“We live inside historic moments, unaware of their significance.” One of my high school history teachers told us that. He said historians will one day study our time and lives and suggested we record our observations and thoughts to assist them. “Or do it for your future children and grandchildren.” The hint of sex in our future made the boys leer at the girls, which made the girls giggle and the teacher sigh.
I started a journal but struggled with what to say. In 1969 the events of significance were not happening in my town. That history was in Bethel, New York at Woodstock, and Washington DC for the moratorium against the Vietnam War, and 228,900 miles away with Neil Armstrong’s step on the moon.
Fifty-one years later I am living in the time of Covid-19. I am in this historic moment with 7,655,957,369 others-give or take. Maybe take… since that is happening in greater numbers than anyone will admit. But those lives may be replaced by a predicted population explosion in coming months.
What I am experiencing doesn’t feel significant, but that’s not for me to determine. That is something I didn’t understand in 1969. I am now a writer and I’ve been taking notes.
There are days I wake up and forget this is happening, and nights I cannot sleep because I know it is.
Early on I heard a doctor predict that everyone will know someone who will become very sick and possibly die from this. I mentally sifted through lists of family and friends and ordered myself stop thinking about it, because there was nothing I could do to stop it. I obeyed that order for awhile, but never completely. And then nothing happened. Weeks went by without anyone I knew getting sick—so long I didn’t have make myself stop thinking about it. I just stopped.
I still felt bad, watching the death toll rise, but I didn’t know anyone on the list. My friends and family wore masks, and washed their hands longer than the prescribed time, and sheltered-in place.
And my people, the ones who are black, were safer because they were staying inside. They weren’t going to work. They weren’t out driving. They weren’t out in the world with their black skin. They were at home. Loved. Protected.
But inside our home we watched the news. Not all day, but enough. Enough to know the rising numbers of cases. Enough to see that even this is disproportionately affecting people of color.
And then there were the news reports about the shootings of Ahmaud Abery and Breonna Taylor. The choking of George Floyd. The world-wide explosion of response.
Inside our house, George and I talked more about racism in the last two months than we have throughout our fifty years together. We felt equal parts enraged and encouraged. But I know us. We will lean toward encouragement. It seems there are more people, more white people tired of this nonsense too. And that, in the past, was missing. Not enough white people who cared enough and for long enough.
And then I received an email from a friend who had it. She is an emergency funeral care provider and her services had been needed—a lot. She was careful, followed protocol, wore protective gear, but had to pick up the body of a man suspected of having COVID. When she repositioned his body, retained breath escaped. The virus found its way into a live host. My friend fought through this and recovered, but now gets winded walking up the stairs to her third floor apartment. Before Covid she could take steps two at a time while carrying bags of groceries.
One night, very late, George got a text that his brother, Carl, was admitted to a hospital in Jacksonville, Florida unable to breathe. George didn’t wake me up to tell me. He waited until I was up, and dressed, had made coffee, and was sitting at my desk doing my morning writing. I couldn’t write down my thoughts. I wasn’t thinking. George prayed and I cried. Carl went from needing oxygen in the ER, to a ventilator in ICU. After four weeks he needed a tracheotomy too. Last weekend we got word he has been moved into a rehab center to wean off the ventilator. No one is talking out loud about the hospital bill. Carl was worried about his finances before he got sick. That is why he got sick. He couldn’t afford to stay home.
My people were not staying at home and keeping safe. I didn’t know that. If I had, I would have worried more. But Carl would have still gotten sick. Worry changes nothing. My mother-in-law told me that years ago. “Give them your best and pray for their good sense.”
Our youngest granddaughter, after two months of connecting with us only through zoom, dissolved into uncontrollable crying. “I miss Gani and Papa.” This happened several times a day for a solid week. To console her, my daughter promised a road trip from their house in Las Vegas to our house in Rockford. They set a date and created a calendar to mark off the days.
I ordered zinc, and doubled up on vitamin C. We welcomed them at 1:00 AM. The youngest granddaughter had made her mother promise to wake her up if she was asleep so she could hug us.
They have been here over a month and no one got sick. We have played with dolls and monsters, watched movies, painted pictures, danced, sang, cleaned the grave of my parents, gone to the beach, rode bikes, blown bubbles, soaked in the hot tub, did a ceremony for a tree that fell on our house without hurting anyone, and created a fairy town on the stump of a 160 year old oak tree we cut down after the live one fell. It would have been cheaper to wait until fall to cut it down, but decided to go ahead and do it now. George and I both had a feeling—and last night a horrific storm with high winds came through. Sirens went off and weather service advised we seek shelter. “Expect damage to cars, and mobile homes.” We don’t know if the storm would have knocked our beloved oak tree’s massive dead branches on the house, or our daughter’s car…but this isn’t the year to take chances.
My daughter and grandkids left this morning. The oldest ones are ready to go back to their bigger house with their own rooms, and their two dogs, and their oldest brother, and their dad.
The youngest has been crying off and on for the last week. I can’t console her because I can’t promise when we will see each other again. I won’t lie to children about real things. Only magical things. I suggested she take a couple of fairy houses home with her. “The fairies will fly back and forth and carry messages for us.”
“I wish we were fairies, Gani.”
“Me too. If I were, I’d take away the virus. It would disappear like magic.”
She looked up and stared at my face for a moment, then shook her head. “That won’t happen.”
“No, my smart girl. It won’t.”