Covid. Round two. It’s surprisingly similar to round one that I had almost exactly a year ago. Last year two days after my return from Key West in late Jan., I tested positive. This year, two days before I was supposed to go to Key West, I tested positive. Key West in January may be off the table for me – at least until next winter when I’ve forgotten about my Key West/covid connection. I had a hunch I’d see the two pink lines, but remained hopeful. I had just come from Portland where I helped with my son, Thomas, daughter-in-law, Brooke, and two granddaughters, under the age of three, make their move from Boulder. Two days into the trip, sickness started spreading through the group, starting with Brooke, then the girls, and finally Thomas. I felt fine throughout, cautiously nervous, but fine. As was predicted by the medical community, this winter has become a rough one for families with kids because of weakened immune systems – a result of two years of social distancing and masking. Kids need germs to strengthen their immune systems, their parents too for that matter, which they are now getting with every cough, sneeze and fever their kids are gifting. I was surprised when Brooke brought the covid tests out, I’m not sure why, but it felt like it had been so long since we were getting the boxes of two tests out and reading yet another set of instructions because none of them are the same. But she was smart to do so and neither she nor my son were surprised with the two pink lines showed up immediately on their tests. Thomas told me to “save myself” and suggested that I might want to quarantine in my room at our Airbnb for the remainder of my stay. It was good advice because I had a trip to Key West booked five days after my return to Boulder. Knowing that there was a three year-old and a six month-old in the room, who both stretched the limits of cuteness, made quarantining in my room, even if only for a few hours before bed and another few in the morning before my exit, very difficult. At that point, while trying to do my best to not catch the covid germs that were permeating the rooms of our airbnb, I hadn’t thought ahead to the next morning when long hugs with tears because my kids and their kids would now be living in Portland and not down the street from me in Boulder, would not be an option. Waves at a distance would be the stand-in goodbye. I also wouldn’t be giving hugs to the person who would be driving me to the airport because it wasn’t my son, but rather an anonymous Uber driver and having the masked woman in the back seat reach forward for a goodbye hug, would have just been awkward. Instead, I would catch the middle-aged Uber driver glance back at the me as I sobbed all the way to the airport. I think he wanted to ask me if I was OK, but also didn’t want to intrude on my privacy. I’m sure he’s seen it before. Airport runs usually follow tearful goodbyes. It was painful. So painful. Thankfully my mask muffled the sobs.
Once checked in and settled in at my gate with lots of time to spare, because unless I’m at least an hour early, I’m late, I realized that maybe, just maybe, not being able to hug goodbye had been a blessing. How do I hug a three year-old who knows I’m leaving but can’t fully understand what that leaving and moving to another state really means? The same three year-old who now refers to her dad when she’s around me as “your son” as in “do you want to sit by your son at dinner?” also told me that she loved being my “neighbor” and we will still have lots of play dates even though she wouldn’t be living in Boulder. I agreed, then added I would need a little more time to plan those play dates. How would I have kept that hug, like all the rest of the rest of our hugs, happy and affectionate, while trying desperately to not show my sadness? Hugs don’t come with tears after all, or at least not when you’re three. At that point, my mind was still swirling around departures and my sadness of leaving. Meanwhile, covid was sitting by patiently, waiting on the bench to be called into play.
I got home in the evening and did as I always do when I get home from traveling late in the day. I left my suitcase in my front room, where I’d unpack it the next day, taking the dirty clothes downstairs and the remainder upstairs, where I’d finish unpacking and begin my repack for my upcoming trip to Key West. I’m never in a rush on the unpacking. It’s my way of extending my trip just a tiny bit more. Besides, I’m usually tired and my waiting suitcase always looks like a lot less work in the morning.
The next morning, for safety’s sake, I did a covid test. Holding onto the comments Thomas and Brooke had made about my strong immune system, I was proud to see a negative. And so I unpacked, and began to repack my bags for Key West, feeling relieved that I had emerged covid-free after being surrounded by it for a day, or at least that I knew of. The next day, I tested again, because I wanted to be safe. As soon as the two pink lines showed up on the test, which was pretty fast, I did the math. Then I did it again trying every which way to make it work. No matter how I counted the days, there were not enough of them for me to get to the other side of covid and still be able to make it to Key West. Even if I felt OK, I wouldn’t be safe. My head began to hurt, my body ached and I felt feverish. It was almost as if the two pink lines were the signal for the symptoms to begin. I unbooked my flight, called my sister and went back to bed. Two days of feeling like I had the flu with the addition of a headache, made for a pretty good 48 hour pity party for me. Every time I’d walk into my room, I had to walk around the already re-packed suitcase, filled with clothes I had so carefully chosen for 5 days of fun in Key West with my sister and brother-in-law. I’m still walking around that packed suitcase, on day eight and have decided to leave it packed until the day after I would have been coming home. At that point I’d be emptying it anyway.
The thing with covid that’s hard, or one of the many things I should say, is that once you start feeling better, you still have a few days left quarantining, or at least you do if you’re going to be a good person. On day seven, my daughter, Emery, and grandson, Arlo, brought me flowers and arnica oil for my wrist and just like in 2020, I stood just inside the doorway and they stood several feet away in my yard. Deja vu. I realized they were the first people I had seen in seven days. Quarantining alone is strange. How quickly I had forgotten that I had done it before. Almost three years ago and for seven weeks, not seven days. But back to the visit from my daughter and grandson…Arnica oil you may be wondering? What’s that and what’s it for and what happened to your wrist? Arnica is used to speed up healing, especially with bruises. It was an appropriate gift. The day I got back from Portland, when I was still thinking I was covid-free, I went out for a walk in my neighborhood. We had had a lot of snow that was only partially melted, leaving icy patches on the sections of the sidewalks that hadn’t originally been shoveled. I put my micro spikes on my boots in anticipation of those icy spots, but after about a mile of walking, all on dry sidewalks, I became very self-conscious by the sound my boots were making – like tap shoes on the side walk. The sound reminded me of my sisters and my leather-soled school shoes that we would attach thumb tacks to in a sad attempt at making our own tap shoes. It was a nostalgic sound that soon became annoying so I removed the micro spikes and carried them for the rest of my walk. When I was close to my house, so close I could read the numbers on my car’s license tag, I slipped on the ice and fell. Here’s the sad thing – I saw the small patch of ice and was carefully maneuvering around it when I fell. I can’t even say that I wasn’t paying attention, because I was. The fall felt like it was in slow motion and I had enough time to make a plan, which was to break it with my dominant and stronger hand – my right one. I’ve used the phrase “I don’t want to break a hip” too often in passing as an exaggerated expression for being cautious but that’s exactly what I was trying to not do – not break my hip. As soon as I was upright, which was immediately because of the humiliation of someone seeing I had fallen and would rush over to make sure I hadn’t broken a hip, I thought ahead four days and how it would be to maneuver through the airport with a hand, unfortunately my right hand, that couldn’t grip or lift. I’d manage. Then I thought about going to a quick care clinic near my house to see if my injured hand needed more than ice, like maybe a cast? Nah, I’d manage. When I got home, I applied ice, added a British crime drama to the situation, and a few hours later, went to bed. The next morning, after the two pink lines jump started my symptoms, and still with a hand that still couldn’t grip the handle of my coffee cup, I had my answer on if I should go get it X-rayed. I felt too sick to take on that task alone and now knowing I had covid, I couldn’t ask anyone to take it on with me and so I kept applying ice and crossing my fingers it wasn’t broken. My sadness had now extended into its second act with no intermission.
After a few days, I started feeling normal again, and my hand, although still sore, was getting its grip back. I was starting to feel back to normal, tired, but normal, but not done with my quarantine and still showing a positive on the test. This is the tricky part of covid – feeling ready to be back out in the world again, but if I wanted to be a decent human being, I needed to stay put. This was when the kitchen cleaning began. Actually, a deep organization is a better word because I like organizing far more than cleaning. Then the label maker came out. Now, for most, that doesn’t seem like a scary event, but when you’re a virgo, with a lot of free time on your hands and have to stay home, it can lead to a slippery slope of perfection inching its way towards obsession. By the end of the day, I had labeled each and every one of my mason jars filled with staples that line my pantry shelves and had further grouped my spices from savory and sweet into their prospective regions – Italian, Indian, Mexican and all dishes with cumin. I can do no more. My kitchen is organized to within an inch of its life. My wrist, although black and blue on one side with a slightly yellow cast on the other, is sore, but can grab a coffee mug so I’m no longer worried. My two act pity party is done. I’m bored and I’m waiting for a negative test. I’m also tired of being alone in my house, but there’s a big irony to that statement. While alone in my house and sitting in my very organized kitchen, I started researching places to rent a cabin for a week or two for a solo writing retreat. Yes, this person who is tired of being alone in her house, waiting out the clock on a covid quarantine, was researching solo getaways in a cabin in a remote place. Even though I’ve kind of just done that, and my home is my personal retreat, it’s not the same. My home beckons me to label jars and alphabetize spices and reread boxes of letters I’ve saved, instead of diving into the project at hand – writing. I still want to find that retreat, but the timing doesn’t seem quite as urgent.
This latest covid journey has been a test for me and I can’t say I’m good or confident with taking tests, but they continue to show up, regardless. It was so easy to put on the cloak of pity and wallow in the sadness of not being able to hug my kids and grandkids goodbye and having to cancel my trip to Key West, yet while in the throes of that wallowing, I heard from two different friends who were going through far more than delayed hugs and a trip to Florida. One was dealing with her mother’s final days in hospice and the other was trying to navigate her husband’s recent diagnosis of terminal cancer. Prospective. It always shows up on time and is usually bearing gifts. I still missed hugging my now Portland family goodbye and I still missed my trip to Key West, but both of these events can be done again. It’s not permanent and it’s not cancer or hospice. It’s a covid inconvenience. Does that mean I’m not sad, angry and disappointed? Of course not. I’m human. But I’ve been given the timely gift of perspective in the form of different lenses to view my situation.
It’s time to stop walking around the suitcase in my bedroom and unpack it. I’ve been reminded enough.