Saturday, May 16, 2020

Scars: Corona Chronicles ~ Day 57

Dear M,

It's been 57 days since my first symptom of Covid-19, and I'm writing this between alternating puffs of inhalers and deep reaches for a full breath (I went for a walk for the first time in over 60 days and after about 5 mins of slow walking, my whole body was shaking and I was breathless). Everyday, I imagine what I will tell you about this time when you're older, but each day you are getting older, and I still haven't figured out all the words I want to say to you. I fumble, but as you will assuredly learn about your mamma - words are what I do best. So here goes...

57 days ago, my throat randomly and suddenly started hurting, my tummy started giving me trouble, and this happened after a couple days of what I thought was an allergy-induced runny nose. I didn't think much of it - the weather was changing, and one thing was sure until 58 days ago - it couldn't have been Covid. How could it?

To tell you a little more, I have to go beyond 57 and even 58 days ago, to about 30+ years ago.

33 years ago, your daddy was born a warrior - he came out blue and ready to fight - for air, for a chance, and for his life. He was not even a few hours old when he had his first ride in an ambulance to get his heart looked at carefully. He would become a pro at heart surgery by age 4. As he got older, he kept fighting and grew stronger with each fight. When I met daddy, he was already a trained fighter, and I was glad I got to be on his team - fighting with him and for him.  Sometimes people don't understand what it takes to fight like this. Fighting for your life on a daily basis leaves different types of scars and also different stories to go with each scar. There are scars from the time daddy couldn't breathe, others from the time he was so sick for over 6 months because he got exposed to someone who wasn't vaccinated against a really preventable disease. Some scars I still see - like the one he got from getting exposed to germs that made him so sick 2 years ago that he developed life-long food allergies and he (we) had to completely alter his (our) diet.

It's these scars that haven't fully healed that make it hard sometimes for mamma to go to the kitchen - because for 2 months everything I cooked made daddy so sick and we didn't know why. It's these scars that haven't healed that lead us to change plans when someone we want to hang out with is sick, or when there's a mumps or measles outbreak in your school, and we keep you home. And every time we do, it feels like someone is jabbing deeper into daddy's scars when they ask, "What's the big deal? It'll help your immunity!" The thing is though - not everyone's immunity looks and behaves the same way - and it's not okay to force someone to disclose their scars to prove that they have a legitimate reason to be careful.

I want you to know about one of these scars in today's story...

In December 2019 (as far as we know), the first case of a superbug called novel Coronavirus showed up in the world. For most people, a scary bug somewhere far away may not spark fear, but I remember turning to daddy and asking, "What if it spreads everywhere and you get it?" in December 2019! You'll learn this about your mamma - I excel at imagining and voicing worst-case scenarios, and daddy excels at calming me down.

By February 2020, it was still only slowly spreading in the US (as far as we know), and by February 29 - daddy and I had begun cancelling all plans for travel March onwards. In the first week of March, there was only one known case in all of San Diego county, and EVERYTHING was still open - schools, colleges, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, cafes, malls, parks, playgrounds, beaches, etc. We went to the grocery store on February 22nd and that was the last time for us before everything closed (and to the day I write this). In the first week of March, daddy and I began to make plans to start staying at home - we stocked up on dal, chawal, soap, and diapers. We started telling colleagues, professors, classmates, and your school teachers that we were going to stay home. Often we were met with confusion or questions. Others offered us placations and told us it wasn't a big deal. We didn't know if we were overreacting, but we knew we couldn't afford to find out. What we did know was that Covid-19 was new, and was killing elderly folx and people with compromised immune symptoms (like daddy), underlying conditions like, heart disease (your daddy), respiratory illness (your daddy), and on immunosuppressants (your daddy).

So we began our usual "care-taking routine". We stopped going to crowded places, stocked up on essentials as much as possible and was responsible, and stepped away from public commitments. We decided on a Tuesday evening that it would be your last day at school and I'm still sorry you didn't get to say a proper goodbye to your friends and teachers that day. None of us thought that almost 2 months later, we would still be in this position. I'll write you another letter about the emotional rollercoaster you (and we) have gone through, especially when you don't fully understand what's going on, but you do know that everything you knew has shifted.

One thing was different in this time's "care-taking routine" - Daddy came out. Daddy decided this was important and big enough that he needed to let his friends and colleagues know why he was going to be staying home even before everything else shut down. The stakes were much much higher than pink eye going around. Though we also know how painful that was! This forced coming out that daddy had to do has a lot to do with the world not always understanding invisible disabilities and illnesses. We live in a pretty fucked up colonialist-capitalist world where often times our lives are measured by how much "work" we can produce, at whatever cost. I hope you always know how hard we are fighting to build a different world with you. So anyway, daddy decided he was going to go for one last meeting to tell his friends that he wouldn't be going to work physically anymore. It was at this meeting that daddy got exposed to Covid-19.

But we didn't know then. And we didn't know until 58 days ago for daddy and 57 days ago for me what was happening to us.

It was really confusing at first. Daddy got sniffly, his throat was hurting, he was tired and weak beyond belief and without explanation, his tummy was hurting, he was coughing, and he couldn't breathe well. We thought allergies...a cold...a random bug? Until we found out that someone at that meeting had also been sick and traveled. 58 days ago, we found out. By then, daddy already had been sick for a few days, and so you and I had already been exposed.

I felt so stupid, so utterly humiliated, bewildered, and completely defeated. We had tried so hard. Friends were helping us with grocery shopping, we hadn't even gone for walks, and we had been SO careful before this was being taken seriously by most people. And we still got sick.

The cut had been made.

And it's only now, very slowly beginning to scar over.

We keep surfing along. Love always,
-your mamma

Sculpture of (safe) surfer wearing a mask in Cardiff, CA.
📷: Suparna Kudesia

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