The call came Monday morning, just as I sat down at my kitchen table to work. My hairdresser informed me that someone who was present when I was in her chair tested positive for COVID-19. I felt panic seize my chest and immediately broke out in hysterics.
I clearly remember that woman, who stopped to talk to me and removed her mask. My hairdresser stepped away for a moment to answer the phone. The woman came closer, determined to tell me something I didn’t hear because all that commanded my attention was her bare face. I kept my mask on and told her to please put hers on, too. She kept talking. I asked again. She said it was bullshit, slipped it over her ears and walked away. My hairdresser is very careful and has adhered to all the state regulations. The closedown nearly put her out of business for good. But this person didn’t take matters as seriously as my hairdresser. That is, until she got sick.
In order for me to get an accurate test, I had to wait at least three days and take the standard, or PCR, test. It’s more accurate than the rapid version and insurance will pay for it. Went to the testing site on Tuesday, which made three days from Saturday. Although I knew my chances were slim to contract it, there are all sorts of conflicting stories about exposure. Teary-eyed, I filled out the paperwork and submitted it, and within moments the technician swabbed my nasal passages. “You should have the results by Christmas Eve,” she said. “Then you won’t have to worry.”
“Too late,” I replied. “Already cancelled my plans.” Not that I had anything exciting to begin with. My sister, her husband and I planned a simple dinner. They were my guests at Thanksgiving and now I’d go there for Christmas. I’d been especially careful not to go much of anywhere or do anything exciting outside of a doctor’s appointment or grocery shopping. But now, because of some idiot, I’d have nothing.
As luck would have it, my test results didn’t come in before Christmas Eve. The crush of people demanding tests so they could spend it with families overloaded the labs. But like me, there are millions who spent Christmas alone, out of safety, concern…or in the hospital. My friends and my sister made the best of the evening by sharing drinks over Facebook Live. At least TCM had some holiday films to watch, and when Judy Garland in her melancholy voice sang, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” I broke down and cried. The original words, “We’ll muddle through somehow” couldn’t be truer.
On the day itself, I opened my Instagram to check out posts. So many pictures of festive trees and loads of presents and all sorts of happiness. Then a post from the CDC snapped me out of any joy I mustered. A graphic depicted “Kevin” testing negative on Day 3 spent the holidays with his family, only to test positive on Day 8 and as a result, infected his family. Christmas was Day 6 for me. That’s all I needed to see. Simply put, I freaked. That virus could be running rampant in my body, even though I felt fine.
Instagram now became the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Convinced I was about to die, even though I felt all right (apart from a very slightly stuffy nose), I threw on my clothes and took a very long walk. There was a lull in the monsoon-like weather we’d been having and I headed down to the lake. Tiny whitecaps covered its choppy surface, while the wind whipped it over the concrete barrier. It perfectly reflected my mood. Yet the fresh air cheered me up a little and I headed home. Made the best of the day, such as it was, by cooking up a decent meal and eating ice cream. But the CDC’s Kevin never strayed far from my thoughts.
Part of being alone on a holiday such as Christmas is it causes you to reflect. So much effort is put into this particular holiday that it’s just about impossible to meet expectations. We’re pushed to the brink to provide as many presents as possible and, as is often the case, really expensive ones. Our tables must be set perfectly, the tree has to appear as if ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest, the meals especially prepared with the right mixture of trend and taste, as if Martha Stewart herself crashed your kitchen and set up shop.
I felt sort of torn up and angry, though I long ago abandoned all such silliness at the holidays. I put myself in the shoes of all those frontline heathcare workers who struggled to remain sane while saving lives. Or the elderly grandmother who sat alone, her family unable to come near. Or those who remained on ventilators, practically unaware of their surroundings and fearful of what came next. Maybe someone who lost their job and faced eviction spent the day crying, worrying about their future. Or a husband lost a wife, a child, a brother to COVID-19 and struggled to spend the day facing that first holiday without their loved one.
All those tree trimmings and holiday hams seemed so meaningless. Though alone, I was feeling okay, had enough food on hand and was comfortable on my couch, soaking up all eight episodes of “Bridgerton” on Netflix. Jesus certainly wasn’t surrounded in luxury on his birthday, and I doubt subsequent ones were either. So why should my Christmas be any grander? What I had was enough, and perhaps more than others.
Monday arrived, and with it the need to take my second test. I returned to the testing center. Another PCR plus a rapid test, just because. The receptionist informed me she’d had COVID-19, along with her son. The whole experience frightened her. There were times she didn’t think she’d pull through. But for me, it was Day 9, one day past CDC Kevin, and the results determined the virus didn’t invade my body. Negative.
Relieved, I let out a masked sigh and drove home. Needed to stop at the grocery store. Milk supplies ran low. As I waited at a red light, a pickup truck off to the side boldly declared on its back panel, “YOU’VE BEEN LIED TO – TAKE OFF YOUR MASK.” I swore if I had a baseball bat I’d hop out of my car and bash it in. Clearly the owner of the vehicle suffered from delusions. Wonder how he’d feel to volunteer in an emergency room and see exactly how much of a lie victims of this horrible pandemic are faking it.
COVID-19’s been the Grinch who not only stole Christmas, but our lives. Please do your part to make sure it doesn’t do it again next year. Stay safe. Wear a mask. And when it’s your turn, get vaccinated. Because we truly are all in this together.