This pandemic has held a number of horrible surprises. Two of them came the day my parents got carried off to the ER.
The first was the profound loneliness that set in once they were loaded up and gone. “So this is what it’d feel like,” I thought. My mind rushed to the worst possible reality.
The second surprise came around midnight. My father had dramatically left the hospital in the middle of the night, before he could receive care. He sat in the living room, dejected and weak, filled to the brim with misplaced pride about his decision. I couldn’t believe he could be so reckless. I stood over him and shouted, “You’re 67 and I’m 22 yet I’m the one acting like an adult!”
Those two surprises probably best capture the extremes to which I’ve been driven. Unfortunately, the international crisis has brought forth a number of personal crises, you see. It’s been a cruel few months, but I’ve done it: I’ve settled into “the new normal.” And it fucking sucks.
As is probably clear, the present situation hasn’t just been harrowing, it’s been deeply traumatic. If I’m not swinging between profound anger or sorrow, I’m wracked with some kind of anxiety, which has now grown beyond assignments I might’ve missed into a semester from hell gone down the drain.
There’s also plenty of fear and reproach to go around now too. I’ve only recently emerged from my hovel (read: bedroom) for longer than a trip to the bathroom or kitchen. I don’t sit on my couches, which became my parents’ beds. Typing this story up at my dinner table by the window is the closest I regularly come to the outside besides receiving takeout deliveries.
Perhaps more tragically, while my parents have bounced back from the coronavirus AND pneumonia, I’ve barely touched or interacted with them. I had pangs of guilt as my mom tried to hug me on my birthday, and my deep fear and mistrust of people kept me from reciprocating.
Although New York has been “on pause,” it doesn’t feel like life has actually slowed down one bit. As a matter of fact, it feels like this pandemic has only made everything happen to me at once.
It’s exhausted me to no end. I’m tired and my body doesn’t let me get the sleep I used to. It’s getting better, but it hasn’t been the same in a long while.
I feel physiologically different. At this point I don’t know what it is: that I might have the virus, like my parents’ doctor told us, or that I’ve been utterly done in by this whole experience.
On May 7, I tried normal. I finally showered, changed into clothes that left me looking presentable and decent, and took a walk. It was the first time I had left the house recreationally since March.
It felt nice. It was nice to feel the air blow my flannel back, the sun baking my nappy afro, or even to just feel jeans on my legs and Vans on my feet.
But as my jaunt stretched into a trek to the far side of the neighborhood, I stepped foot in a park filled to the brim with people barely observing what had become commonplace in my living nightmare. People were either right up on each other or, even more flippantly, abstaining from wearing masks.
I was mortified that anyone could possibly act like nothing happened. Even if they didn’t know it, it felt like a slap in my face that I nearly watched my parents wither away for these people to just pretend things were fine.
I remembered that last weekend before everything closed down, how everyone went out to a restaurant, a bar, a club. I thought about the sacrifices that could’ve been made for the wellbeing of everyone. I remembered that they weren’t made then, and that apparently, they weren’t being made now.
Then I realized it, the final, cruelest surprise: the “new normal” is in my head. We haven’t changed a bit.