Eventually, Covid came. It came and tapped me on the shoulder. It chose me for its team, and so I obediently moved to the other side. What else could I do?
I didn’t want to. But I had known it was coming, one of these days. One of these days. Monday. So many tests over the months showed me only one line: negative. Now there were two. I rubbed my eyes. Two lines? Positive. My immediate emotions veered between self-flogging regret and shrugging acknowledgment of the inevitable. How had I been so foolish? And yet: how had I made it this far? Losing my badge of viral hygiene came with a terrible sense of loss. I was dirty. I was out of the race. I was tripped up and besmirched, unworthy to continue sprinting ahead of the billowing pestilential cloud. If you are still clean and spry, I wish you luck. Spare a thought for those of us left behind, those of us vanishing in your rear-view mirror. Godspeed!
There is a saying among soldiers that there are three stages of thinking about getting injured in battle. The first is optimistic, naive: it won’t happen to me. I feel bad for those other guys, but I’ll be fine. After a while, you reach the second, more pragmatic stage. Now you think, it won’t happen to me if I’m smart. Those other guys are idiots. They have it coming. But I’ll play it smart and be fine. But more time passes. By now you’ve see the smart and the dumb, the good and the bad, succumb all around you. You know how luck scoffs at intent. The third stage is fatalism. It’s going to happen to me. I don’t know when, and I won’t invite it. But nobody escapes.
This roughly corresponds to my thinking about Covid over the past few years. The two curves were moving in opposite directions: one curve says I must be smart and safe, and the other curve says I must live a life. After two and a half years, I must live some kind of life outside of this bunker. Where do these curves cross? At what point do you leave a gap just wide enough for the virus to get in? It doesn’t have to be big. The virus is stealthy and patient. It’s always at the door, waiting waiting. Knock knock. Anybody home?
Now I find myself on the other side of the mask. I used to wear it to keep something out. Now I wear it to keep something in. It’s the same fence, but now I’m the prisoner. Or are you the prisoner? Who has been liberated? For the next few days, I am the monster. I am the one you fear. I spew virus like dragon flame from my nostrils. Sorry! But it’s a fact. I take orders from a different boss.
How about this? I can write you a note. I did write some of these notes. It wasn’t fun. They went like this. Dear sir or madam: Sorry that I exhaled invisible putrefaction in your direction the last time we met. I was, at the time, unaware of my regrettable infestation. Perhaps, because of me, you will soon slide down to join me in this greasy pit. Just wanted to let you know. But I did say I’m sorry.
I am musing on this like I’m talking about mortality itself. I suppose that is where my thoughts wandered, but really, my case was very mild. A few days after showing symptoms, I’m already feeling almost normal. But I found it interesting to ponder the slippery psychic landscape conjured up by this endless, implacable plague. Winners and losers. Winners and losers. I was a winner, and then I lost. Now it’s time to play a different game.