I know something is wrong as soon as my mom walks into the kitchen. I gently scoop up my cat, Peaches, as a little fuzzy gift for her. "Hey!" I clear my throat, knowing that my tone is far too high-pitched to fool her.
"Hi, Alice." Her arms are wrapped around her. Mom tries to meet my eyes, but her gaze only finds the floor.
Okay, I think. So she's not going to tell me what's up.
"Is everything okay?" I transfer irritated Peaches into her arms, my head spinning with possibilities.
"Yeah. I just got off the phone with..." She sucks in a shuddering breath. "With your grandparents. They tested positive."
I am silent, careful to not frown or anything of the sort. That's her parents who've gotten Covid-19. I can't make this harder for her. I nod and hug her.
"I'm gonna go take a shower." Mom disentangles herself from my embrace, walking away numbly. I do the same, wandering into my bedroom to think.
The last time we saw them in person was my mom's birthday. That was three weeks ago, and Thanksgiving is in three days. If they only started showing symptoms nine days ago then they probably hadn't contracted it yet. My family is safe from them.
I pull out my phone and skip from app to app, looking for something to distract me. Finally, I sigh, laying my phone on my bed.
From across the house, I hear my mom talking to someone. Strange, I think. No one else is home at the minute.
I slink down the hall, her voice growing louder with every footstep until I can hear the person she's on the phone with.
"We're doing great over here," says a familiar husky voice on the other end of the line. "It's the cough that's kicking me."
"Is there anything I can do for y'all? Do you need me to cook something or drop by the grocery store?" Mom sounds unusually chipper, her tone bright with unchecked energy, but it rings false somehow.
"No, everything's great over here!" I stop in my tracks, recognizing the other person with a sinking feeling. That's Nanna! Her usually shrill voice is hoarse and laced with pain, and I can her quiet panting after every sentence.
I run around the corner sliding on my socks until I am face to face with Mom. Tears collect at the corners of her eyes.
She is heartbroken.
I remember the last time I've seen them. Mom looked her happiest in months as her parents sat in outdoor chairs in our backyard. We chattered for a while and ate the Jim 'N Nick's chicken they'd picked up on their way to our house.
I don't recall how we stumbled upon the topic, but we began talking about something serious.
"I just don't get it," Pop said in that gravelly voice of his. "Why would some people hide their problems from their family?"
My mom shook her head, watching her hands. I spoke for her, my gaze never leaving my mom's expression. "I guess they don't want them to worry."
Gradually, the conversation moved on, but my mom and I had been shocked by their lack of self-awareness. While we never would say it to their faces, we both knew them to be guilty of the action they'd convicted.
A few days pass, and a somber tone settles over my family. My brothers, Owen and Caleb, binge a TV series on Netflix, and Dad scrolls through online articles with a distinct frown while Mom labors over a feast that will only be eaten by the four of us. I watch all of it happen, drifting between family members like an asteroid pulled into orbit.
Their mood drains my already dismal one, so I try to sit down by myself from time to time. I curl up with a favorite book, but I can't think of anything but the depressing ending. I sit down at my laptop to do something, anything, but my fingers only tremble on the keys.
I feel like I'm caught in a whirlpool, fighting to keep my head above the water until someone saves me, but all I can do is watch other people struggle to save themselves.
Drowning is a terribly peaceful thing, I've discovered. Your mind grows foggy until you forget you need to breathe. The water is quiet, and gravity doesn't matter so much.
I hate peace.
I despise how everyone is seemingly okay with the imminent loss of my grandparents, how we can't do anything but wait for them to...to...
I'm not crying, you're crying! I smile weakly at the odd memory, wiping my eyes. I used to humorously say to my friends, "I'm not crazy, you're crazy!" The statement never failed to draw more strange glances than whatever peculiar thing I was doing beforehand. I'm not sure I like this new take on the old joke.
I'm not sure if I like the way the new thought makes the cheery memory blurred with sorrow.
I'm not sure if I'm okay.
Thanksgiving day rolls around, and I'm not feeling particularly thankful about anything in 2020.
My grandparents have the coronavirus and are lying about how it's affecting them. I've drifted apart from my friends because I'm doing virtual school and they're not. People I've always respected are making unwise decisions and being reckless. My grandparents made unwise decisions and it's costing them their lives. I'm not going to see them again.
Come lunchtime, I realize that Mom set up a tablet on the dining room table so that our family could have a virtual reunion. I don't know how to feel about this. I want to see my grandparents one last time, to remember how they smile and the way they laugh, but I don't want to remember them this way.
I'm starving by the time a plate is set before me. Extended family drop into the Zoom call and are greeted by my enthusiastic mom in a glitchy chorus. Yet you can tell everyone is dreading the time when my grandparents join the call. We all yearn for the waiting to end but fear what might become of it.
I nibble a slice of turkey, and I can't tell if it's the food or the apprehension making my mouth dry.
At last, a little alert says, "Pop and Nanna have joined the meeting." All clattering utensils fall silent and all attention is directed to the tiny screen.
I lean in, flipping through a live feed of family members doing the same as me. I catch sight of a little black rectangle with their names in white print. No live video feed.
Everyone cries out, "Hey!" and, "How are y'all doing?" After a long pause, my grandparent's voices, entirely unfamiliar to me, crackle to life.
"Hey, y'all! Sorry, we're late."
I shift my chair so I linger out of sight. My blank expression fixates on the smear of cranberry sauce. The little glisten on it from the bright lights enlarges into a blinding glow until the tears are blinked onto the plate. Then the cycle repeats itself.
Mom doesn't comment, and neither does anyone else at the table.
A minute passes like this before I silently leave. My feet carry me onto the front porch where I sit.
It's raining, but I don't mind the wet. The grey chill sinks into my skin, and the brick steps bite my legs.
I don't know what exactly brought me out here. Perhaps it was the regret that I might never see my grandparents again, or was that feeling relief?
Barefoot, I walk into the icy drizzle. I will the drops to come down harder, faster, stronger. I want to be drenched.
The light rain doesn't change its steady tempo because the world won't change for me.
I stand there, in the grey, dismal, heartless world, and feel a heartbeat. It's mine, and it doesn't plan on stopping. This cruel life will go on, but so will love and family and laughter.
When I go inside, I am not happy. I am not ready or prepared. But I know I can preserve for the people I cherish. Things aren’t okay, but I’m going to be okay with that.