I confess to a terrible idea.
Like the nubile blonde women in horror movies that simply cannot resist putting themselves at risk in dark basements or abandoned cottages in the woods, (well, not really, as nubile and blonde no longer really apply, but hang in with me here), I am feeling the overwhelming urge to GO OUT AND CATCH COVID and get it over with.
It’s the same mad impulse that horror writers no doubt exploit – we are none of us good at living in a state of fear for a day or so, let alone NINE godforsaken months.
I’ve gotten used to masking up, living largely alone, diving through grocery stores like I’m on a shoplifting spree. I smell of alcohol gel and am probably flammable, so am avoiding the use of candles this holiday season. I’ve gone feral, bathing only infrequently, gnawing on apples for food, sniffing the cat tins to see if they seem appetizing. My muscle tone has degraded into marshmallow status from lack of exercise, and I now undress in full darkness so I don’t have to see myself. If it weren’t for my friends and family occasionally tapping in to see if I am still breathing (many thanks especially to L and P, bless your furry little souls), and the endless yowls of the cat demanding service, I’d have retreated to bed a long time ago.
(I also must thank Jacke Wilson and the inimitable History Of Literature podcast, without which I would spend many a nighttime hour tossing and turning in fits of anxiety and self-judgement (after living feral and accomplishing nothing for days on end, at 3 AM a part of me I inherited from my mother reaches out to shame me in every direction).)
But here’s the thing. I’ve been good, into self-denial for months now, and I STILL get the feeling of impending doom, hear the heavy breathing of Covid in my closets, can’t get past the heart-pounding anxiety that it is just a matter of time until it gets me, clutches me by the throat, whispers tales of sickness and strife into my shell-like ears.
I’m not good at waiting. I’m of the generation of chicken pox parties, where we smeared poxy children against each other just to have them get it at a convenient time. Of course, risky, risky. My poor son got so covered with pox I had to count them with him just to distract him from the panic of seeing himself overwhelmed. (I stopped after 100. We hadn’t even gotten off his chest and tummy). Thank god nothing else untoward happened to him, but I still give my head a shake.
Chicken pox is very rarely fatal, though. This Covid thing dances gaily along in its plague mask, stabbing people with its sharp beak, creating holes in families and workplaces and countries. So when I am sensible, I know it is unreasonable to even think of going out to catch it.
But I find I am growing to understand those who do. There’s a fatalism around that we can lay at the foot of 2020-ism, of Trump, of the immense clumps of destructive people destroying the environment for greed. It’s a constant battle to stay optimistic as the weeks and months go on, as the numbers we thought we were bringing down creep up higher and higher.
Way back in university, my friends took me to see Friday the 13th part three (I think), which captures my feelings exactly – the aforesaid n.y.m (nubile young woman) is feeling safe in her cottage, and walks through the dark to the kitchen for a snack (she has just climbed out of a bed where she has been very naughty, so as watchers, we know she is marked for some gruesome end). She opens the fridge, tra la, tra la, and sees a rotting disembodied head on the shelf. She starts to scream, but is unable to as the killer plunges an ice pick through her temple.
Alas, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to be bad of late, but this feeling of things unseen creeping up on me and wielding death has never quite left. It’s heightened by the invisibility of the attacker here. And I’ve always thought it would have been better to be one of the early sliced-and-diced in a horror movie than the one who finds everyone else lying about in bits. So the temptation exists.
Primarily because of sympathy for the health care workers who would feel compelled to try and help me survive at great personal risk, I’m still fighting my urge to go hang out with the coughing masses. So far…