There is contagion in my TA. It all started when my housemate—let’s call her Typhoid Kayla—coughed while emptying the dish rack. Although she coughed into her sleeve, small, meddling germs traveled across the clean dishes and settled on a “Fuck the Patriarchy” cup idling among the cutlery. This little cup, instead, fucked us one by one.
Within a day and a half, nothing was safe and nothing was sacred. Our shared toothbrush holder: contaminated. The dishtowel with the repeated pear pattern: blighted. The “Spice Drawer” puzzle we had started the weekend before: poisoned. Soon, all four of us were suffering. We sent in a bulk Kleenex order to the local Rite Aid, requesting that 25 boxes be shipped to campus. However, when they arrived at Shipping & Receiving, we were unable to drag ourselves from the TA’s plastic couches to retrieve them.
We resorted to our pear-patterned dishtowels and the ream of paper we had stolen for the TA printer. We sprayed down the faucets with anti-bacterial cleaner, hoping to stop the contagion in its tracks, but the Lemon Fresh scent made us sneeze and the air turned dense with snot mist.
We decided to lean into the virus and come out the other side stronger, wiser and slightly underweight. Black curtains covering our windows and signals emitting from our ham radio alerted passerby to the dangers within. Emails to our professors were signed “Regretfully,” or “Until we meet again.” We called our parents and reassured them that we were still alive, lying that we had only lost our voices from cheering at a fun lecture. We tacked up notices in the library and laundry room that told our friends about safety conditions. They explained that if you were coming by to try some of the artichoke bruschetta I bought, know that you would be entering the common cold’s favorite apartment.
We promised to nurse each other back to health without fear—if we’d already been infected, there was no reason we couldn’t kiss each other’s foreheads and cuddle to read through WebMD! It would be like every team or cast bonding you’d been to, but instead of wine, we would’ve offered a gallon of room-temperature orange juice!
Besides the isolation, the worst part of the cold was the sleepless nights. On the Tuesday before break, all four of us were awakened by the same lurid dream. We fearfully realized that the cold had taken over our subconscious. In the dream, a gigantic virus loomed at the foot of our beds. It spoke to us in piercing cries: “This Nyquil is too expensive!” and “Baldwin says C-section!” Our cold-addled brains were shaking us up, but we went back to bed determined to sleep through the night. As I lay down with twisted, tusk-like tissues stuck in each nostril, I heard a high-pitched whine. I thought it was the virus! I opened my eyes as quickly as my headache allowed to see one of my housemates shaking me awake. I sat up and coughed, the tissue tusks fell out of my nose as I searched her worried face.
“Do you have cough drops?” she choked out. “I have some,” I croaked, “in my tampon Ziploc.”
She left my room and I finally fell asleep to even more feverish dreams. I dreamt that the president ran my high school carpool and all my friends’ moms were secret service agents. But I wasn’t a high school sophomore—I was Lauren Bush’s F.E.E.D. bag, full of her childhood diaries and soy crackers. In another dream, the tree outside my window was decorated with Christmas lights that played music from Train’s “My Private Nation” whenever someone passed underneath it. I had a nightmare about my Camelbak and a sex dream about Willem Defoe. The hours dragged by; I woke in starts only to cough and blow my nose into my pillowcase.
By dawn, I had decided to skip my 10:30 class and promised myself that I would make it to October break. I emerged from my room and crept into the kitchen to throw away some old orange slices that had found their way from my bedside table to my laundry basket. My housemates were sitting at the island, drearily pouring hot water into teacups. “Are we still having a party tonight?” asked Typhoid Kayla.
We all looked at each other and grimaced. “I guess we could play some light jazz,” I said, crying at the sound of my voice.
“We can convince people that the Gatorade we’re drinking is jungle juice,” said Kira.
We agreed on a small get-together. Just a few buds that are known for their strong immune systems. The big party will happen after break, we decided, when the senioritis really settles in our lungs.