My luck finally ran out and I tested positive for COVID.
I hope that writing feverishly allows me to breach the wall of abstraction that has always limited my pieces. I’m pretty sure I’m not very easy to care for. My symptoms were not much worse than moderate, but the guilt I got from contracting the bug was surprisingly powerful. I don’t write this for sympathy, but as a practice to ponder this new feeling and reflect on society’s shame placed on those who’ve suffered far worse than I.
Nobody seeks out a disease. Well, perhaps the occasional masochist, but I’m not writing to accommodate such margins. I’m not quite sure which debaucherous den provided me with direct contact with the coronavirus. I had been trying to walk the fine line of safety and a return to normalcy. I rode the subway, went to the office a few days per week, and would occasionally eat inside restaurants. I maintained my mask wearing, loyal to an N-95. It’s odd that this reflection is strictly personal.
Guilt and shame and blame are the Cerbrus in my wallowing. I don’t blame the person who gave it to me as they are the innocent in this story. I own the blame and the guilt; as it was a hope for normalcy that pushed me into it. I project shame, convinced others place it on me. My wife who has to run my errands and sleep on the couch as I quarantine. My sister-in-law had to find a hotel room and change her vacation plans on her first visit since we moved to New York City. My coworkers who will receive an email Monday morning stating vaguely “an employee tested positive for COVID-19 last week who was in the office. This individual was in close contact with a very small number of folks that I will be reaching out to.” I am not new to this level of shameful projection.
It was a much more common occurrence when I lived in Alabama. As a straight-cis-white-upper-middle-class kid from the suburbs of Birmingham, I struggled with my politics and identity. The classic “white-guilt.” I am nothing, if not average. In Alabama I curated a Spotify playlist titled “Shame” to help face my bullshit. At this time I feel I’ve confused guilt and shame. I tend to view one as deeply personal, an internal trigger of wrongdoing. The other a feeling forced onto oneself without permission. I blame the fever for the inconsistent usage.
I feel both again today. I am sorry for the way my actions must have affected those around me now. No amount of wishing can change that. I’m incredibly lucky that I just have a sore throat, a fever, and this guilt (or shame?). I absolutely let this affect me worse than I should. When I was 11 I broke my wrist at summer camp. A few days later, with my arm in a sling, I tried to play basketball. My opponent took it a little too easy on me and the pity stung worse than my wrist after the fall. I punted the ball and called him a mother fucker. If it were worse, would I be worse?
I shudder at the thought (or maybe that’s the fever again). COVID didn’t go anywhere. Despite society marching on. Most of us got our shots and our boosters, some more than others. We moved on from mask mandates and quarantines. Some of us stayed in lock down and others decided to pretend it never happened. That our friends and family died of other causes. All 1.01 million of them. Courtney Marie Andrews sang “Sometimes good people draw troublesome things.” I’ve always been able to find patience for others, perhaps I owe a little to myself.