Day 12: Stiff Drink

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Last night, the five of us logged onto the ultimate Zoom call — 54 members of my husband’s sprawling, mutually-devoted Irish-Catholic clan, crowded onto the screen. We usually only see this group once every other year at Thanksgiving in Scranton, Pa., where the original six siblings of my mother-in-law’s generation grew up (though many of them also get together each summer on Cape Cod).

At times on the call, the cacophony grew so acute that our moderator — clear-minded Priscilla — broke us up into separate “group rooms.” Who knew you could even do that? We were in Boston, and Philadelphia, and a phone-in from a cabin in West Virginia where there is no WiFi, and Chatham, N.J., and the Jersey Shore, and Greenwich, Conn., and Lancaster, Penn., and Aspen, Colo., and Syracuse, N.Y., and Seneca Falls, N.Y., and Mar Vista and West LA and Torrance and Santa Clarita.

I learned that all the liquor stores are closed in Pennsylvania but beer and wine can be found at Whole Foods; that you cannot drive from your Pennsylvania home into Delaware to get said liquor, because you will be turned around at the state border; that here in West LA, vermouth is still on the shelves at the City Target at the corner of Santa Monica and Westgate; and that certain brands of beer have stopped production altogether, which admittedly is ironic in the age of coronavirus.

(I learned many other things besides, including that all 50-plus relatives are healthy and relatively happy, given the circumstances, which is the most important thing of all).

These are tough times, and if alcohol didn’t give me migraines, I’d be joining my friend Susan in figuring out, finally, how to make a proper martini. Marijuana, my balm in college, started giving me coughing fits just about the time it became legal in California.

So stone cold sober, I confront the news. The head of the English government is in the ICU. U.S. health officials say this week will be our Pearl Harbor of death and disease. The City of Los Angeles just begged residents to simply stay home. Even avoiding the grocery store, officials say, would be a good idea if you can manage it.

For weeks, I jolted awake at 5 a.m., unable to fall back asleep. That was particularly annoying when I was sick and trying to get better. Now, I can usually manage to sleep until 6:30 a.m., which is a far more humane hour.

My anxiety, instead, has taken a new form. I’ll be talking about disease symptoms, or even watching a show on TV where death comes up in the plot. Suddenly, I have to cough. My breath feels somehow limited. Maybe I’m nauseous. I panic. It’s back! Or, it never arrived in the first place, but it’s here now!

And then I go, Oh. Right. Vivid imagination.

I roll my eyes at myself.

Today, my husband called me from the hospital. I was in the dining room, working on an article, reluctant to pull away and break the concentration that is particularly hard-won these days. But when I heard the tightness in his voice, I turned away from the computer. A patient coded, he said, and it was only afterward that they realized he might have had COVID-19. They weren’t wearing proper protective gear, because they didn’t know, until later.

What do you say to that?

I said, “You know, I think the virus has already been through our house, and you had it but were asymptomatic. I’m think you’re fine. You’re going to be fine.”

I must not have sounded that calm, though, because when I hung up, my oldest son, who was eating a bagel in the kitchen nearby, looked up and asked me, “Does Dad have it?”

So casual, like it might be a baseball he caught at the kind of game none of us attend anymore.

“No,” I said. “He had a patient who might have the virus who coded, and he wasn’t wearing PPE.”

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”

It seemed like an inadequately dramatic response. But these are times we live in, it was too early in the day for a stiff drink, and anyhow, as far as alcohol is concerned, I’m the state of Pennsylvania in permanent, reluctant lockdown.

My son returned to his bagel and the Netflix show on his iPad. I swiveled my attention back to my computer and peered at the words on the screen. I tried to remember what I’d been thinking when the call came in and for a moment, the world shifted.

A minute passed. Two. Then I started typing again.

Featured photo credit today to @uttaranatarajan, who is using her COVID-19 downtime in the most productive way I can imagine, recreating art masterpieces with her cat and other reluctant household items. Cat -- he of the truly nine lives -- is Mauricio. 

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