I shouldn’t be reluctant to say it, but I am. I’m having a hard time with all this… This what, really? The tiny little virus that dropped unthinkingly into the human world has created so many waves I don’t even know where to start.
One of my problems is simple fear — that the Girl or I will get sick, and die, or just be really disabled. Ana had the flu two years ago and it took her months to recover. And COVID-19 is so bad it shouldn’t even be compared to the flu. In the worst cases it touches every part of your body with symptoms ranging from the terrifying to the ridiculous, destroying up your lungs, interfering with blood clotting so maybe you get a stroke, or dementia. Then there’s the loss of smell, a weird rash on your toes, like a kind of taunt.
What’s really messing with my head though, is the growing sense I live in an alternative reality. That I’m nuts.
The sensation’s not new. Really pay attention to the world for long periods of time, you see all these layers of things that nobody else wants to, either because it’s depressing or infuriating. So mostly you end up shutting your inconvenient trap, and, eventually, your eyes, if you want to stay sane. But right now I can’t. And I want to scream like Cassandra when I go out into the streets where maybe only 20 percent of the people are wearing masks, and I can practically see the web between them, how even one infected person will touch him and him and him and her and her and them. Who will in turn contaminate others in a vast cascade until, failing a miracle, the city, still in the throes of a massive epidemic, is hit by a virulent second wave.
Nobody else seems to care. The sun is shining. The cafés will open soon. Coming back inside today, a barefaced guy from upstairs that I hadn’t seen for months asked how I was doing as I hustled past. And when I just shrugged, he smiled reassuringly, “It will be over soon. Don’t you think so?” he pressed. “Maybe another six months at most?”
I shrugged some more, “Nothing will change until we get a vaccine. And six months would be pretty quick.”
“Yeah, production issues,” he acknowledged. “But still.”
He smiled some more, and we both moved off, me in my mask, him with his entire face on display complete with lips and nose that I have lost. I spent the next half hour enumerating to myself all the impediments to an effective vaccine and herd immunity, among them the strength of the anti-vaxxer movement, which is almost as big in France as in the US, and why so many people here die preventably every year from the garden variety flu.
So, yeah, I have the occasional panic attack sometime around 4 a.m. Not bad enough to get excited about. Just a pounding heart, that sense of unreality, the same impending doom as when I was afraid Trump would be elected, plus the faint soupçon of the shame you get from living in a female body carrying its unwritten sign declaring, “feeble-minded, worrywart, girl.”
Which is probably my reputation in the building, when, after watching the body count mount in Italy, but before the lockdown started in France, I had the gall to write the co-op board and express concern that it might be dangerous for the doctor on the first floor to use our common hallway stairway landing as an extension of his waiting room, forcing all of us to run the gauntlet of six or seven, coughing sweating people, hanging out while they waited for him to open his doors.
Only one person from the board ever got back to me — two weeks later — a woman basically telling me to trust the good doc. Didn’t I know how eminent he was? Didn’t I see him on the telly? He himself was so generous and thoughtful and kind that when somebody ratted me out, he took the time to call my voicemail and inform me that I was absolutely despicable, before suggesting I was not only hysterical, but xenophobic and a germaphobe.
He was right of course. Men always are. Thanks to my uterus, I do feel hysterical and germaphobic every time I go out and see all those people chatting in Covidean clusters. I also admit to a growing fear of all those people foreign to me, in this foreign country, like that bull’s-pizzle of a doctor who is going to get us all killed. I am even despicable, sometimes imagining when I see his open door, of pushing him down the stairs, though it won’t do much harm, him being invulnerable, as it seems so many are.