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The Virus: Week Twelve

Continued from The Virus: Week Eleven

The next day was Thursday, May 21. At this stage, three months in, I usually wake up by 2am each morning and often can’t get back to sleep. Any hand sanitizer you can find anywhere just smells like alcohol. Our friend J. calls us in tears to tell us about the end of his marriage, which cracked under the pressure of the pandemic and the quarantine. I feel bad for him, but it takes energy to feel bad about everything all the time, and I am pretty much tired all the time now. I feel like I can’t even breathe correctly half the time. The next day was Friday, May 22, the last day of a semester that began in a different universe, under a different sun. All of my students share what it’s been like to read a novel about a power-mad megalomaniac pushing the crew of his ship to their collective annihilation while they (the students) have been quarantined at home, or whatever serves in its place, for those who are homeless. It is not uncommon now to see discarded gloves and masks in parking lots and in the streets. When I am not thinking of bigger things I am thinking about that TV show that had to animate a portion of its episode because the crew couldn’t assemble to finish it in person under quarantine; but more often I think about the guy they profiled in the LA Times who drive 600 miles for a haircut. On Saturday, May 23, you could hear a steady stream of car horns blaring joyfully in the distance, part of some indeterminate ritual of distanced celebration. Trump went golfing. The day after that it was Sunday again. The weeks just fly by now, time keeps barreling forward but without any kind of progress. On the front page of the New York Times they print a wall of names, the names of the dead, but in two different counties we cannot find even one location that sells the physical newspaper anymore. Trump is still attacking his opponents and spouting lies and playing golf. The freeway signs read YOUR ACTIONS SAVES LIVES STOP COVID-19, and I make a mental note of the grammar error, which no one seems in any hurry to fix. A local gym has gone out of business; a local Pizza Hut has gone out of business; a local miniature golf course has gone out of business. The very next day was Memorial Day, Monday, May 25. Trump golfed and then placed a ceremonial wreath. The latest studies indicate that the Europe travel ban he imposed in March “triggered chaos and a a surge of travelers” from the center of the outbreak. At JOANN Fabrics, one of the few business anywhere to get crucial mask-making supplies, a diminutive sign informs us that SEWERS ARE NEEDED to make masks for local health care workers, and at first I read the word as “sewers” and not “sewers,” and wonder what underground channels of cloacal filth have to do with anything. Down the street at Michael’s they’re selling ten-packs of masks. Due to safety concerns, the World Health Organization has suspended the trials of the drug Trump keeps promoting. A person at the store tells their friend that they were down by the harbor earlier, and every restaurant down there is open for business. On a nearby TV screen I saw an ad for Space Force, and at first I thought it was an ad for the TV show of that name, but upon further scrutiny it appeared to be an advertisement for the Space Force that Trump keeps promoting when he’s not promoting drugs. Then it was Tuesday, May 26, 2020. It was the first day in months that was noticeable smoggy, and I was home alone again as I always am now, and I had just finished submitting grades and was watching a mourning dove preening on the nearby fence in the morning sun when I saw online that the officially recognized death toll from the virus in the United States had passed 100,000 souls (the TV wouldn’t tell us that until tomorrow), and every story on TV and online was about the number of infections and deaths from the virus rising while those same areas are “reopening,” and in disgust I turned away from the coverage of the virus, which shows no signs of stopping, and then as I was trying to think about something other than the virus for the first time in three months, a video pops into view of a group of cops surrounding a black man on a street somewhere in Minneapolis, and one of the cops has his knee deep into the neck of the prostrate man, and you can see that the man is begging for his life, you can see that the police aren’t listening to his pleas, and I can’t stop staring at the cop’s body language, I can’t stop seeing him pinning the man down like a wolf on a deer carcass, all I can look at is the cop’s hand, hidden comfortably inside his front pocket, tucked into the pocket just above the head of the man he is in the process of murdering, and all I can see about the other cop nearby is that his hands are also in his pockets, as if part of a secret policeman’s compact, and I think that hands in pockets have always been a gesture I associate with calmness, comfort, even boredom, all cops’ hands are in their respective pockets as the man’s neck is being slowly crushed under the weight of the cop’s knee, and I don’t know his name yet but I think again about Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but only because they are the most recent ones, mostly I am watching it and thinking again of Eric Garner, and then I am thinking that the next printing of Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN will look just a little different from the last one, and then I am sick to my stomach again, and my main thought on that day is that this is just going to keep going on and on, and this man, whose name is George Floyd, will vanish from public consciousness as all the others do, just as soon as Trump tweets again or the new numbers of the virus-dead are updated across the land. His terrible fate was going to be too common and too unremarkable for most people in this country to keep thinking about for very long. But by the next day, the uprisings had already begun.

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