Living through a pandemic means endless hours of evaluating risk and erring on the side of caution. The enemy is invisible and highly contagious. Friends could be poisonous, and a neighborhood walk feels like a spin of the roulette wheel. We’re out of eggs but is it worth killing Grandma? When isolation frustration kicks in, I try to feel grateful for all I have. When that fails, I consume stories about people on ventilators, and watch videos of families saying goodbye to dying, isolated relatives. I remind myself of the horror of Covid. We do not want this. We miss our friends, but we do not want this. I repeat my mantra: This is all we need to do. I think about how I want to look back on this year. I want my children to feel proud of themselves, sacrificing for the greater good.
Over the summer, my family and I were heading south on the 101 towards the Golden Gate Bridge, returning home after an outdoor, distanced dinner with friends in Marin. I was driving, my husband in the passenger seat, kids in the back. We were listening to the band Khruangbin and were nearly giddy from the rare event of socializing with non-family members.
Let me pause to mention that I am a nervous driver. In 2009, I was in a head-on car crash, one that left me – with the exception of a bruised nose from the airbag – miraculously, physically unharmed. But I carry that crash with me. I see the other driver’s face through the windshield and remember “Losing My Religion” was on the radio. I recall stepping carefully out of my red Honda Civic to examine the wreckage. A stranger took my arm and led me to the sidewalk. He said, “I saw it happen. I can’t believe you’re ok.” I remember the smell of his deodorant and the way his voice cracked when he said, “You’re ok.” My husband arrived and brought me to the hospital where I was placed under observation. Natasha Richardson had died earlier that year, two days after sustaining a head injury. No one was taking chances.
Back to the bridge and Khruangbin. As sometimes happens when I drive at night, a sense of dread came over me. I imagined flipping the car and catapulting off the side of the bridge, slamming into the dark water. I reviewed my alcohol intake, wondering if that was a factor. Two glasses of wine over four hours. Intellectually I knew I was sober, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. My hands turned sweaty and my legs trembled. I asked my husband to drive, and pulled off the highway into a mall parking lot. Later, after the kids had gone to bed, my only explanation was, “I thought something bad might happen.”
Recently I have found myself replaying that night. I made a choice, and all I have to show for it is what didn’t occur. I’ll never know what could have happened on the bridge. All the could-have-beens drowned in the cold dark water.
And now, during Covid, we make similar calculations without a spare driver. We are parked in our masks, on our Zooms, exhausted every night from assessing and quantifying everyday life. Tomorrow we will do the same. Make choices and wait.