Warning: Anti-Asian racism. Some strong language.
Diary entry: December 23, 2019: At Kirk’s cabin in North Carolina. I think Alex takes after my brother. They’re both wiry but my mother disagrees. She thinks he looks like my grandmother. Anyway, Alex made me coffee. It’s bitter but I drink it anyway. Kirk’s in-laws are here with their grandkids and everyone’s talking. Outside the trees are bare, branches like veins against a gray sky. I’m just thinking of a poem when Carol says something about a new virus in China. I was about to say hopefully it doesn’t come here but Maddie jumped into my lap. Her long hair brushes against my face.
“Watch my coffee!” I say.
Maddie ignores me. “Aunt Michele, there are deer outside! Come look.”
February 20, 2020. Diary entry: Some scout moms aren't going to the St. Lucie County Fair. They're worried about the Covid. We went, and Alex bought a weird anime mask. It's made of cloth and plastic. The bottom part looks like a skull's jaw and it lights up when he speaks. Well, it's his money. We went on the Ferris wheel and ate arepas. Nice night.
March 1, 2020 News report: Florida becomes the tenth state to confirm its first COVID-19 cases: one in Manatee County, and one in Hillsborough County with a woman who had recently returned from Italy.
Text to Andrew, March 9, 2020: Grandma is crazy. Everyone's freaking out and she says buy my couch now. Says there'll be good sales! I hope college is going well for you. Love Mom
Email: March 13, 2020
Hi Mom the kids seem to be handling everything well, thanks for asking. Yes, they’ve canceled all the scout activities. They extended Alex's spring break and Drew’s college went online. People still need prosthetics and braces, so we're essential. Beaches are closed but we've been able to rent kayaks. We went to one of the spoil islands in the inlet. Saw a manatee and a stingray. Are the city docks open in Palatka?
Funny that you mention the shortages. You know what I can't find at Publix? Garlic! I mentioned this to my boss. He reached into a pocket and handed me a clove. He said. “I’ll get you more.” You might ask why he's carrying it. Apparently, it wards off the evil eye. I’ll admit I have some in my pocket now.
We need all the help we can get.
I bought a light-up mask like Alex's and I wear it to work. The children like it. Anything to make them more comfortable. I put a coffee filter into it for more protection.
Alex said people at his high school were scared. "Even if they have junior prom," he said, "a lot of people aren't going."
“I don’t see panicking,” I answered. “This isn’t polio. We’re not going to be paralyzed and end up in an iron lung.”
"An iron lung?" he answered. "I don't think one can put that in a person, Mom."
I hope you got a laugh out of this. Love Michele
Email March 25, 2020: Dear Mom. I’m sorry we weren't able to see you but we had to get Drew out of the dorms. He asked his roommate for a ride at least to Melbourne, but Todd didn't have room in his car. Plus his mom didn't want him driving with another kid. Like they haven't been sharing a room the size of my big toenail but whatever. Yes I know Dad could've gone but the last thing he needs is to get sick. I do appreciate you offering a room but I don't know how long the dorms will be closed. Tell you what the place was a tomb. Our voices echoed like it was an old cathedral, not a modern building. All that remained was the undead guardian at the front desk. Okay, it was a bored student in a cloth mask but he didn't look too lively to tell the truth.
I'm tired too.
Anyway, We loaded up Drew’s stuff in the car. He left the refrigerator and hopefully, no one steals it. On the way out we stopped at a Taco Hell. Of course, only the drive-through was open. As I pulled in, a homeless guy walked up and asked for money. He was pale and smelled like stale beer. His eyes were red and he had tangled black dreads. I told him if he was hungry I’d buy him a taco. He cursed at me and stomped off.
Some things never change in good old Jacksonville.
I watched him cross the parking lot to Freddie's Diner. He began searching the trash bin for cans I assume. I didn't think he'd bother us so we sat in the car and ate our food. At least the kids did. I decided to sit in the grass.
Bad idea. I stepped right into a fire ant hill. And of course, they swarmed me. I danced around cursing. Someone laughed from the empty lot next door. I ripped my shoes off, flung them at the car, then poured my soda on my feet. I wanted to cry-well never mind, we won’t go there. Anyway, I grabbed the wrappers, threw them into a garbage can, and stomped back to the car. Alex saw me and got out, glaring at the homeless guy. The man continued laughing.
"Deserved," he called to me.
"Hey, you-" Alex began but I pulled him away.
"Forget it," I said. "It's not worth it. Let's go. I’ll get something to drink from the gas station down the street.”
“Let me drive home, Mom,” Drew said, taking the keys from me.
Anyway, we made it home alive and tomorrow is a new day. Love Michele
Email to Dad: April 2, 2020:
Hi Dad, See what you think of this poem. If I win I’ll get 100 dollars, although I’ll just be happy to see it printed. How are your students doing? Zoom sucks I'm sure. Love Michele.
I should have known, I should have
when I had to take that thyroid
medicine. Get it fixed.
It will be all right nothing to it
or was there?
I should have known,
the day my children’s
father died (Not even
It was just an inkling
Nothing I couldn’t handle
See a doctor, change my diet
(take these stupid pills) fix my
We’re fine, we’re fine.
Even as another uncle died young.
(It only happens to other people.)
Climate change, the Amazon is
Burning. I donate every month.
A light at the end of the tunnel
I see it bright and glowing.
I should have known what that was.
Someone ate a bat in China or maybe
they just sold it and
Now I sit at home and play
My oldest is home from college.
And my hands itch.
The alcohol on them, I guess.
I drink it, I wash in it.
(Liquor stores are considered
essential, are they not?)
We can’t stay away from alcohol.
Three million unemployed.
One of our workers laid off
I may be next if
We have to shelter.
I'm carrying garlic.
It wards off the evil eye.
Superstition fighting an illusion.
My youngest sneezes and sneezes.
“It must be the cat, she’s shedding.”
But I know now the light
in that tunnel might
be an oncoming train.
On social media (it’s all I have left.)
I do not know what is true or not.
But I can’t stand to look.
I should have known, I should have
Known my security
My sons' very health and
Mine might be illusions.
Or they’re real.
And illusions shatter.
Then there's another.
I no longer know reality.
I no longer can tell
what is illusion anymore.
Yeah it’s sad, what else is new? Love Michele
Email April 7, 2020: Dear Mom and Dad: It’s all the Democrats' fault. They’re inflating the number of Covid cases because they don’t want to see Trump re-elected.
At least that’s what my patient says.
I asked her if she really thinks anyone wants to shut the economy down and go broke just because they think our president is a tad useless.
“They'll do anything,” she said.
One thing that's useless is arguing with people. I shrugged and got on with measuring her for her back brace.
At least she wasn’t as bad as the man who came in. He was a Korean War vet with a fractured wrist and a bone to pick. Many of the veterans do and who can blame them? They're dealing with a society that just doesn't understand. Anyway, I asked him how he was managing in these trying times. He said something about his wife having Covid but was doing better now. To be honest, I was distracted. I wanted to make certain my measurements were correct, so I was only half listening to him. His next words changed all that.
“It’s the Chinese,” he said. “They caused this virus. They wanted to hurt us.”
I stopped charting and stared at this man sitting in my chair. He was as thin as Alex, with gray thinning shoulder-length hair, worn jeans, and black sneakers. He could be anyone’s grandfather, except for what he just said. I asked him to repeat himself.
“You heard me,” he said, leaning back. “And it’s true.”
I’ve said it’s useless arguing but sometimes one has to try. Especially these days. There’s a plague out that's many times worse than Covid; something that no PPE can protect against. I call it Stupifear. It's fear mixed with fake news. This disorder makes people stupid and nothing can stop it. But I was going to try. I put down my measuring tape, rubbed my eyes, and sighed.
“Think about this,” I said. “Why would they hurt their own people? Their own economy? In fact,” I shook my head. “If I was going to release a virus I’d drop it anywhere else than my own country.”
I’ve learned you can’t use logic with people.
The man leaned forward as if I had to understand. “I’ve seen things in that war.”
“They used their own people,” he said in his raspy voice. "As targets. In order to trap us." The man shook his head as if to dislodge a long-ago memory. His breath was heavy with tobacco. "They didn't care who died. And they don't care now.”
“That sounds horrible,” I said, because what the hell else could I do? I’d like to say I told him to get out, that I was angry and outraged. But I didn’t and I wasn’t. I just felt very sad. Sad that a war from sixty-plus years ago had stuck its claws into a man’s heart and had scarred it so very deeply that he saw evil from simple natural causes. And such a wound would never heal. Or worse, he couldn’t let that hatred go. None of this was an excuse. I knew that. But I felt helpless to change his mind. I didn't even know how.
I’m stopping at the bar next to my office tonight for happy hour. I need a drink.
Email: June 10, 2020: Hi Mom, well you said we all have a straw that will break us. Apparently, mine are goddamned summer activities. Or lack thereof. Yep, the BSA council canceled Alex's scout camp. Because there’s an outbreak in Miami Dade County. They couldn’t take the risk. He was upset of course, but in the end, shrugged it off.
I didn't take it well.
My boss told me that there were worse things. And he's right. Take Sara’s mother who died from Covid. I think I mentioned it, didn’t I? And what did our meetup group do, you ask? I’ll tell you. We drove past her house in our stupid cars and waved at her. Watch her cry as fifteen of us went by on a day that had no business being this sunny. It should have rained. Hell, the heavens should’ve opened with tears.
It didn’t. If any angels wept I know nothing about it.
End of April my friend David’s wife broke her hip. I told you about that also. I just didn’t mention that he cried because he couldn’t see her in the hospital. The kayaking group comforted him via Zoom and hoped it would be enough. Because he’s got cancer and quarantined himself. And I held up. I took the boys to Walmart along with half of the city just to do something. We hiked in the woods until we knew them by heart; until the beaches reopened.
Who the hell closes the beaches and leaves Walmart open anyway? We're packed in there like sardines because there's no place else to go. How much worse can it be?
Sometimes I wonder if DeSantis knows his ass from his-well never mind.
When I heard about the camp, I started crying. Drew saw me and ran into his bedroom. I shouted coward at his closed door.
He didn't respond. Honestly, I can't blame him.
Alex said it wasn't a big deal, but I couldn't stop crying. I locked my bedroom door and texted my friend Sharon. I told her all I had wanted was something normal for Alex. Then apologized. I wrote I’m such an idiot. People are crippled by this. Crippled. We haven't gotten sick at all. I should be counting my lucky stars, not whining.
It’s okay to cry, Sharon wrote back. We’re all under a lot of stress.
That’s definitely the word for this.
Well, no need to worry. We’re all fine, really. I’m working. Drew is doing well in his classes and teaching on Zoom. Alex passed his junior year at least. We might even get another stimulus soon. And I have tequila at home.
We’ll all be okay.
Email to Mom September 9, 2020:
Hi Mom and Dad: Which odds would you gamble? Long Covid or Long mental illness?
Which one if both can cripple you?
Alex has to go back to school. Virtual isn't cutting it. I'll take my chances. He isn't showering. He wears the same clothes for days on end. He sleeps half the day and is up all night.
Brain fog via Covid? Try brain fog via depression.
Well, Alex agreed to go back so hopefully it will help. And he has scouts again. He's got an extension for his Eagle rank. He's working on it.
Drew settled fine in the dorms. But funny you say he doesn't email you; he texts me almost every day. Mostly it's to ask silly questions. "What's my social security number?" Like I didn't give him his card before he left. Drew also said the dorms had special rooms if he got sick.
"Isolation rooms," I answered. "That's good."
"Yeah," he replied. "Except they probably drag you off and you're never seen again."
Use humor when all else fails, I suppose.
Anyway, I'm glad you're getting to see your friends again. Maybe we’ll get to see you for Thanksgiving this year. Love Michele.
Diary entry, November 30, 2020
Funny how seeing family for Thanksgiving feels reckless. Fauci wouldn't approve.
What does he know? Anyway, we all took Covid tests so it's all right.
We stayed at a resort in Orlando. Even more reckless but in for a penny and all that. Kirk came with Carol and Maddie. They were kind enough to pick up Drew on their way from North Carolina. We took Maddie to Disney Springs. It’s all outdoors so we figured it would be all right. There were lines to get into many of the stores; Disney was limiting the number of people inside. Of course, we had to wear masks and get our temperatures taken. But at least we were together.
Email to Mom, December 20, 2020: We’re looking forward to seeing you for Christmas. We’re going to pick up Drew and then stop in St Augustine to see the lights before we come into Palatka. See you soon. By the way, wanted to let you know Alex is planning his Eagle project. He's going to do a couple of new signs for the county parks. So he's doing better. Love Michele.
Diary entry: December 26, 2020
St. Augustine was crowded like everyone was sick of quarantine. Like if hell came for them so be it. But the lights on the trees were beautiful. Like strings of tiny stars stretched across the park. The bridges are bright pathways across the bay to the ocean. It was cold for Florida. I hoped it would be like the book The Plague by Camus where the cold signals the end to their disease. Unfortunately, Fauci says winter is the worse for Covid because everyone’s inside. Not tonight though.
Tonight we’re all tired of four walls.
Diary entry: January 5th, 2021: One of the women from our meetup group died today. She'd been in the hospital and they think she caught Covid from there. They had just gotten her off the ventilator. I didn't know her well, but she'll be missed. Her husband held a memorial service for her and I went.
Where are the vaccines, Dr Fauci?
Email to Mom: February 20, 2021:
Hi Mom I’m writing this while I wait in line at the fairgrounds. Today they’re vaccinating the health care workers, so here I am waiting in my car at 7:00 am. I wanted to get here early and I’m not the only one. There must be sixty cars here at least if not more. After this, I'll take Alex to his friend's house. They haven't seen each other in a while.
I wonder if I'll be getting the Covid vaccine every year now like we do with the flu. We'll see I guess.