coronavirus chronicles #11

I. By five am, dawn reflected off the white snow that covered the sunny dandelions and spring green grass. Winter was warm, and we evaded the mud season. So, the May snow caught us by surprise. I had awakened wondering if all was but a dream, that perhaps I had awoken on a January morning from a dream. When it had last snowed, we were among the last days of normalcy when I considered so little of what a hug could mean and the inherent trust that comes with it. 

II. My hair has never descended so far, never been so long. I sat in a chair after dinner, and my housemate kindly trimmed what she could. I imagine that hairdressers will spend many hours fussing over split ends and at-home hair dyes.

III. Vermont and New Hampshire are stereotyped contrasts, simply characterized by their mottos: ‘Freedom and Unity’ and ‘Live Free or Die,’ respectively. At the recycling center in our rural town across the river from campus, the townsfolk don their cloth masks. But across the Ledyard bridge, masks are uncommon political statements for the daring and cautious.

IV. I find you intimidating. Your confidence and intelligence and eloquence are domineering. The way you feel comfortable in taking space, and your resistance to making your words, actions, and voice small are alarming. So please, for everyone’s sake, modify your language, smile more often, and laugh easily but gently. Don’t hold your head so high, and don’t ask too many questions or share your thoughts with some semblance of your identity. Cater to the male and praise him; every all-American needs his cheerleader. Prefer quietness over boldness, and try not to challenge even when the dominant narrative is inexcusable. Likable over respected is the way to go. If you could be more friendly and flirty, that would be great too. We asked the same of your mother and colonized ancestors so protesting won’t do. Oh, and while you’re at it, please carry my fragilities and insecurities; I already project them on you so well.

V. The burning smell of wood in humid spring air was nostalgic: inundating me with unconsidered memories of open-air restaurants, moto rides, and beachside bonfires. I looked out into the field from the kitchen window, enamored by how beautiful the past could be and how wonderful it was to know that I knew nothing of what was to come when I lived those moments. I wish I could relive those memories, not to change them or touch them, but to feel how they felt again and feel them differently, knowing what I do now.

VI. What I love about (personal) writing is the process of reflecting, discovering, and reshaping words, thoughts, and experiences into sentences and then narratives. I appreciate the conversation that comes with sharing my writings. Yet, the process is where I find the most value; the words I write mean something to me, help me feel something about my lived experience. Assuredly, I’ll pay attention to its perceptions and receptions when my writing is for others. But I’ll offer no obvious key for my (personal) writing that may seem opaque or obscure. I know what it means to me.

VII. I have friends from childhood and shared adventures. Friends from school and proximity. I have friends through friends and friends from online and Model UN. Friends whose traveling paths crossed mine, whose career trajectories intersected with mine. Friends who — well, I don’t remember how we became friends. Friends who always seemed to be there. Friends who are friends for now, and friends who I’ll perhaps know better in the future. And then I have friends that, for one reason or another, disappeared from my conscious life and I from theirs, until one day, we’ll remember to call finally and without hesitation, pick up from where we left off, with no regrets, blames or expectations.

VIII. I forgot my fear of male strangers until I was walking. A car passed by, turned around, and pulled up slowly, stalking behind me. He and his friend rolled down his window, smiled, and asked if I needed a ride. Perhaps, he was a good neighbor offering a young woman a shorter journey. I politely declined, and he seemed disappointed. I mourn the fact that I cannot trust men for the too many stories my sisters must tell me and the ones I wish I hadn’t experienced.

IX. A thought during class: The fact that maternal mortality rates are as bad or worse than the statistics I pasted to my middle school bake sale trifold is unacceptable and absurd. The fact that obstetric units are closing in rural America and that black women giving life must worry about losing theirs is a cruel injustice. I am grateful to learn in reproductive medicine about the incredible feat of pregnancy. The female body is truly that of a super(s)heroes. I want and need to learn the physiology and pathophysiology of pregnancy. But I also want and need to know what I can do, so that another ten years of death with birth don’t persist. 

X.What does reopening/re-engaging mean to those who’ve done their best to keep distance and isolate for weeks and months? My friend noticed that he caught himself, keeping a distance from other cars while driving. I think this necessary task of physically distancing ourselves as much as we can, perhaps, has mitigated harm inflicted upon ourselves and society. But it also has fostered insidious anxiety that brings guilt in some amid the joy felt following the smallest or safest of interactions (e.g., a masked and distanced walk with a friend). I don’t know where the line between perpetual isolation and socially responsible distancing lies, where individual mental health does not compromise that of others or for society. When it comes to fulfilling societal obligations and protecting one’s mental health, what is safe, reasonable, and rational behavior as different communities re-open or remain under stay-home orders? Perhaps, no one knows, but is a clear message with stratified risk would be welcome. 

“QUARANTINE FATIGUE”
What does harm reduction look like for the coronavirus? First, policy makers and health experts can help the public differentiate between lower-risk and higher-risk activities; these authorities can also offer support for the lower-risk ones when sustained abstinence isn’t an option. Scientists still have a lot to learn about this new virus, but early epidemiological studies suggest that not all activities or settings confer an equal risk for coronavirus transmission. Enclosed and crowded settings, especially with prolonged and close contact, have the highest risk of transmission, while casual interaction in outdoor settings seems to be much lower risk. A sustainable anti-coronavirus strategy would still advise against house parties. But it could also involve redesigning outdoor and indoor spaces to reduce crowding, increase ventilation, and promote physical distancing, thereby allowing people to live their lives while mitigating—but not eliminating—risk.

“QUARANTINE FATIGUE” by Julia Marcus

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