I was never afraid of it. There were too many movies and books and video games and board games and card games about surviving a worldwide pandemic that a slow trickle of news reports from somewhere in Africa wasn’t enough to nourish even a healthy fear.
There was one moment, different for every one of us, when we started to get a little more afraid. It didn’t happen like in Contagion, or World War Z, or that Will Smith movie that I can’t remember the name of. It slowly crept around the atlas of the mind of Western society. And with each news article, every one of us told ourselves something to convince ourselves that it wouldn’t spread any further.
The moment that I grew a little more afraid wasn’t when it should have been. Jimmy Paschewitz’s dad came down with symptoms when he was travelling, and that was the moment when my parents grew a little more afraid. And rightfully so. But after that, they didn’t let me play with Jimmy anymore, even though Jimmy’s dad was hundreds of miles away. I should’ve been afraid, but I wasn’t. I just wanted to see my friend again.
I should have grown a little more afraid on the first day that the virus made the front headline. We would get a fresh copy of the Wall Street Journal on our driveway every morning, and I’d run out every morning before school, like a faithfully trained pet. But that wasn’t the moment for me, either. I ran outside and grabbed the paper, trying to slide the dew off the plastic, while rummaging through the paper and yanking out the comics page before I even got back to the house. When I got back inside, I gave the paper to my mom, my face still buried in cartoon drawings by Charles Schulz. When I looked up, expecting my mother to tell me to hurry before I missed the bus, tears were trickling from the corners of her eyes.
“Should I get ready for the bus?” I asked, as if I was giving her stage direction for a cue that she’d missed. “Should I?”
She struggled to get the words out, but I knew what she was going to say, so I snatched my backpack and headed for the door. But she reached out her hand and grabbed me, suddenly, before I left the kitchen. And yelled at me.
“No! Don’t leave the house. You’re staying home from school today. Go upstairs to your room.”
I only went to school one more time, one week later. I convinced my mom to let me go and see my friends one more time, and that I’d be okay. When she finally let me go, most of my friends weren’t there. But even then, my moment of noticeable growing fear hadn’t appeared yet. It was like I was putting it off, waiting until the right moment to finally begin feeling afraid, saving it for the day I’d really need it.
I started showing symptoms one week later.
I was in the bathroom, and I felt like something wasn’t quite right. It felt really weird, like my stomach had turned itself inside out, and my throat was tying itself in a knot. But even then, I delayed that single inevitable moment of fear just a little bit longer.
That moment didn’t come when my mom took me to the hospital, or when my dad called me because they wouldn’t let him visit. It didn’t come when they started wearing suits around me, or when they took blood, or even when they told me that they were going to try something called an Unconfirmed Trial Treatment.
Right before they wheeled me into the operating room, they took me to a screening room, sterile and empty, like I imagined the earth would be once it was done with us. Behind several layers of glass, I saw my family, through my emaciated reflection.
And that’s when the moment happened.
I said goodbye.
And let them take me into another white, sterile room.
There’s a strange kind of hope that I’ve only felt once or twice in my life––the kind of hope you feel because it’s the only thing left. If you didn’t feel it, you would have nothing, like that white void of an operating room.
The doctor said to me:
“We’re giving you a sedative now. Close your eyes.”
As I shut my eyes, that strange hope filled the sterile white void with so much life and so much color that even the naked cold of the operating table felt warm to me.
I shut my eyes, and the strange hope whispered to me:
“Don’t worry. I want nothing for you but for you to see life again. And if this is your last moment, it is mine, too.”