The First Weeks

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The First Weeks

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I remember when covid-19 was a far away danger, some natural calamity removed from my normal routine: waking up, doing yoga, meditating, working, and so on. Every day just like the others. China was in lock-down and we mindlessly scrolled past news stories from there of inventive ways people were relieving their boredom. But just like other tragedies that were affecting the unfortunate of other lands, the stories faded into the background of repetition.
I remember when the first case was found in Washington, the surreal fear that hung like a thick cloud over my city, first forming as a gentle mist then accumulating into heavy dread. Once that first case was identified, things multiplied very quickly. Within a week, we were in lockdown with cases rising in an incredibly frightening exponential manner.
I remember the last time I was in the room with someone without a mask on... that was.. 13 months or so ago. I was going into an interview for a funeral service assistant's position. It was raining. I was asked to accompany her to an home funeral the next morning, assist her in transporting the body of a family's child who had recently died. This frightened me, I didn't know if I could do it. And even then, the threat of a global pandemic seemed far off, even the lady blew it off, saying that the solution lie in an healthy immune system. "Healthy people don't need to worry about it." I drove home in the rain and picked up tacos for lunch. Everything was normal.
But by the morning we were in a national lockdown as a result of the discovery of how widespread the virus was and just how deadly it could be. I never went to that child's funeral and I haven't talked to that lady since.
Every day in those few long weeks in March of 2020 built on the growing panic and grief that was building in the depths of my heart, radiating out into my limbs, making it hard to think, or write, or sing. Every moment was spent obsessing over the potentialities of each moment. "What was going to happen? What were we going to do? How many people were going to die? How many of my friends and family members were going to do? " Going on and on and on. My mind revolved around the fear as a maypole where my body and emotions danced wildly around. Even in the bath, while taking long morning walks, while eating meals, everything centered around the pandemic. Doom-scrolling terrifying news articles telling of the devastation that would likely occur in the next months, criticizing the narcissistic, science-fearing president, who only increased the velocity of widespread horror, watching the rising death count with enrapt panicked attention. All of these things contributed to the slowing of time, which passed by moment by moment in a long exhale of a nation struggling to catch its breath after being engulfed by a wave that came on too fast and hard. Going into the grocery stores to find that most food and toilet paper were gone... that the supply chain might be limited, the reality of my city home's lack of food security becoming too real. I never thought I'd face this kind of global disaster in my lifetime. It was hard to accept. Even now, it is hard to fully accept. Approximately 3,000,000 people have died from this disease to this day, and many more will. Even though vaccinations are underway, the death rate now is at 42,847 on this day (April 4, 2021) as compared to the meager 5,989 on April 15th of last year. Then, we were horrified at that number. But now, we have grown so accustomed to daily deaths that were a numb from feeling any grief. It is hard to say what kind of effect this will have in the future years. All I know is, those first weeks have been burned into memory. I have been changed, for better or worse, by the year 2020.

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This item was submitted on April 23, 2021 by Hannah Rhoten using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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