Quarantine - The First Few Weeks, by JEN

The day before Day 1 — my last day of work. The restaurant has been surprisingly busy considering we are on the verge of a pandemic. Most people just don’t care. As long as it doesn’t affect their lives — as long as they can still get their morning latte and their “pain chocolate” they are good. I hear a few of them talk about how everyone is just being dramatic. It’s just like the flu. Anyway, it only affects old people. For the last few weeks the vibe has been tense among the servers. We’ve all been washing our hands a lot more, sure but it seems futile considering the amount of things we touch. We touch people’s dishes as we clear them, their napkins after they’ve used them, we touch the silverware before laying it on the table, we handle credit cards and money, not to mention the hand held devices that are used to charge those cards and to enter the orders. On my last day of work it poured rain in LA. The dining room filled up. The windows were shut. The doors were shut. The air was stagnant, hot and moist. People were coming in with suitcases, just off the plane. We get a lot of tourists. I served many customers wearing masks. I stumbled through my shift trying not to breath. On my way home all I can think about is taking a Silkwood style shower. How can any of this be worth it?

Day 1 — It feels like a snow day. The kids are kind of psyched about not going to school. It’s still raining intermittently so we get a walk in with some neighbors and talk with great naivite about how we are going to keep the kids on a strict schedule and make sure we have them exercise every day and limit their screen time during these next few weeks. Two weeks. That’s all. We can get through this. This is like when we lived in NY and there would be a big snowstorm and we all just had to hunker down and ride it out…only without the hot cocoa and snowmen.

Day 4 — We’ve received the order to stay at home by mayor Garcetti. My and my husband’s jobs have been temporarily suspended until further notice. It’s ok. We have some savings. We are looking on the bright side. This is a chance to spend some quality time with each other and with the kids — take a break from the rat race. We will do yoga, play music, make art, write, play…this is a gift. Yes. This pandemic is actually a gift. I cringe and check my privilege…but I have two kids. I’ve got to spin this for them. I’ve got to make the truth palatable. My 3 year old keeps asking, “why don’t we go anywhere?” I stumble over my words giving him either too much detail or too little. My 9 year old daughter interjects and says, “because there’e a disease out there that’s killing people.” I try to mitigate, “Well it doesn’t kill everyone…but it can make them really sick…and we don’t want to spread germs…” I see my son’s eyes glaze over. “I want a donut.” he says.

Day 6 — My cheerleader energy is waning and reality is setting in. My dreams are starting to get freaky and I’m beginning to obsessively read the news. My husband has to put me in check and take my phone away. The dis-ease has me. The grief of the world, the uncertainty and the rage has found pathways into my psyche. I am feeling slightly unhinged.

Day 7 — I awake to a rumbling in my belly. Weird. But I’ve been eating more carbs than I’m used to…that must be it. I drink my coffee and realize that my bowels must be voided IMMEDIATELY. Strange. I continue running to the toilet for several hours. By 9am my entire body is aching. My husband wakes up to find me lying on the living room floor, writhing in pain. I tell myself that I never should have had that slice of cake. Now the sugar is creating inflammation in my body. Shame on me. Never again I tell myself. My husband feels my forehead and tells me I am warm. I take my temperature just to be safe…101. Ok, I think to myself it must just be some stomach bug. Covid 19 is a respiratory illness. I go to bed and try to sleep. My dreams are feverish. I wake up crying.

Day 8 — My fever seems to be going down slowly. I feel better this morning than I did last night, but that’s not saying much. I spent much of the night awake and scared. Sweating through my clothes, shaking and in pain. I dream that I am on a battlefield, wielding a giant sword. I am fighting a demon wearing a crown. I keep cutting off its head but the head keeps growing back. How many times does a demon need to be decapitated? As many times as it takes.

Day 9 — Fever is going up again. My children don’t understand why I won’t get out of bed. My son keeps jumping on me. We are doing a horrible job of keeping me quarantined. My husband just can’t keep the kids away from me. My mother sends me an article talking about how nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are now also considered symptoms now. Cool, cool, cool…cool. I try to get up and take a shower. I am winded walking to the bathroom. My husband asks me why I am panting. Fuck.

Day 10 – 3am. More night terrors. My left arm is throbbing. I cannot find a comfortable position. I text my mom. “It’s trying to liquify me. It knows where I’m weakest and it’s trying to make me weaker.” My mother texts me back and tells me to make myself some tea if I feel strong enough and open the window in my bedroom. I make it into the kitchen, put the kettle on and collapse on the floor panting. My cats immediately begin crawling around me. I remember the article I read months ago about how your cats would totally eat you if you died. I wonder how long it would take for them to eat me if I died right there on the floor. Then I realize that my kids would probably find me first. That cannot happen. I drag myself up off of the floor, pour the tea and make it back to the bedroom. I still don’t know how I got the window open.

Day 11 — “Everything has to change.” These are the words running through my head on repeat as I wake up. It’s a beautiful day outside. I can hear the birds chirping through my open window. My mother is texting me incessantly. She is intent on getting me tested. She has been calling the urgent care centers in the area and is being told that they will not test you unless you can prove exposure or are willing to pay a premium. She says if I want to go, she will pay. I don’t want to go anywhere. I tell her I will go to the doctor if it gets bad enough. I tell her I’m actually feeling better. She sends me a screenshot of last night’s texts. But that was the night. The beast comes out at night. That’s what Chris Cuomo said and I can concur. Now it’s morning. My husband tries to make me eat. I refuse. I can’t keep anything down but Marmite tea. I read more terrifying news articles and wait for everything to get worse.

Day 14 — I haven’t eaten in 3 days…but I’m finally starting to feel normal. I still can’t cross the room without panting, but I chock that up to an electrolyte imbalance. I make my son breakfast for the first time in what feels like forever. I am cautiously happy. My daughter has a virtual piano lesson and then a FaceTime date with a friend. This is the new normal…screens. I think of my desperation to limit screen time in the past and can practically hear The Fates laughing at me.

Day 17 — Gavin Newsom has extended the stay at home order to May. It’s the first of April. Time to clean off the white board calendar on our fridge which has now become a record of how many days we’ve spent in quarantine. I don’t know why I feel the need to keep track, but I do. I’m struck by how normal March began…work, school, birthdays, scheduling the babysitter…all of it already seems another lifetime ago…and it’s only been two weeks.

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