[TW: This article describes illness of a family member and discusses death.]
With some homework, it’s easy enough: Just hand it in. Use your compulsory—no, compulsive—daily survey of the news to help you write your papers. Learn from a Cuomo powerpoint that the chances of your sister dying while working in a medical intensive care unit is greatly increased because it is now part of a COVID-19-only hospital, as designated by the State.
Use your big heart to research the worst cases before realizing there’s little you can do to help. Rally the neighborhood to drop extra personal protective equipment at your doorstep, but watch her get sick anyway.
Use your anxiety to wash your hands. Use your misery to watch your neighbors forego social distancing. For more than a week, listen to your sister’s cough when you fall asleep. Listen to her coughing when you wake up. Try to leave trays outside of her door, but realize all too quickly that she’s too weak to get out of bed. Masks and gloves for all of us, then, as we feed her.
Use your naive expectations of what college would be like to cry. Cry over the relatively inconsequential stuff, mostly because it’s easier to worry about. Cry for the seniors completing their theses without a library, without a graduation. Cry for the juniors without a JYA. Cry for the sophomores who left campus just as they declared their majors. Cry for the first-years you didn’t get to meet yet.
Use your eyes to cry for the people you might never meet, or don’t; there’s no guidebook.
She’s better now. She’s been cleared. We’re waiting on the results of her antibody test.
Use your eyes to keep reading of reality, even though you want to look away.
Tomorrow, she’ll go back to work. It’s the same place that the news media keeps photographing, but the photos aren’t the whole truth. Your sister and her friends are very good doctors in an ill-equipped system.
Use your curiosity to conduct little interviews before you realize you’re memorizing every word, perhaps because life is something forced upon us and not something we can choose.
“The worst part is talking to the people who can’t see their families,” she said once, “or talking to two family members at once. They have to choose one. That’s your designated communicator. It’s too busy for anything else.”
Some doctors ordered their own personal protective gear in the beginning. The windows to the cafeteria are covered in plastic because, your sister says, she understands now that there are morgue trucks outside.
Use your legs to go on a walk, which creates more distance between life and death. Use your nose to accidentally ingest a cough too close to you.
Use your remaining energy to work on your finals.
You always knew your sister watched people die, but not like this. One day she came home from work as pale as a ghost.
Whine through tears today at dinner: “That’s why I feel guilty. I know there’s so much that is so much worse, but I miss my friends.”
Use a healthy cough to clear your throat. Watch them shiver.
Something inside stirs when you remember your mother’s work in New York City during the AIDS epidemic. It’s fascinating to watch these matriarchs interact: Both of them are heroes. They were heroes before their crises. They will be heroes after their ends. They have both been heroes in the middle.
But use your head: heroism is a medical label, and reforms like hazard pay and reallocation are vials of the vaccine.
Use Google Drive to upload your homework files.
Use your phone to make it easier: somewhere in the thick of this, there’s an alert that makes a sound unlike anything since Trump first tested one himself. And the news that your 60-something father has to run a COVID-19 unit in a specialty he hasn’t worked in since the 80s.
See a lot of privilege in this. Realize that he’s not called in right away. Find comfort in his being home—for now. Watch him negotiate. Watch your family laugh at Trump’s suggestions. Find out, from your sister, that doctors use selfies instead of signatures to verify loss in the death certificate app.
Use the tapping of your toes to count the hours between the laughs and your sister saying, “It was funny until it wasn’t.” Watch her pull up the messages from her coworkers.
People are being admitted for having bathed in bleach.
“Well, that was fast,” her friend said.
People have too much faith in the sun.
Use your lungs because they can’t.
Use your strength to “have some perspective,” as your sister says. “People are dying.”
Love her so much that it stings.
Use your free will to run to your bedroom. Let habit and not blurry, salted vision guide you after your family asks—or maybe you asked yourself, because you can’t remember who said it—why you hate being home so much.
You don’t hate it. You’ve never hated it. What you hate is the knowledge that there is so much and so little, but gravity still won’t let you visit the moon with an impressive-enough jump. Gravity still won’t let you!
In using our dreams, we can escape.
Using our worries, we revert to living in a nightmare.
Use your mouth to say “I haven’t really reached REM since it started” over Zoom, and act like it’s a joke for your friends. But you’re grateful. You know yourself, and you know the dreams would be monstrous. Use your words to say that, in some ways, you’re grateful for the pause.
Use your hands to craft the perfect sourdough starter?
Use your words to say you’re grateful for the PAUSE?