Continued from The Virus: Week Five
The next day was April 9. Dozens of people with umbrellas are standing socially distanced in the pouring rain, lined up outside the fabric store hours before it opens. Every single person is wearing a mask. We are trying to buy fabric and sewing machines to sew our own masks. Most people wait for hours and don’t get in.
By the following day it is being reported that the virus is now the leading cause of death in the United States, overtaking cancer and heart disease. We start just leaving our homemade masks hanging off one ear when we get home or into the car. Sometimes we wear them on our wrists like tiny purses. For the first time in my life I attempt to shave my head, with mixed results.
Just a day after that, I feel hot. Maybe it’s a fever. Two guys who you can just tell are old friends are in a nearby parking lot. They park their cars facing each other and have coffee mugs filled with home-brewed coffee and they are in the nearly empty parking lot standing by their respective cars, chatting at a distance. The sign at Albertson’s where a month ago the woman was being mocked for buying lots of water now tells you that you must be wearing a mask to enter. Inside, workers in turquoise CLEANING CREW t-shirts are constantly cleaning. The aisles in the store now only allow one-way traffic. There is professional signage all over the floor. People no longer pass each other in the aisles; we wait while a person deliberates, chooses their loaf of bread, and then moves on, and only then do we push our own carts forward. I find myself judging whether a given person’s mask appears to be well-secured or poorly secured. People are judged for how closely they walk by you. There are over 500,000 reported cases in this country.
A day later, we donated to four different food banks in the Bronx, Queens, and California. That night I had a dream; in the dream, cops were forcibly separating students on campus, and the students had nowhere else to go.
The next morning I started to cry again, just a little, as I watched the doctors and nurses on television holding the hands of the dying. I returned to campus for the first time in a month and handed out homemade masks to my students. There is still no flour to be found in many stores, but the bread aisles are overflowing with bread.
The next day my friend E– comes over. He does not come into the house but walks around to the back and sets down chairs sufficiently separated from each other. This is the first time I have seen a friend in person in more than a month. We spend a good part of the day enjoying the weather, talking about books and work, and drinking Kirin. That night I dreamt that one of our friends caught the virus.
The next day my wife gets a message from her sister in Queens. She’s caught the virus.