My son coughed the other day. It was only one cough, but Laura and I immediately looked at each other. We waited a beat, while he boxed-out his brother from the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” made of Magnatiles, but there were no more.
When the shit first hit the fan, I was just getting over a bug, and both our kids had runny noses. I looked it up at the time and that’s “rare” for COVID, but I still thought about it when I wiped their faces with toilet paper.
In between legos and nose wipings I spent most of my time on Twitter those first couple days. I saw a tweet that said:
- Instagram: My life is a party.
- Snapchat: My life is a quirky tv show
- Facebook: My life turned out great!
- Twitter: We’re all going to die.
and I think it’s true (update: so does Seth Godin), although maybe I’m biased because 50% of my recent experience with Twitter has been during a pandemic. I found myself retweeting things that seemed worth sharing, like people should know about them, and that’s how I, too, became a 21st century doomsday crier. I saw a side-by-side of Trump telling everyone it’s no big deal cases are already going down next to him saying he always knew it was a pandemic next to him assuring people we would win while he clutched a podium with white knuckles. A startup founder sent a link saying millions of people would die in the next three months, and another sent a link to drunk people on Spring Break in Miami. “Fuck the ‘rona,” said those people, probably. Some people posted about people losing their jobs, and some people gave those people money. The whole internet was talking about flattening the curve, but an epidemiologist who for some reason decided to publish on Medium explained that no amount of flattening would prevent hospitals from being entirely overwhelmed. While Wall Street sank into the East River, the internet filled in admirably by shouting partially informed data and instructions at one another. I felt like I was staying up to date. Laura told me to stop talking about it. I couldn’t sleep that night. Someone tweeted:
- stay home as much as you can
- i know it sucks but it’s necessary
- you’ll literally save lives
- this is the easiest it’s ever been to be a hero
- just think on it like:
- 1. soldiers who stormed the beaches at normandy
- 1A. people who stay home right now and watch Netflix
The next day I remembered that I used to avoid Twitter entirely, and it felt like a good day to revive that practice. I knew enough to stay in my house, and whatever news I would miss by unplugging wouldn’t change that fact. We had a nanny come in to help in the morning, and as she walked in I nonchalantly washed my hands in the sink and mentioned how often we were all washing our hands.
I was productive, which felt amazing. Laura and I officed out of our basement, while the nanny kept our kids busy collecting pinecones at the park (she made the boys wash their hands when they got back). I spun up a new Corona-inspired business model in the morning, and spent the afternoon on phone calls telling people that all we can do is to focus only on what we can control. I knew that was right, and that leaders are forged in the crucible of pandemics, but it still felt forced. Maybe it didn’t matter.
Laura was in good spirits coming back from her first foray out of the house in days. She’d just watched the latest coming out of the White House, and commented that she was impressed by the transparency and competence the doctors showed with Trump leaning over them. They said they’d had challenges but they were taking steps, and they expected we’d get past this. Good news felt good. I called my mom later that night, and she said she felt better about things, too. Yes, hundreds had the virus, maybe thousands by now, but this was the combined ingenuity of the entirety of the American population we were talking about. Even Bezos was involved. We’d get past it, just need to lay low for a while.
After our youngest finally fell asleep Laura joined me in front of our gas fireplace, joking that we’d kicked the ass of day five. Who knows how many more to go, but it felt like a number we’d get through. I checked Twitter, skimming through tweets rapidly. Same old shit, but toned down a bit. People finally felt heard by the government, maybe? Either way the tone seemed to have shifted. I saw someone summarize an Imperial College Study which seemed like legitimate, trustworthy information, which was unique, so I read it.
My eyes glazed over. I felt my heartbeat in my chest. I sat there silently for I don’t know how long, then I put down my phone and sighed. We went upstairs after a time and I slept restlessly.
I woke up at 5am as normal. I ground coffee and made a pourover as normal. I read a bit from a spiritual text as normal, highlighting quotes I liked for a book I’ll write someday. I meditated as normal, and when the chime went off after 40 minutes I checked the NY Times. Because fuck Twitter, that’s why.
The lead article said that China had had its first day with no new local cases. They only needed 13 more consecutive days and they’d have “won,” although I wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly. The photo showed what life looked like in China, city streets empty, gated and guarded. I wondered what it took to win this war, and if we were doing enough.
I worked for 30 minutes and then got the boys up, watered down some apple juice and made them some dry Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It seemed to me that our government effectively had a choice between millions of lives and our economy. There were smart sounding people who talked between and around the President, and China was winning, and I allowed myself to hope that maybe we could actually win this thing. Something close to faith, maybe. Study be damned.
Laura coughed as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Without looking up, I told her I was ignoring that.