“You’re alive for another birthday,” said Tia Helena, who called earlier on FaceTime. According to the John Hopkins COVID-19 map, 118,854 victims worldwide won’t get to celebrate another birthday. Indeed, I am grateful to be alive for another birthday.
After 35 days without human contact, strangely enough, I’ve gotten used to it. This is my new normal: Zoom meetings, FaceTime chats, scurrying to the opposite side of the street when someone walks in my direction, wiping down every surface in my apartment like a serial killer, and secretly shaming complete strangers for touching shared public objects and surfaces. Just the other day, I moved to another check-out line at the grocery store, disgusted by a woman leaning on her grocery cart, without gloves or a mask, cupping her full cheeks with the same hands that just touched that grocery cart. “Is she fucking nuts?” I blurted out to myself. Witnessing such a scene in a grocery store is more appalling right now than catching a perv jacking off in a NYC subway. Friends who share similar stories about changes in social norms and standards of disinfection worry that all of this will be our new normal.
This new normal made me realize that if I contracted the virus and experienced severe complications, I would have absolutely no one here to help me. My family is on the West Coast. In a country as large as the United States, the scales are tipped in our direction and people are dying in large numbers each day in New York. Even if a family member wanted to make the drive cross-country, many hotels, public bathrooms, and gas stations are closed, making it exceptionally difficult to even plan such a journey. If I were to experience severe complications, I would have to manage it alone. No one here would sacrifice their health or a loved one’s health, (if they live with others) for me. All I would have with me are those lasts–the last time I hugged my family, which happened to be at my father’s funeral over two months ago; the last time I hugged a friend, which happened to be in a tango embrace 35 days ago; the last time I kissed, the way our tongues danced playfully between our lips; the last time I held a lover’s hand, which took me many years to let go; the last time someone stood in front of me, inside that 6-foot barricade, and inhaled my breath without fear or hesitation.
Although living alone could result in a pretty depressing outcome if I were to contract COVID-19, ironically, living alone will more than likely save me because there is one less person in my life to transmit the virus. In a large quarantined family, on the other hand, a group is only as strong as its weakest link. It only takes one person to forget to wash their hands to risk exposure to the entire group. After 14 days of good health, many quarantined families across America have chosen to combine one family network with another, trusting that each member of the family adhere to all CDC protocols, including bored teenagers and toddlers who somehow find a way to sneeze all over their face and everyone else in their trajectory. It is during this reshuffling of quarantined families and social networks across America when we learn the hard truth. Am I a threat or am I family? Can we trust each other? After 35 days, living nearby several dear friends, the answer has been a resounding No.
Last week, I texted my sister, who also lives alone, “I just want you to know, if you contract COVID-19 and need my help, I’m going to drive across country to take care of you ❤️❤️❤️” She wept.