If you’ve lived any kind of normal life in the past month, you are waiting for the axe to fall. Who amongst all the people you talked to, walked by, touched on purpose or by accident, bumped in the elevator, blessed when they sneezed, shook hands with, hugged hello or goodbye or both, slipped the virus to you, snuck it in your pocket like a tiny present to unwrap later?
I don’t know if someone left a tiny present in my pocket, I just know that I’m not sick yet. When I wake up in the morning, I lay there for a minute and then I say, I’m not sick yet. And then I eat breakfast and I go outside and I work around the house, and I write, and maybe learn something, and then I go outside again, and, at 5:14, I watch the man on the next block walk past with his black dog. He has been walking by at 5:14 for years. Apparently, he isn’t sick yet either. I am always glad to see him because after he walks by, it is cocktail hour. That was fun before, but now it is important. Structure to our day, you know.
The mail carrier wears a mask and gloves. She doesn’t wave back, just studies the envelopes in her hands, like they’re the charts of today’s patients. She drops our chart in our old black mailbox and later my husband goes outside to retrieve it. He holds the mail in his hand covered by the end of his sweatshirt and tosses it on the dining room table. And I think right away, I am afraid to touch the mail. But I do anyway. I sort it into short stacks, notice that he’s gotten his absentee ballot but I haven’t, and then I open an envelope with a check for my menstrual supplies work.
Then I wash my hands, hard. And I start in with the second-guessing. I shouldn’t have touched the mail. I should have wiped the mail down with disinfectant. Then I ask my husband if he touched the mail, hoping to find some solidarity with him, but he says no, he picked it up with his sweatshirt sleeve covering his hand, and it is then I realize that I could get sick from touching the mail. That I could die from touching his absentee ballot, not even my own. Lord.
But then, as if by magic, a cowboy in my head lassos my dread, leaps off his horse, and ties up three of its legs so that it’s incapacitated. The cowboy then looks up at me in the stands and tips his hat. He is wearing a red checked shirt and blue jeans with chaps, boots with spurs he never uses, and a blue bandana tucked in his back pocket. He wipes his forehead with the bandana because, you know, it took some effort to get that dread under control.
I smile at the cowboy, thank him with my eyes, and whisper the words, “I’m not sick yet.”
Tomorrow, I will handle the mail with gloves.