| This story is part of our mini-project #ShareVoicesNotGerms |
We’ve asked our audience to share their blog post, poem, tweet, short video, stream-of-consciousness note they typed at 3 AM, quick proverb, seven-part full-length drama–really anything they’ve created to get them through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hope is that it will get you through too.
If you’d like to contribute, simply submit your “anything” here.
My name is April Desiree McQueen and this is my story.
I was born at the end of the year of 1971 on December 29th. I recall three times when I was extremely ill in my life. First, due to a salmonella outbreak in middle school as a tween. At that time my mom took care of me. Then came the chickenpox on a church camping trip as a chaperone in my 30s. My ex-husband took care of me with round the clock bedside care. And now there is COVID-19 in my late forties. I took precautions and took care of myself by choosing to stay inside, skipping a hair salon visit and canceling a dental appointment.
When I was about 10 or 11 and growing up in the Greater Metropolitan Atlanta area, there was a salmonella outbreak at my school. I could not keep anything on my stomach. I had no energy. My mom was my lifeline. She let me convalesce in my parents’ king-sized bed and watch television when I was not too weak or passed out asleep. I had never felt so bad in all of my young life. Little by little she nursed me back to health. Within a week, I was back to “normal,” jumping on my parents’ bed, watching The Flintstones cartoon on television, and ready to return to school.
Later in my life, when I was in my thirties, a married adult woman, I came down with the chickenpox after chaperoning a church group of kids on a camping trip. I had never been vaccinated, somehow. The week after the weekend trip I had to go to a training in the state capitol. I was going to carpool with my colleague and we would have separate hotel rooms. By the end of the first day of training, I felt that something was not right. After dinner, I went to bed early. All night long I felt like I was coming down with something and could not stop scratching.
I had a fever. The next day I went to the training as planned, but I could not focus on this new information. I felt awful. It was a new job and I did not want to lose it, so I grinned and bore it until I got home when I crashed. When my then-husband came home from work, he asked me a few health questions and then all I can remember after that was being in bed 24/7 and sleeping. As a child before the vaccine, I had never been around any kids who had contracted it. As an adult who had contracted it, there was a possibility that I could die. He knew this and never left my side until I had turned the corner health-wise and was 90% on the mend. My girlfriends, a couple of whom were nurses, shared with me how concerned he was for me despite putting up a brave face.
There was a chance that he could have lost me. He was a brave caregiver to me and lived out the “in sickness and in health” part of our vows 100% that week. As for my new job, they understood and told me to return when I was healthy. My colleague I carpooled with had had the disease as a kid, and so she did not get sick. I did not lose my job nor my life.
Solitude takes on a different meaning when it is not by choice or even a default option but is mandated. It becomes null, yet without the negative cluster of emotions that would make one feel lonely and not just alone and isolated. It just is. Maybe you wonder at your first encounter with solitude, “Where have you been all my life?” And then later, “When will this be over?” During this time of the coronavirus, thoughts both positive and negative explode inside one’s head like popcorn kernels in the microwave that are overcooked for 30 seconds too long then black and hard at the bottom of the bag. What originally was going to be a treat of some time off work has turned into a tragedy as information delivered in seconds became minutes and minutes become moments and moments became months living and dealing with the pandemic coronavirus. It is still here and here is everywhere. There is nothing to salvage from the experience except for hope. In the middle of it, however, is that hope enough?
One questions its purpose and longs to discover how to defeat this disease, the world’s enemy. We are puncturing holes in a life preserver of information in the Information Age but still striving to hold on and survive as it spreads. As imperfect as things are right now there is nothing other to hold onto; no option for better or worse. The present is turgid enough with its anxiety, worry, and paranoia with each day’s news a little bleaker as the stories strut in and out of our lives, breaking hearts after teasing it with commercials reflecting what once was, filled with what one hopes will return. Do I dare to dream of something better, if possible, at this point?
There were people here. There are buildings where the people were working in “Metropolis” before days became weeks and terms like “shelter-in-place” and “social distancing” entered the common lexicon. Wait and see. Wait and see. Wait and see. No promises here. A modest home is my refuge from the pandemic; despite its many creature comforts, it still stifles my soul after a week of not leaving home. Hope fights an uphill battle without any fast-paced deadline for when this strange living situation will be done or result in a new (better) normal. Can our hope for the “normal” replace the undercurrents of quiet, growing PANIC: normal? Can we even ever get back to that pre-pandemic “normal”, we wonder? Please let me find some toilet paper.
Nobody knows when or how or how long this situation will last or what it will transform itself into. The first day of spring on March 19, 2020, coaxed people outdoors in all of nature’s gorgeous glory if only enough for them to take out the trash or check the mail. At these uncertain and strange times, with unsolicited interaction, people put on the fake face while greeting other neighbors. The strain of being “socially present” seeps out like superficial friendliness that was not normal when we followed our hearts and ignored others’ while mainly focused on self. Just as recently as two weeks ago, the same people had no time for a smile, a wave, or a nod of the head to acknowledge these, our neighbors. Now, in the time of COVID-19, neighbors are the ones we are sharing a reality with. In transforming desperation and fear of the unknown, we reach out past being our “normal”, neighborly aloof. In our hearts, we are hoping someone else might be able to spread calm faster than the disease and have answers in what is referred to as “these uncertain times”.
But were the times ever certain? What if our response to this pandemic is or has been all wrong? Maybe it came to teach us how to find refuge beyond one’s own four walls and inside one’s community. Cut the commute. Rediscover what’s important: family, friends, neighbors; enjoying meals together around the table with good old-fashioned conversation and not text, email or Instagram capturing us as happier than we never were. The opportunity to live one’s faith even though the places where one expresses and practices are closed for the time being, until further notice, due to COVID-19. Last but not least, even local parks are closed. All of this is until future notice with no idea insight of when that will be. Wait and see.
This week I have “sheltered in place”. I am alive. I did not even get tested for the virus. But rather I died to my self during this Lenten season, so that I could be of service to my inner circle…my family, friends, and my partner; sometimes fully remotely just to see how they are hanging in and hanging on. As I became older and dealt with various physical illnesses, I got stronger in my ability to care for myself, despite being a virtual recluse prone to self-isolating at times due to my mental illness. Now, with COVID-19, after unsuccessful attempts to do it all on my own, I still need people. This held true even if it was in the form of a stranger. In this case, it was my partner’s student’s grandma who blessed us with ten rolls of toilet paper in the time of a mad, nationwide purchase of it and bare shelves where it used to be! I also learned what’s truly life and death by following what matters most. It is the people that make a life; technology makes connections possible with those people, but it is not a strong replacement for simple interpersonal interactions. When you live on purpose daily, this becomes more and more true and less and less virtual, of course, until further notice.
This #ShareVoicesNotGerms essay was written by April Desiree McQueen
April lives in the Greater Metropolitan Atlanta Area. She loves sweets, especially chocolate, and cooking one-pot meals with her partner. She enjoys going to the park and walking.
How having you been holding up in the midst of COVID-19? Have something to say? A hopeful message to share? What about a funny picture or tweet to send our community? We’d sure appreciate it 🙂