Despite the masks, the relentless sanitizing, and social distancing, we received news that a member of our household had been exposed to the virus.
Before breakfast the next morning, we masked up, piled into the car, and headed to the enormous testing facility at the fairgrounds. Hundreds of spooky, lime green traffic cones separated long, empty lanes of traffic. It’s like they’d color-coordinated with the green splat emoji we had all been using as shorthand for coronavirus. If it hadn’t been a rainy Sunday in Miami, the lanes would have been full, according the national guardsman we met at a check point. Miami drivers can’t do rain—traffic comes to a standstill.
The sweet scent of banana bread filtered through my mask from the thermal bag on the passenger seat. I’d packed it up in case we’d had a long wait. We wound our way through the Covid themed race track as I fiddled with the container using my free hand.
“You guys want to eat?”
No one was hungry.
We pulled into the metal shelter and a PPE-draped nurse tossed a few clear bags labeled “BIOHAZARD” into the car window. She delivered some clipped instructions and stepped back. I turned around in the driver’s seat to show everyone how to cough hard into theirs masks, then swab the insides of cheeks, and along the gums and tongue. When the last kid finished, his collection kit nearly went flying. It seemed weird that a child should be in charge of his own sample, but I wasn’t there to question protocol. I handed back the kits and asked when we’d received results.
“You should hear back within twenty-four hours,” she said and waved me on, beckoning the car behind us with her mummied-up limbs. I pulled the car forward to snap a photo of the gigantic semi trucks marked Miami Dade Fire Rescue. This was history in the making after all.
“Mom, you better take off, here come the cops,” said my older son. A police cruiser loomed in my rear view mirror so I stepped on the gas. Was it illegal to take photos at a government testing facility? I didn’t wait around to find out.
When we arrived home, I did the only thing I could do: wait nervously. Sitting at my kitchen table, I self-medicated with a half wedge of brie and onion matzah. I felt lightheaded and panicked that it might be a symptom. I released the thought and reflected on the last eight months.
At the beginning of quarantine in mid-March, I was aggressively fine with all of it. I reasoned that the kids could use some downtime from the grind. I’d felt relief when suddenly I got back all those hours I regularly spent in my car. No more schlepping children and stuff hither and yon. Volunteer obligations vanished and suddenly I had time to write my book. We all needed a break.
As March became April, then May, there was much talk about family bonding opportunities. I unloaded board games from the hall closet, forming neat stacks on the dining room table. The kids didn’t feel up to it, but I left them out, figuring we’d play eventually. I put together lists of festive meals like pizzeria night, taco bar and nacho making to varying levels of enthusiasm. Closets were cleaned and items donated to programs for communities in need. I chose a family charity project and the kids selected college-themed supplies for the new dorms at a public boarding school. Every chance I got, I repeated how fortunate we were. But the kids needed to mourn their lives a little and weren’t totally sold on my covid-tastic-ness. But in those early months, I was doing battle with corona and winning.
I was raised to thrive in chaos—my training started early. An unexpected divorce, the surprise departure of a parent, a move across country that none of us kids saw coming. And that was just the beginning. Every few months, our house of cards blew down in one way or the other. By the time I left home and controlled my own life, I was conditioned to worry reflexively. I attended law school with a full 75% of my brain devoted to spinning nightmare scenarios while the remainder worked two jobs and did schoolwork. Before every exam, I cried, long and hard, then got to work. It was exhausting.
So I started therapy. I credit those twenty years with a mostly healthy relationship and the ability to care for my family. But even after those endless hours on that burgundy leather sofa, I still woke up, grinding my teeth. Until, finally, I learned to direct my thoughts to what I could control instead of fretting about a future I couldn’t. I learned that energy is matter and I need to be conscious of what I focus on because that is what I create.
I was doing great with corona for months, building mental fitness and practicing gratitude. Until the unrelenting cancellations began to take a toll on my kids. Rights of passage missed that wouldn’t be back. The dance party to end elementary school, a Disney trip at the completion of middle school, a European adventure with Grandma the last summer before entering college. Yes, we had our health, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Nonetheless. There was no fine then. I could take any amount of pain, just don’t hurt my babies.
Because of the turbulent years I spent as a kid, I vowed to do it differently. When they were born, I made every decision as though their lives depended on it. Overpriced, organic produce, stainless steel lunch containers to avoid phthalates, silver copper ionization for the pool instead of chlorine. I have chilled out a little, but the thing that remains is that I take my job of protecting them seriously.
The next morning the test results came in. One child had tested positive.
I have broken down a handful of times on the coronacoaster, and that day was one of them. It was one child’s birthday, the other was sick in bed and the third was miserable for having to miss a tiny Halloween party—the one and only festive ocassion in eight months.
Friends offered to bring food. I am not comfortable accepting help. Guilt consumes me when people go out of their way. Call it a trigger from childhood when I felt like a burden. But I accepted it on that day. Two bags of groceries from a dear, sweet friend. Homemade chicken soup from the warm kitchen of another. I get by with a little help from my friends. And, of course, our pediatrician who told me not to worry, it would be a mild case. My kid said everything hurt, but the lungs are clear.
Now that I’ve had my cathartic cry, I know there is only one way to deal with all of this. Get back up, take a deep breath and do what I need to do. I will “stand guard at the gate of my mind,” focus on the things I can control and be grateful for all I have.
I say this to myself and to all of you. It’s going to be okay.
Writing Prompt: When the pandemic knocks you down, how do you get yourself back on track?