MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW SHE HAS COVID-19. SHE ONLY KNOWS SHE’S SAFE

I am gloomy, and I feel guilty that I’m so blue. I have a warm home and a stocked refrigerator. I’m sheltering in place with my immediate family, whom I love very much. And yet. Even though there are glimpses of silver linings that reflect love and gratitude, this quarantine still feels like a punishment.

Sometimes my mind feels fuzzy. For example, I can’t remember why I argued with my husband the other day. I only recall that when I shouted at him, “Where was the ever-patient man I married 30 years ago?” He quietly answered, “He’s usually here.” A few hours later, as we kissed passionately — an act that feels forbidden in this new world — I couldn’t stop thinking: Did we just infect each other?

The virus spread like wildfire in my mother’s nursing home. She’s the latest patient to test positive for COVID-19. All I can think of is that despite the abuse that my mother heaped on me for so many years, I don’t want her to die alone.

Sheltering in place while symptom-less is its own madness. I indulge in the magical thinking that goes hand-in-hand with my panic disorder. If I do or do not do Y, X will or will not happen. Do my thoughts control me, or do I control them? Will I know if I’ve crossed the border into an irreversible nervous breakdown?

A friend says the worries I have about my well-being stem from a healthy curiosity, and curiosity thrives when you feel safe. The best I can say is that I am subconsciously safe. I have a big stash of medication and love. Those things are more precious than the toilet paper and the eggs I hoard.

When I can focus, I have work that I love. But I’m terribly behind on my journal entries. I am mulling over an idea inspired by a writing prompt I saw — “Write about a time where you were dead wrong about someone.” A few days later, I have an epiphany. My mother! I was dead wrong that her conditional love was typical.

My mother’s nursing home facilitates a Zoom call with her. She looks healthy, and she’s more engaged than confused this morning. For the moment, she is alive and curious about her grandchildren, who are on the call too. She doesn’t know she has COVID-19. She only knows she is safe.

This essay originally appeared in McSweeney’s A Force Outside Myself: Citizens Over 60 Speak

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