I entered quarantine for COVID-19 six months ago today and haven’t left it since. In fact, I haven’t left the chair in which I currently sit. It has wheels, so I can get around my Mount Winchester estate fairly easily. As I watch the world broil outside my louvered parapet windows, I realize I’ve given up nothing, and everything.
For certain, I locked down a little early for a reluctant American, but I’ve always been ahead of the flattened curve, like when I called for the invasion of Iraq in March 2002, and when I published “In Defense of Phrenology” in The New Republic during my two-week tenure at the helm of that magazine in 1996.
I’m also no stranger to isolation. The Japanese held me prisoner at Corregidor for four months in 1942, finally releasing me because they couldn’t stand the prose poems I was writing about them. In 1960, I moldered for six solitary weeks in Siberia after the Soviets shot down my spy plane.
Plus, I once spent a week in Belgium, and I once had a conversation with Jonathan Franzen. So I’m no stranger to the banality of cloistered suffering.
To save the world from COVID-19, I gave up my career, my friendships, my hobbies, my happiness, and my sanity, but if my viral penance saved just one life, then it’s all been worth the effort. And it hasn’t all been self-denial. I wrote excellent essays like this one and watched every episode of “90 Day Fiancé,” including the reunion specials.
Like all the other writers who haven’t left their homes since March unless it was to protest injustice, I am the true hero of the pandemic. We gave up everything to do nothing. I would demand a prize if I didn’t already possess all the prizes available to me.
I cannot mention my sacrifice without also thanking those who sacrificed so I could sacrifice without sacrificing myself. Specifically, I must give props to my beleaguered manservant, Roger. COVID-19 struck his rail-thin body early in the pandemic after he attempted to sneak some dinner rolls to his elderly twin aunts who live at the senior-care facility at the bottom of the mountain.
For two weeks after their deaths, he coughed and sweated and sputtered, until at least he recovered sufficiently to go get me some groceries at Trader Joe’s. I remained isolated and avoided his plague fate.
It was a tough spring and summer for Roger. He suffers now from “long-haul” coronavirus, a mysterious array of symptoms that include but are not limited to nausea, dizziness, sore knees, night deafness, heart murmurs, sobbing, a loss of a sense of humor, inconsistent political thinking, rickets, constipation, and the inability to distinguish the Hemsworth brothers in photographs.
Yet still, Roger soldiers on, as his father and grandfather, also named Roger, did before him, knowing that my contributions to the culture are more important than any symptoms he may or may not be exhibiting at the moment. He continues to do the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the fixing, and the bill-paying, and he continues to play the lute in front of my door at night so I can drop off to a restful sleep.
“Roger,” I called out this morning. “Is the pandemic over yet?”
“Not yet, sir.”
“Surely, though, by staying inside, I have stopped the spread of the virus!”
“Not exactly, sir.”
He proceeded to read me the news. Then I realized: This will never be over. We’re in for the longest, hardest, saddest winter since Joseph Stalin and Walter Duranty danced a jig together in Moscow.
It’s like the Black Death, only blacker and deathier. The corpse cart will be coming to your town soon, and mine. I must remain locked away forever unless a comely doctor rescues me and takes me away to Immunity Island.
Here I sit, all broken-hearted. Tried to save 186,000 lives, but only farted.