I’m unaware that it’s even day one. Instead, I’m focused on the Yom Kippur celebration that’s taking place at my highly atheist household. My aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandpa – all more religious than my parents and I – join us on our back deck for some socially distanced atoning. They’ve been fasting. I, on the other hand, ate a late breakfast and I’m already ready for my everything bagel with tuna fish.
Throughout the evening, we eat far apart and throw on masks when we’re close. We aren’t perfect – Dr. Fauci would probably have some qualms – but we do as well as a tight-knit family could after not seeing one another for six months. My 81-year-old grandfather is, of course, our utmost safety concern.
During the last hour of our get-together, something sudden and strong peels me from my parents’ rusty outdoor furniture and shoves me onto the squeaky mattress in my bedroom. It’s none other than a 102-degree fever.
My pediatrician’s office does rapid tests. I stare at a framed Doc McStuffins puzzle on the wall while Dr. Fisher does unspeakable things to my nostrils. For what feels like an hour (and is actually 15 minutes), my cold sweats wrinkle the crunchy sanitary paper beneath me. My father anxiously bounces his knee beside me as we sit in agonizing silence.
“Negative!” Dr. Fisher chimes when he finally re-enters the room. Our chests loosen, my dad’s relief coming largely from the fact that he won’t have to tell my extended family – his elderly father – that I may have put them at risk. Thank god.
A rash sprawls across my upper body. The way my skin tingles makes me want to tear it all off. Shingles? Flu? Mumps? I question the accuracy of the test I received, to which my in-denial dad repeatedly replies, “Negative means negative.” I continue to sit on the family room recliner, eat at the kitchen table, accept close-contact care from my parents, and wonder what in god’s name is wrong with me.
My then-boyfriend – the only possible transmission suspect– tests positive. I see Doc McStuffins again, this visit drastically different from that of Day Two. There is no sigh of relief at the end. Instead, a nurse points at my room and whispers to her coworker, “We aren’t using that one for the rest of the day,” as I shamefully walk out of the building I’m way too old to be visiting.
I become aware that Day One was Day One because it was when I first experienced symptoms. If all goes as planned, on Day Ten, I’ll no longer be contagious. I imagine myself six days forward, like Morgan Freeman finally walking through the gates of Shawshank Prison. Will I, too, look back at my place of captivity one last time and smile before hopping on a bus and attempting to assimilate back into society? Ten days in my cushy, suburban home isn’t that different from decades in a maximum-security prison.
My dad makes two difficult phone calls: one being my physically fragile grandfather and the other being my uncle, whose 13-year-old son is to be bar mitzvahed in two weeks. They had already rescheduled the ceremony from the summer, and I wasn’t looking forward to possibly being the reason they’d have to again. Both parties politely suppress the worry for their own well-being to wish me a speedy recovery.
My mom tests positive and her health quickly declines. A woman from the county’s board of health calls and asks me eight million questions. Where in my house have I been eating my meals? Who have I seen in the past six days? What are their names and phone numbers? What’s my social security number? (That last one didn’t happen, but it may as well have.) Let me hang up and take a nap, Stephanie.
I receive two other calls that make me feel like a statistic I’ll read in the New York Times later on. Each source gives bits of contradictory guidance about what’s safe and unsafe, but they all concur that my mom and I should stay away from my dad unless he tests positive, wearing masks in common spaces and eating in separate rooms. Sure, but three stubborn people distancing in a 1,700 square-foot ranch? Way easier said than done.
“If you don’t want to get this shit, Lu, then wash your fucking hands!” my mom shouts from the kitchen through her disposable mask to my dad in the family room.
“I do wash my fucking hands, Lu,” my dad retorts. They can only see my eyes, so I roll them.
“Well, he’s ridiculous!” Mom turns to me, clearly having seen my physical display of contempt. Her glasses fog up from the breath escaping her covering.
“Yeah, but it’s the way you say shit, Mom,” I insert myself and then, as usual, immediately regret it.
“No matter what I say, I’m the asshole!” Ah, there it is. The age-old line comes out for the first time in quarantine. It was only a matter of time. Too bad it’s only Day Five.
At least I can eat my way through this quarantine, right? Wrong – I can’t taste shit. Food isn’t worth consuming when it feels like flavorless mush in my mouth. The jaw effort it takes to chew is way too much for absolutely no reward. I need to save what little energy I can muster for my discussion board due at 11:59 p.m. It’ll be the most I’ve accomplished all week.
My dad has no symptoms thus far. He believes he’s invincible, which is infuriating. The man, as my mother constantly remarks, rarely washes his goddamn hands; he should’ve gotten the virus seven days ago. He claims he’s less susceptible because of his O blood-type – a loose internet theory his work friend Greg keeps IM-ing him about. I don’t wish ill upon my father, but his ego could certainly take a few hits.
Besides having no energy, motivation, or optimism, I’m fine. No, really – fine. I’ve settled into the routine of waking up, doing nothing, and going to sleep.
Get me out of this fucking house.
At long last, I’m no longer contagious. I pack up to return to Philadelphia after a trip I intended to be just two days long. I make an apple smoothie for breakfast and only drink half due to my still-confused digestive system and lack of taste and smell. My dad drinks the rest from my glass and, in perfect timing, Mom stumbles around the corner.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Lu?”
“What?” He holds up the glass like he’s giving a toast. “She’s over it now!”
“That doesn’t mean you should be sharing shit right away. Are you an idiot?”
Even though I’m healthy enough to make my way out of here, I’m too physically and mentally exhausted to contribute to the familial contention that’s been simmering for a week and a half. Before I can witness it boil over, I leave them there: my mom a feverish, unstable contagion; my dad still in perfect health. They’ll be fine.
We learn that my extended family escaped our back deck gathering unscathed. My little cousin reads from the Torah without sniffles or coughs – just your usual puberty-induced voice cracks. My grandfather merrily flies south to his Fort Lauderdale condo for the winter, an embarkment much riskier than a small, central Jersey Jew dinner. My dad, despite his lack of hygiene, knowledge, and preventative action, tests negative at the end of my mom’s isolation period. I couldn’t be any less sarcastic when I say, good for him! But honestly, the joke’s on them. My mom and I are the ones who’ve been granted immunity. You know, for at least a year. Or is it six months? Four? Actually, I think I heard about someone getting it twice.
Visuals by Ingrid Slater