No one ever thinks it will happen to them. Those things you see in the news. The bolt of lightning that strikes a person. The body left charred. The car that drove through a living room and knocked the house off its foundation. The child hit as he crossed the street, leaving behind red streaks of blood where he once stood. It has always happened to someone else. Not to me. Not to my family. We saw the pandemic strike China, then Italy, and spread. I thanked God it was them and not us. Things like this don’t happen to us. Not my family. Every night we’d praise God for his grace.
The pandemic hit. The president insisted it was a minor issue being played up in the media. It made sense. No one in my family or friend circle was affected. Then the state shut down. Schools closed. Work was furloughed or became work from home. It even happened to my family.
“Safer at home,” they said, and we listened until we didn’t. Masks were uncomfortable. Hugs in our family are considered a basic human need. The five of us would congregate on the porch on the warm evenings of spring. We’d wave at our neighbors as they walked by. Grandma would crochet or knit vibrant scarfs, booties, and doilies. Jonas texted his friends with emojis and dreams of high school graduation. Tom and I held hands. I’d sip chardonnay until my cheeks turned pink. He’d knock back his Budweiser until his breath soured. Tina colored on the sidewalk on hands and knees up to the porch with rainbows and blessings. Her little fingers and palms would be colored pastel. We had never spent so much time together as a family. It was nice.
Our neighbor Roger liked to walk his dog in the evenings always with a spring in his step and a USA windbreaker. He’d always stop for a chat. That night, he was slow and thoughtful. From the porch, I shouted, “How’s Anne?”
“She’s good, she’s in pain, but she’s good,” Roger said, as he paused in front of the house with his white Pekingese.
“I heard it’s painful. You need anything?”
“Well, it’s the COVID. But you know she’ll pull through — Nah, we’re good.”
It was a shame about Anne, but it happened to their family, not mine. Thank God. Thoughts and prayers and all that. We aren’t the type of people these things happen to.
Jonas still worked on the front lines as an essential worker. A bagger at Ralphs. It was a simple job that gave him money to spend and the ability to hang out with his friends. His 15-hour weeks turned to 40. School was canceled. He could get the hours. He took them. Every day he’d leave with his old N95 mask that became grubbier each shift and biker gloves he never washed. In the evening, he’d come back exhausted. He’d tell us stories of people being aggressive over toilet paper or other limited supplies.
Grandma snuck off to her bible study group every day when we weren’t looking. She’d Uber, or have the pastor come pick her up in his lime green Saturn. Even though the news told her that she should stay at home, being vulnerable and all. She still went.
I’m not sure who developed the first cough. It had to be Grandma or Jonas. Tom worked from home and managed his global team. Tina Zoom-schooled third grade. I was laid off from being a contract Imagineer at Disneyland. After years of waiting to be hired. Then the pandemic. Mimosas and Bloody Mary brunches became my self-care. Even in my current buzzed state, I knew it wasn’t the three of us.
A month ago, grandma came home in the middle of the afternoon complaining of body aches and pains. Which was nothing new. She was 90. Everything hurt anyway. It wasn’t until she was confused and had trouble breathing that we called for an ambulance. She passed on the way to the hospital. We assumed it was old age until we were told to self-quarantine for 14 days by the CDC. Her church live-streamed her memorial service. It was beautiful. Even with our intermittent connection.
Jonas was pissed and resistant to stay at home. His teenage angst boiled up into arguments about fairness. Five days later, he struggled to stay awake. He just couldn’t do it. I thought it was a growth spurt. His dry cough had worsened and proved otherwise. He was alone in the ICU with the beeping monitors. Struggling to breathe. Without access to a ventilator. My sweet boy expired. Alone. This didn’t happen to people like us; they said so in the news.
Tina ran a high fever and became listless. I found her eight-year-old body, cloaked in sweat. Crumpled on the floor in her fairy princess costume. I scooped her up. Yelled for Tom to get the car. We went to the emergency room. We were separated and told to go home. They carried our limp little girl away. The ER nurses were kind and let us FaceTime our little one. She was scared and confused. Her last breaths were streamed for us. Thankfully the connection remained stable. Unlike my emotional state. I don’t know how this happened to us. We weren’t people things happened to. Once was probable but highly unlikely. Definitely not twice. Thrice didn’t even seem possible. I heard it’s called cognitive dissonance.
From there, it’s a blur. Tom’s death didn’t even register. I knew he was gone because there was plenty of bud in the refrigerator. I just don’t remember when.
The news didn’t tell me how I should feel. It was inconsistent. It was a political plague, they said. I expected it to come for grandma as flus often take the old. The rest took me by surprise. Healthy and young. That was supposed to make them invulnerable. Now I am stuck in a looping stage of grief. I fluctuate between the numbness of denial and the heaviness of despair. I’m on the brink of acceptance. There were five of us. Now I’m the only one. It happened to us. Not just me — to my family. Each. One. Gone. Hugs and coughs were the death of us, that and a fractured nation.
Thea Pueschel is a writer, multi-media artist, and filmmaker. In her work, she enjoys exploring the dark with light humor, and the light with dark humor. Thea believes that without the shadow, there is no story. Her work has been in Rebelle Society, Heritage Future, and DNA Magazine.