It’s Sunday, mid-July 2022, and I’m sitting in a wonky chair at a rickety desk at the Seattle airport Doubletree Hilton. Had things gone as planned, I’d be in Spokane, on day 4 of my 7 day training “tour” of the PNW. Instead I’m paying $350 per night for a room with a crusty rug and no fridge. I’ve had better night’s stays at Motel 6s for under fifty bucks.
Between the World Championship track and field events on NBC, I peer out my first floor window and curl my lip at the cruise ship people as they noisily exit my wing of the property. I guess I can’t be certain they are, in fact, cruise ship people. Maybe they are just obnoxious like I assume cruise ship people must be. Regardless, they bug me in a way that makes my skin hurt (or maybe that’s my fever). I am also disgusted by their luggage. Brand new, colored in barfy pastel tones, and freaking huge. I could easily fit every article of clothing I own into just one of the massive bags. Stupid.
Upon arrival, I couldn’t initially find my room. I figured 4117 would be on the 4th floor like most hotels, so up I went, happy to ride the elevator solo, only to come back down and rejoin the long, snaking check-in line for more assistance. The 4, turns out, referred to my building number, which was all the way across the property. “Just follow concourse one,” an unmasked clerk said as he squeaked a red sharpie onto a postcard-sized map. “That will lead you to concourse number two, and then to your building, which is right here.” He circled building number four and put an X in it. “Enjoy your stay,” he said.
But I didn’t want to walk through any stupid concourses. I didn’t want to make the most of my visit. My head pounded, my fingers were kinda numb, and I wanted to cry at the drop of a hat. I needed to be in my room, shoes off and resting. I didn’t want to push limits any more than I already most certainly had.
Earlier this morning, a friend had sent a message about her struggles with Covid. She claimed that too many outs and abouts for fresh air worsened her “mild” case and stretched what should have been a 5 day quarantine into more than two weeks. This morning’s move from my first hotel, including a ride with another unmasked Uber driver, was stressing me out. Also problematic—barely anyone in this so called high end hotel was masked. I was the one infected, but everything about this place had me, quite literally, holding my breath.
I burst outside the lobby, ignoring oblivious hoardes of Tommy Bahama clad humans standing in the way of the exit as my roller rammed into someone’s leg with a thud. Honestly, it felt good to get a punch in. I didn’t even bother apologizing.
Since there was no pedestrian friendly path to my building in the back 40, I walked down the middle of a rough driveway, my bag’s wheels rattled as if they might fall right off. Before long, a security Segway rolled up, slowed to my pace, and asked if I needed help. “No, I’m good,” I muttered without breaking stride or making eye contact. “You know where you’re going?” the pear shaped driver asked. “Yep,” I snapped. And only after I said, “Four,” with a head nod did he finally scoot away.
Up until now I’ve managed to elude contracting the global pandemic. One of the reasons I was so happy to move back to Carrboro in January was because I knew there’d be way more pro-maskers there than in Spokane. But these days, even Carrboro has grown lax. And yeah, I’ve occasionally been less diligent of late, but I still mostly rock one. Donning one has become so habitual that it’s hard to imagine life before carrying as many KN95s with me as I do tubes of Bert’s Bees (two on the average).
Pretty sure I know the precise moment I breathed in someone’s culprit germ—I was in a client’s store on my last work trip to Cleveland, helping a customer square away a new pair of walking shoes. Sweet older woman. As I rang her up, she told me her son has full blown Covid and she spent the last two days with him. “I sure hope I don’t get it,” she said to me. I’m going to guess that she already had it, just no symptoms yet.
Maybe, just maybe, Joanie passed her and her son’s bug onto me. And whether or not my case was from her, or someone from recent air travel, or another random someone, I know for sure I’ve since passed it to at least three others. Thank god so far all of these cases are “mild”— but so what? Mild or not, these people (and likely more) are all now suffering in various ways: physically, mentally, financially, etc. because of this chain of events. People whose lives and plans are suddenly upturned by having made contact with me.
Knowing I am a factor/vector in this terrible momentum is a tough pill to swallow. I know it’s “the world we live in” as a friend said, but I also feel like it has real potential to damage relationships.
I know this new BA.5 subvariant is highly contagious and many otherwise previously uninfected folks are suddenly getting sick. I also know this strain generally causes a less serious case of the virus. But nobody wants to be sick. So why isn’t it a bigger deal to keep doing whatever we can to keep each other healthy? I am dumbstruck by the pervasive demand for a mask free environment. Who wins?
I’ve joked that hereafter I’m going to live with a doggone mask on for years to come. But I’m not really joking. I don’t want this virus, mild or not, inside of me again. Never. And frankly, I’ll do everything I can to never again have to tell friends (or anyone, really!) that I may have just flipped their lives upside down. To me, that’s been the hardest part of this whole ordeal. I won’t be slipping up again anytime soon.