Continued from The Virus: Week Eight
On the first day of the ninth week, a sea of angry white men draped in flags and camouflage and AR-15 assault rifles mobbed the Michigan State House. The state police are protecting the governor. She is trying to keep even more of the people of her state from dying.
The next day is May 1. Two of our friends have separated and are getting divorced. The daily drama of his obsessive-compulsive disorder now that both of them are stuck at home together all day is more than she can bear anymore, so he’s moved out and their marriage is over. Because I’ve gone almost nowhere for two months, I try to walk each day. I wonder if instead I should take up jogging. As I walk I realize that I only do the same six things every day anymore: I work; I walk; I write; I read; I clean; I cook. As I walk freely down mostly empty streets this mantra starts to run through my mind over and over again in time with my leisurely steps: “I work; I walk; I write; I read; I clean; I cook. I work; I walk; I write; I read; I clean; I cook. I work; I walk; I write; I read; I clean; I cook….” The only people out are all in cars driven by parents escorting their masked kids into the parking lot of Newhart Middle School, where teams of volunteers in masks applaud as each car drives up, stops at both of the tents stationed well away from each other, and then leaves. A person dressed in the school’s black panther mascot costume is clapping alongside the other volunteers in masks. “What are they doing?” I ask the elderly gentleman sitting in the chair at the front of the parking lot, directing traffic. “They’re picking up their graduation yard signs and we’re congratulating them as each car drives in,” he says with a shrug. “It’s the best we can do.” There are now more than 30,000,000 unemployed people in this country. A man on TV is dressed all in black and carrying a fake scythe. He’s the Grim Reaper, haunting the crowded Florida beaches, silently warning them of the death that awaits them if they don’t stay home.
Just one day later, a different sea of angry white people in Illinois have draped themselves in flags again. One woman holds a sign intended for governor J.B. Pritzker, one of the nation’s two Jewish governors: ARBEIT MACHT FREI, JB, it says. Even the strange uneven shape of the letter “B” looks just like the one that they displayed over the gates at Auschwitz. The prisons and nursing homes and factory floors of this country, everywhere where humans are confined, pressed tightly on top of each other in unsafe conditions, caged, over-crowded and ignored, are all seeing an explosion in the number infected and the numbers of the dead. But still almost no one sees any of the dead; they die unfilmed and unrecorded, and usually alone. Their death simply adds to the ever-rising tally. As we go to see my father-in-law who still thinks it’s the 1970s, we spot two signs: the official highway information alert signs state ALL BEACHES CLOSED in bright orange. A mile down the road we see a handmade sign stuck into the wire mesh on the overpass: OPEN THE ECONOMY!
The day after that I notice that the local sign-making shop has a sign outside offering 25% OFF ALL COVID-RELATED SIGNS.
A day later it already feels like all the people out and about are already anxious for all of this to end. A laziness and lack of vigilance already seems to be taking root. Nine weeks in, there is still not a single roll of toilet paper, or a packet of disposable wipes, or a case of bottled water in either of the nearby stores.
The next day was May 5. Eight US would-be mercenaries (either that or eight angry white men who styled themselves US mercenaries) have been captured in Venezuela, and the pictures and the footage are already online. Home alone, as my wife continues to risk her life going out to work each day, I attempt a second haircut. Soon thereafter I inadvertently found myself on my phone watching the video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, which filled me with an all-too-familiar disgust and sorrow and rage; and then I thought again and again of Trayvon and Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland, and again I saw in my mind’s eye the killing of Eric Garner, and again I saw in my mind’s eye the killing of Michael Brown, and then again I saw in my mind’s eye the group of white thugs beating DeAndre Harris in the parking garage in Charlottesville, and then everyone online was posting and reposting and reposting the footage of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, which in one sense everyone needs to see and in a different, wiser, weary sense, nobody ever needs to see. And what had he been doing just before they killed him? He was jogging.
The day after that, I started to write about this ninth week of the virus, a week that started with armed white men threatening governors and ended with armed white men killing a man for jogging while black. Nine weeks in, it’s a common occurrence for me to forget which day of the week it is; but sometimes, nine weeks in, it’s also difficult to know what the thing I have taken to calling “the virus” really is, although it never seems to take a day off, and no other name for it seems to apply.