When the film burns up
a Coronavirus antistory
In the early days, my mind kept returning to the same thought: what does it mean to realize that something you have painstakingly built a life around avoiding is now inside of you?
“The Coronavirus” was a very epic story inside of my brain, my life, my marriage, my friendships, my community, my country. My interpretation of this story has led me to make a thousand small decisions over the last couple of years that, en masse, add up to the shape of a life, of lives. The plot was ever unfolding, the characters as rich as any movie, the tension rich and layered. And then all of the sudden, the film burned up.
The story was no longer a story. It was a measurable thing inside of my body and the bodies of my daughters.
The physicality of covid was not unlike what I expected it might be for us–all vaccinated, all otherwise healthy. I should note that we were lucky to have an extremely clear covid trajectory. We knew right when we got it. We tested positive. We didn’t expose anyone else. I know there are far more complex experiences out there.
The girls bounced back fast. So fast, in fact, that their bone tired momma struggled to keep up. (My husband, knock wood, never got it.) One morning, I slept in my five-year-old’s car bed, hiding from the bright light under her covers, as she played Play-mobile. At other times, I let them watch Netflix, set my alarm for an hour, and then just snoozed and snoozed.
This was unexpected: the sleep was delicious. I can’t remember ever actually enjoying sleep as much, or having dreams so wide and kind–nothing like the anxious, symbolic clusters I usually experience. I dreamt of old friends and lovers, but everyone was just sort of passing through, wide smiles on their faces. The colors were soft. The moods were pleasant and nostalgic, but not angsty. I often dream that I’ve accidentally hurt someone’s feelings or, in more recent years, lost track of safety protocols and exposed myself or others to covid. None of that. I didn’t hurt anyone. No one hurt me. We were all just in dream land, saying heya.
Was this the sleep of a woman who shed a big story?
The night my sleep shifted back to its prior state was unmistakable. I woke up a little mournful for what must have been the height of the virus in my body, as completely strange as that sounds. That sleep was totally immersive, like floating away on a raft of clouds. It was the visceral opposite of the thousand anxious paper cuts that have characterized endless risk assessment over my last two years. It was total surrender.
It’s a well worn cliche–when the thing you fear actually happens, it’s often liberating. In this case, that is sort of true. But I’m trying to say something else, actually. I think that that full-surrender sleep was a teaching of some kind.
Covid is real. Our story about it is not.
Whatever news sources you read, whatever your beliefs about vaccines–it’s all a story you’ve been writing alongside other people you trust about what this thing is and how it should shape our lives (or not). And in many ways, The Coronavirus has become a host story for a million other parasitic stories–our politics, our most intimate tensions, our economic ideas, our religious values, our parental aspirations. What a heavy frickin’ story, y’all. What a weight.
For a few days, the weight lifted. I had no story because I was the virus and the virus was me. I had to eat and sleep and survive it. I had to care for my girls and make art with them and watch the 1996 version of Harriet the Spy. I made no minor decisions with major consequences. I discussed nothing, unless you count when Stella asked me whether people’s clothes disappear when they die. Our four walls closed in on us, our bodies stood strong for us, our stories became academic.
How do I bring this with me, now that we are blinking our way back into the sunlight?
That’s not rhetorical. I don’t know.
I do know that I crave that sleep, or even some less profound version of it. I do know that I would like to move forward less encumbered by my stories (not my caution for collective wellbeing, mind you, but all the layering and layering and layering on that I was doing). I do know that I’ve got a good, strong body with things to teach me.
Making meaning of this pandemic is a very human response, but maybe it can also become a bit of an addiction, another way to control, and build an identity around how you’re doing it right while so many are doing it wrong.
Now I’m wondering: is there a way to disentangle the story from the information? Yes, we need to take care of ourselves and each other. Yes, we need to stay aware and intentional, particularly considering the most vulnerable among us. But is there a way to do it with less ego and more observing tenderness?
It turns out, the interpretation of life is relentless. The suspension of interpretation, while brief and groundless, can be a sweet relief. I want less ego-building exercises and more compassion experiments in my life moving forward. I want less roller coasters and more clouds. I want less fear and more love.