I knew, running a few simple chores would be made very difficult because it was the day after Thanksgiving, and by the fact that this is the country and nobody is rushing to get anything done to begin with... 

    The pharmacy didn’t have my RX, so I called my doctor, but the office was closed till Monday, so I went online to check what was the problem and I could see that the medication was already sent to the pharmacy, so I went back to the pharmacy and turns out they had two accounts in my name and they finally found the RX but I had to wait for it to be filled; in the meantime I drove around to find a FedEx location but they were all closed so I went to Safeway where they have a FedEx box, only to be turned me away because the scanner thingy wasn’t charged; I drove to the pharmacy once more and managed to get my meds, and also to get someone to consolidate my two accounts into one to avoid future confusion, and then drove to Safeway AGAIN where the scanner thingy had been charged but the cut-off pickup time had passed already and my test kit was going to be shipped the next work day—when exactly was that was unclear, as the weekend was coming, and a delay would render the entire exercise futile as the swab sample could only be accepted if it got to the lab overnight. I was so frustrated by the time I drove home that I had to rant on IG and scream a little, to the dismay of the cats... 

    They were tired of me already as it was, and I was overwhelmed with anxiety from occupying all this space without doing anything of value other than waiting to see if I was sick or not, and while I was beginning to feel cautiously optimistic, I did the math and it was only just a week since my potential exposure. The incubation period for Covid is 4-14 days, and my hiking friend developed symptoms exactly on day 10, previously feeling completely normal and healthy. 

    Yet I was reaching another breaking point, so I hatched a plan to go through with my lab test in Salinas the following day, and then wait for the results in a hotel where I could continue to self-isolate while John and the boys could return to the house and get on with their lives. 

    With this resolution in mind, I spent the rest of the day writing and consuming copious amounts of comedy IG reels. 

Saturday, Day 8

    Got tested! Drove to Salinas, got swabbed, and drove back home to a whole bunch of hate messages from locals who took issue with me using the word “provincial” when I talked about CV the day before. I promptly blocked those toxic people, then booked a hotel room for following three nights, and spent the rest of the day actively missing the boys. 

Sunday, Day 9

    Still no symptoms, and my home test results came back negative around noon. I drove to Monterey, checked in the hotel, and jumped on the bed in my underwear. A piece of advice...if you frequent hotel rooms, make sure you remember to pack the essentials: your good pillow, your retainers, and a vibrator. Later that evening I saw a super fat raccoon on the parking lot. 

Monday, Day 10

    Woke up at 7:30 to call my dentist and cancel an appointment in the last minute, and to take an early walk to Lake Estero, where I saw what I thought was a swan, but turned out to be a white goose. Since the hotel parking lot was the only outdoor place I could be without risking to potentially expose other people, I kept my room door open and I happened to see a cute pittie dog that morning, which made me very happy. 


    At 10:30 I had a video call with an ADHD specialist, which made me very unhappy, because her conclusion was that I needed further testing. 2020 was going to be forever remembered as the year I spent in hotel rooms and at doctors’ offices in the midst of a pandemic. 

    I tried to write but I was not productive. Ten days of misadventure were getting to me. And then, just when I was staring to feel restless and painfully lonely, I got my lab results back. They were also negative, and I was officially Covid free! I didn’t even call John, just packed and drove off, at the verge of tears at the prospect of holding my children and sleeping in my own bed that night. 

    The boys were happily surprised, and I could immediately feel how much they had missed me—not just emotionally and physically, but I had a lot of catching up to do. Apparently zombies were an issue now, and Julian was experiencing sleep regression, which I discovered when he woke me up every two hours that night. 

    I sent John to take my place in the hotel and use up the remaining two days of my reservation to take a much needed break, and I threw myself back into routine, not to ever stand still again, at least not until Christmas. 

    When I am with my family, I am rarely by myself, hardly alone, never lonely, and I’m alive, always loved, forever loving them. I’m fatigued by quarantine and tired of politics, premenstrual, struggling to focus, seasonally depressed, stressed by parenting, worried about my cats, stir-crazy and under-slept, unhealthy coping mechanisms and all—but I’m also greeted by rainbows every morning, by the view of the mountains, with a head full of words to try and write down. 

    Fuck Covid, and fuck dying. 

    I’d rather stick around a little longer and see what happens. 


P. S. My hiking pal is on a slow but steady path of recovery. 


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