The Weight of a Pandemic

I haven’t hugged my mom since March. I haven’t seen my best friends in the same amount of time. We had to put our family dog down a couple of weeks ago, and every single thing that happens during this cataclysmic time feels so incredibly heavy.

For someone prone to over-the-top emotions in a regular world, pandemic life is excruciating. Some of you feel it, too, don’t you? I know you do. There are those out there who are far more empathic than I. I don’t know how you’re surviving it, really. The day to day to endless day.

Every hour, every minute can be a battle of epic proportions.

The best thing that’s happened to me in 2020 is the fabulous new job I have, the work, the colleagues. It gives shape and meaning to days that would otherwise be as formless as the ocean, drifting in and out, in and out. But I’m making substantially less money than I was before, so the trade off is the financial shifting sand I feel beneath my feet–the everyday decisions that feel scary at best, apocalyptic at worst. Do I sell the car I bought in better times that I can barely afford now? Will I be upside down in my loans for the rest of my life? Will a less expensive apartment that feels substantially less safe for me personally (will I get used to falling asleep to the sound of gunshots?) give me relief or added stress? Will I ever be able to pay off the medical bills I accrued while I was out of work and in the hospital? And the kids’ student loans? I can’t even think about those.

Sometimes it’s easier not to think. And those times when I choose to find pleasure in something that doesn’t require more thought than which bowl and glass to choose are too often filled with ice cream. And wine. And more ice cream. With a wine chaser.

I am anxious, then angry, then exhausted, then bone-deep sad, then a glimmer of joy, then pulled under an invisible weighted blanket with no air pockets. It’s a feeling du jour.. a feeling du hour, du second. It’s a buffet of emotions, a roller coaster ride of imbalance.

When I curled up beside Lucy on the vet’s cold, dirty floor, I couldn’t stop crying. Sobbing, really. My mask was full of snot and tears and sadness. That sweet, stinky 13-year-old girl looked at me with confusion and age and a little bit of unease, and all I could see was the one remaining remnant of our lives as a family of six. The last letting go. The final goodbye. All locked in that dumb dog’s brown eyes, the ones that convinced me to take her home for George 13 long and short years ago.

Last night, I watched The Walking Dead episode when Carl died. Spoiler alert: Carl dies. Everyone dies. Don’t get attached. The show is nothing but death. But it is also filled with lessons about life. You think the zombies are the enemy, but they’re really not. It’s the humans. The people. The egos. Men and women fighting men and women over food and shelter and guns. And they all think they’re right, they’re all convinced they have The Answer. I know it’s just a show, but it represents so much about life. I could not control myself through the entire episode of watching young Carl die, hearing him plead with his father to find a different way, to make peace instead of war. I sobbed the entire hour, embarrassed that a TV show could bring me to my knees so completely. But it wasn’t just a TV show. It was humanity. It was Trump and his division. It was ego against ego. It was those who died as casualties of the same meaningless war, all believing they were the ones who deserved to win, to live, because they knew the Ultimate Truth. It was exhausting.

I feel as if I might not even make it until November 3. And then what? If and when that horrible, divisive excuse for a human loses the election, we still have so much healing to do as a country, as humans, as friends, as family. I’ve tried so hard to understand the other side, but I can’t. I can’t. I’m an empathetic, open, reasonable person, and I simply can’t. And I can’t even pretend to try any more. If you can continue to support a man who mocks the disabled, demonizes those of different colors and nationalities, strips away the rights of minorities simply because he can, encourages white supremacist uprisings, and holds a Bible as a prop after he’s tear-gassed protesters to walk to a church photo-op, then you and I have far too much space between us. I am unwilling to meet you in the middle. Not now. Not for a very long time. Not until I can see and hear and feel your humanity again. And right now, I can’t listen. I won’t. With almost 220,000 Americans dead because of his inaction and division, your voice is not one I can choose to listen to. It’s about surviving, and my life boat is sinking fast.

I used to love this line in the Avett Brothers’s song, Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise:

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

Only recently did I realize how borne out of privilege those lyrics are. Because marginalized lives do “change by the man that’s elected.” If your life has never changed because of an election, you’re lucky. You’re one of the chosen few the system has been established to protect and reward. So many others did not win the same life lottery.

I realized today that although life always has its ebbs and flows and its ups and downs, this pandemic, this isolation, this division is so very different. Why? For reasons too vast to count, I’m sure. But for me, it’s this: There is no counter-balance. When you have to put your beloved family dog down during regular life, there are friends to hold and comfort you and talk and remember with you after. But when you have to put your beloved family dog down during a pandemic, it’s just you alone with your thoughts and feelings, second guessing every life decision you’ve ever made that led to those beautiful, chocolate-brown eyes slowly closing in front of you as you sob on the floor alone, as you watch the final rise and fall of her chest.

We are all sobbing on the floor alone. Collectively. Is there some comfort in that? Not for me. I want to comfort, and I want to be comforted. I want to hug my loves, and I want to be hugged by my loves. I want to hold my mom’s paper-skinned hand, not shout at her through a protective window.

I want life back again.

And that life is still so very far away.

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