Oh Hey Pandemic

First off, it’s been quiet on here. I’ve been writing a lot on the side, things you don’t see, because, well, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but that’s for a different post. Now we’re in a pandemic. And somehow watching my house burning down nearly 3 years ago prepared me a little for this.

I first read about COVID-19 in a friend’s Facebook post on January 21st. Her post read:

“World: There’s a new deadly virus named after a beer!
Me: That’s very bad.
World: And it’s in the US!
Me: *squinty eyes* where?
World: Seattle!
Me, in Seattle: Of course it is.

I shouldn’t leave Texas… or go outside.”

I did some research at that moment and learned about what was happening in China and the virus and that it had made it to the US via Washington state. It was around that time that people in China were posting videos and they were quickly being sensored. As I read, back in January, I could feel something was different.

FEBRUARY 26-29 At the end of February we went to the Rodeo Cookoff. We’re part of a team, I bartended all three days and had tons of contact with loads of people. Without saying anything out loud, I questioned if we should go. If it was safe. But we went and I kept a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket.

MARCH 3 The next weekend, we went to the opening night of the rodeo. This was the first time I questioned out loud if it was safe. We figured we had box seats so we had less chance of being close to tons of people. But after the show we walked around and as we weaved through the masses of people, I felt the feelings rise. It was like I was watching it in slow motion as women and men brushed past each other, or walked in tight masses, all breathing on each other, laughing and expelling disease.

MARCH 5 A Rice university staffer tests positive. He was part of an Egypt cruise.

MARCH 6-10 I was sitting in the woods with our family and a huge group of friends on a camping trip for Issa’s birthday. I was fully reclined in my camping chair, and shifting my eyes I could either look at the sky through the trees or at the edge of the water by our camp site. I took a deep breath and thought, “this is the last time we get to do this for a while”.

I had joked with a friend about how if the zombie apocalypse happens, we KNOW holding up in a tent is not the right choice. I bought 6 bottles of hand soap just for camping. I washed my hands more.

My dad called on his way home from the campsite. He left a little earlier than us and went back to Houston. “Christina, this is going to get bad. You need to stop for supplies on your way home.”

In Houston hurricane prep is a yearly thing. You get your water, your batteries, fuel for your grill and/or generator. It’s a normal part of life here. I wasn’t sure what supplies I’d need for a pandemic. I did know we only had three rolls of toilet paper left at home.

WED, MAR 11 Back in Houston, I put in my pick up grocery order, just as usual. The stores were out of toilet paper. We got an update from Issa’s school that they are “limiting out-of-state student travel until further notice in order to minimize the risk of students not being able to return home to our ISD safely.”

About an hour later, we hear they are canceling the Rodeo. This is the moment I KNEW it was a big deal. In the press conference it comes out that one of the 3 confirmed cases had been at the cookoff on February 28th. We’d been there. In the first case of community spread in our area. We’re up to 15 cases. I hold my breath waiting to hear what cook off tent the cases were in.

THUR, MAR 12 We get an email from the school district that classes are canceled for the following week. They’ve moved to a level 3. At this point I knew we wouldn’t be going back to school for a long while. Disney closes parks. Port of Baltimore is closed. I have friends on a cruise out of Baltimore.

FRI, MAR 13 Cruise lines suspend all cruises until April 10th. 6 states have canceled school state wide. Trump declares a national state of emergency. I have other friends on a cruise out of Galveston, I’m texting them news updates.

SUN, MAR 15 Even though they’d only canceled school for one week, we took some time and cleaned out the playroom to create a learning space.  We could feel what was coming.

MON, MAR 16 The first death in Houston, a man in his 90s. Our school district announces that schools are closed through April 10th, this announcement happens at the exact same time as other districts. It also happens just after the mayor and county judge announce that all restaurants should go to take out only. Bars and clubs are required to close. We found out what cook off tent the case, and 3 others were in, it wasn’t ours. I finally exhale.

TUES, MAR 17 California is on a total lock down. Trump says they’re starting human trials on a vaccine. There is a malaria drug that’s proofing positive in treatment.

WED, MAR 18 The port of Houston closes two terminals when 2 workers tested positive. Governor announces DMVs across the state are to close. Delivery of beer, wine and mixed drinks is allowed. Retail stores begin reducing hours. FEMA is deployed.

THUR, MAR 19 Tax day moved to July. 

FRI, MAR 20 US Mexico border closed to non-essential travel.

SAT, MAR 21 More Texas counties are confirming cases. Beach access on Galveston west end are shut down. Houston opens its first testing site. Only testing 65 years and older. 

MON, MAR 23 Harris county goes on total lockdown at midnight. All non-essential businesses close. 

WED, MAR 15 Trump approves Gov. Abbots request for a state of emergency for Texas.

I started keeping a timeline of what was happening, but nothing that happened surprised me. We had friends who were really freaking out. We had others who were staying put in a happy place of denial. They were convinced everything would go back to normal within a week. We’d all be back at school and eating at restaurants and that everything would be fine.

I was chatting with Issa’s therapist and she asked how Bill and I were doing and I said, we’re just rolling with the punches, we’re pretty good. I mentioned that I felt like we should be more freaked out, but she said it wasn’t surprising we weren’t. “You’ve all been living in a state of chaos for years, with the fire and a temporary rental and the rebuild and the contractor walking off and navigating all of it. For you and especially for Issa, chaos is normal.”

Chaos is normal…I don’t know if that makes us insane or super heros.

What’s weird about this chaos is we’re experiencing it with the rest of the world, at the same time. With the fire we were on an island. Occasionally we’d meet people who’d gone through a house fire and we knew instantly we had similar islands. With the pandemic we’re all in the same boat, just the look and style is a little different than everyone else’s. Some people are in tiny apartment sized boats, some are in yachts. Some are keeping their boats docked far from other’s, some are all anchoring down together and having big swim parties in the middle of the lake. Some are sitting in boats made of denial. I road that boat in the early days of the fire, its comfy and cozy and smells like cinnamon.

Early on I’d hoped our common experience would unite us. I quickly realized that with everyone experiencing trauma at the same time, we would all handle it differently. I think that’s honestly at the root of the division we’re seeing today.

Our therapist has told us many times that the fire, that trauma, could have very easily ended our marriage. We lived the same trauma, but we both experienced and handled it differently. We made a choice to support each other, to work together and to have grace for each other when our shit was super stinky and we couldn’t handle the world. The thing we were dealing with was the same, how we dealt with it was what was different. I think we’re seeing the same thing on a world wide scale with this pandemic.

Some of us have experienced major life trauma before. This isn’t our first rodeo. If we’ve worked through past trauma, we have the tools to work through this one too. For those who don’t have those tools, they’re grasping at straws. Unfortunately the straws are made to be easily accessible by social media and news media. Considering most of us are in some level of quarantine, those are the only straws we have access to.

I suppose I say all this to say, this pandemic, this is trauma. Your way of life, your day to day, how you operate has been tossed on its head. This is hard. It IS scary. It’s unknown and weird. It’s ok to be totally freaked out.

You’re going to be waiting for things to go back to normal. I need you to take a deep breath right now, right here, because I’m about to say something super scary. Your life will never go back to “normal”. That was the before. In the same way that we often refer to stories as “pre fire” or “after the fire” you will do the same.

What’s happening now is you’re creating something new. You’re working within weird parameters of working from home, schooling from home, not going to bars or out to eat or doing all your shopping online. This is a new life we’re creating. A new way of life. If we can all take a few seconds to recognize we’re dealing with trauma and not kill each other in the process, we could very well have something beautiful on our hands when this is all over.

You are going to be ok. We are going to get through this. You are stronger than fire a pandemic.