The final battle with the coronavirus is being fought inside my body. I got my second Moderna vaccine yesterday, and as I lie in bed today, I can feel the struggle inside. Pressing against the backs of my eyes, the skin of my lips, the nodes of my knees.
From my bed upstairs, I hear the family discussing lunch. It’s Virginia’s turn to prepare, and Enrico doesn’t want the usual vegan bowl veggie melange.
“But I don’t want pasta!” Virginia says.
“What about tuna salad?” Luke suggests.
“I can’t eat tuna!”
Eventually the discordant notes relax into a kind of rhythm, even though there are still flares (“Mark, what are you doing to help?”) and the sound of Kanye West singing “Through the Wire” jumbles through it all.
Eventually the music gets turned off and everyone sits down. I hear the deep voice of my husband, this man who has taken care of me and our children for 20 years now, and I am not sure who I am without him.
By the time I got this second shot, they were practically begging people to come in. No more pre-registering on mysterious waiting lists, no more listserv messages that the MedStar in Georgetown or the Six Flags parking lot had extra doses. The D.C. Health Department was even giving away beers if you’d get a J&J shot in the arm.
After dropping off Diana at a playdate, I stopped at the CVS on the corner. Before public schools went virtual, this store used to be swarmed with teens trolling for chips and candy and pop, but a renovation during the pandemic transformed it into an urgent care clinic with a convenience store on the side. The only one there, I received my shot in the new immunization suite, and then after walking past the rows of gummy vitamins and bandaids, I walked home by myself.
Now as I lie in bed with wool blankets wrapped around me and a cup of tea by my side, my joints are scarlet iron, my muscles bend as easily as metal sheeting, and my skull is lined with aluminum, registering the slightest electrical current.
The battle with this disease was once fought outside, with masks and distancing, sterilizing and shuttering. As I lie in bed while my cells are learning how to fight it, this feels like a private showdown. But I know it is a victory at the end a long war fought by others. Scientists and lab techs, doctors and nurses, pharmacists and trial volunteers, and all the people who told us with their lives: take care of each other. This is serious.
To be part of the human race is to be both gloriously soft and open to attack as well as inventive enough to outsmart the attacker. Every day I am supported by human beings I’ll never meet, who smooth the sidewalks under my feet, who hang the telephone wires above my head. Those who have come before me, and those who will carry on.
The morning after my convalescence, I am up for yoga. I feel my strength again, the beauty of a body that is alive and working. It feels like I have made it through a ring of fire.
It’s so strange to move through a normal world again, to hug friends, to feel the wind against my face, to go inside people’s houses. And yet I know, even if it looks the same, we are different.
I now know I am stronger when I take off my armor and stand here, small and bare. Underneath all the colors, the shapes, and various patterns of human beings, we are all the same.
Denying that pain and death are as much a part of life as joy and birth, as I once did, is to live halfway. When I open my heart to all that life brings — the suffering and the love, the anguish and the tenderness — I am wondrous at how it feels to be whole, and thankful to all the beings who have conspired to keep me alive.