I am curled up on the couch. I can’t––won’t––move. I am sick.
I am not sick with Covid, but in this moment I don’t know that. I am sick of Covid and I do know that
I need to leave this house and the people inside it, but I can’t. They said I had to isolate until I got the results. These past few months, my home, my sanctuary, has turned on me, exacerbating my inertia, boredom.
Lately, home feels more like a prison.
Home. It used to be a safe place to return at the end of every day. It is now the one place I want to burst free from. It’s happened slowly, this seeping contempt for the walls that surround me. But on the day I find myself on the couch, I am no longer in any denial.
Of course, my rational brain says I can stay here a few days, three days tops until I get the all clear, which my rational brain also tells me I will get. But I don’t want to. What I want is to be alone, a luxury I am not afforded at home anymore.
It’s not the test that has me balled up on the couch. I am strong. I am resilient. I am educated and informed. This thing cannot beat me. Beat us. What has me balled up on the couch is finally realising I am actually none of these things against this thing. It couldn’t care less.
The night before, my son packed his bag and ran away from me when I suggested––no, told him––he had to stay home, to help keep other people safe.
He didn’t say a word, just opened the door and ran down the street. He thinks I have gone mad. Both my kids do.
“You don’t have coronavirus Mum,” my daughter rolled her eyes at me.
I think she’s right, but I can’t be certain. None of us can be certain and that’s what they, the kids, don’t understand.
“I’m just trying to do the right thing,” I plead with them, as if that will be enough to make them understand. To my mind, the right thing is for us all to stay indoors. Until I know for sure.
I am sick. I have a cough and a runny nose. Lethargy. Nothing more. But it could be enough. Don’t they care about that? My son admits he has been coughing for weeks, since the kids went back to school, but he doesn’t think it means anything. He doesn’t think to take a test. “It would have been all over the school by now,” is his justification.
He’s probably right. But how does he know? None of us know.
On the couch, I replay every one of my interactions the previous two weeks. I am grateful I told my mum not to visit this week, worried about her compromised lungs, we decided to save seeing each other for when we really need it emotionally now that the situation is becoming uncertain again. But what about the other people I have seen? The friends I invited into my home, the friends I met for my first coffee outing in months, my neighbours who did a personal training session with me? What about their mums, or dads, or siblings, or kids, or grandparents? Where have I been, who have I seen? The thought of spreading the disease that I don’t believe I have is worse than the idea I myself might be sick with it.
And yet, it’s still not this that has me balled up on the couch. This I can understand, I can work through it, weigh up the odds. This type of stress makes sense to me.
Deciding to have the test is stressful. Lining up in my car at a place I would normally come to shop, inching slowly towards the healthcare workers in full PPE, having cotton buds poked up my nose and thrust down my throat is stressful. Admitting to my brother and my mum, who I planned to see that coming weekend, that I have a cold and am being tested is stressful.
“You did the right thing,” they say.
When I start sobbing, balled up on that couch, I can’t stop. I have been in this position before, emotionally wracked, but this time is different. It’s not that I feel broken, the whole world feels broken. I am crying for everything I know and don’t know and also for people I have never met in countries I have never been, it’s everything I want and can’t have as well as everything everyone wants and longs for all rolled into one. Is this collective grief? I am so lost in it I can’t move, I have to let it take me, finally, after all these months, I need the release. I am crying for myself, for all the things I have lost as well as for my kids and my husband, all the things they have lost and I am crying for all the other people I know and what they have lost and then all the people I have seen on the news and what they have lost and it feels like there is no end to it.
It is dawning on me that despite all of my best efforts to keep everyone I know and love safe, we are all only human and the virus will care little for my efforts. I cry under the burden and weight of a responsibility I cannot carry alone.
I know, right then, that what I have lost is hope. The other side of it is despair.
It doesn’t matter what the test result is, Covid finally broke me.
My family come and go as I am balled up on the couch. They ask if I am ok and I tell them I am not. They think I am angry with them, and I am, because none of my own family said those few words “you did the right thing” but it’s more than that, I want someone to sit with me for a moment and say “we will get through this” but I don’t know how to ask and they don’t know it’s what I need. I also know no one can say those other words “we will be ok”. If they did, they would be lying. I can’t blame them, we are all lost in this, no one knows what the “right thing” to do is at any given moment anymore. It’s exhausting.
I don’t feel I have the right even, to write any of this because there are people who have experienced worse, whose stories have more gravity. I suppose that’s why I am writing it. If Covid broke me like this when the disease itself hasn’t yet touched my family, like it has touched so many others, then perhaps other people are feeling the same. Maybe if they read how I felt, balled up on that couch, overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation, it might help them know they are not alone.
Fear, longing, despair, anger, confusion, blame and every other emotion has risen along with Victoria’s case numbers, compounded by the months of hardship and heartache that have already gone before.
My test is negative. “Told you so,” my daughter said. At least it’s one burden I don’t have to carry and my heart feels heavy for all the families that do.
Armed with my negative result, the next day I leave the house alone. Fuck “doing the right thing” and staying home with my cold, I had to get out. Breathe. I drive into the sun, towards Mt Dandenong craving a view of the city I love. I walk and I suck in the fresh air, listen for the rustle of the wind in the trees and birdsong and peace. I keep walking, further than I should but needing it. The return leg means climbing a steep track that will lead me to the best city views. I feel drained by my physical illness and mental anguish, but I clamour on, over the rocks, thinking along the way of all the metaphors we associate with mountains. Sweat drips down my back and my calves burn with the effort, the climb is reminding me to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the direction you want to go, regardless of how much it hurts at times.
The drive, the sun, the climb reward me well. There it stands on the horizon, my beleaguered city, tiny peaks rising from the flatlands below, still covered in mist from the cool June air. The haze has a pink tinge to it and it’s easy to imagine it being a Covid cloud. But the view grants me perspective of the millions of us who live in the city’s urban sprawl and how the disease, as insidious as it is, will not, cannot, reach us all. The Covid cloud looks small from up here, escapeable.