Three Fights

My husband and I have had three fights during shelter-in-place, which is more fights than we’ve had in the decade before. The first time, I went to join a friend to look at her garden. The second time, I went to join her at a garden store.

Kevin didn’t understand why I would take an unnecessary risk. He’d be content holing up in our home with me and the children for months on end. Maybe years. He said, “Don’t you understand that the doctors are begging us to stay home?” I wanted to slap him.

My sisters are doctors, my father is a doctor, my friend with the garden, let’s call her R, is a doctor. All of them under impossible stress, and I cannot help them. When R asked me to come with her to look at flowers, there was absolutely no way I was going to say no to her. It was the very least I could do, and if he didn’t understand that —

In a long marriage, you learn when not to finish a sentence.

I should have been a doctor, but instead I became a writer. In late winter, I went to Seattle and California for writing conferences. On darkened airplanes I read accounts from Italian doctors, begging for help. ‘We don’t have enough ventilators. Our patients can’t breathe, and we can’t help them. We have to ship the bodies to other cities because our morgues are full.’ At the conference, we awkwardly avoided hugging.

I returned home with a cough; I stayed home that week, teaching remotely, a week before we were told to. I’d been trapped in a disease incubator of an airplane; how could I risk my students?

I drowned in coronavirus news, growing frantic, learning why we should all wear masks, learning how to sew them, writing up instructions, recording videos showing how to thread a sewing machine, trying to form a mutual aid society, battening down every hatch I could think of against the approaching storm, knowing it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough, cursing myself for not being a doctor, not running for higher office, not being in a position to make a real difference in a time of disaster.

The U.S. is approaching 100,000 coronavirus deaths this week. We are preparing to re-open Illinois, not knowing if now is the right time, knowing this will inevitably lead to more deaths. Our university wants us to teach in-person classes in the fall, putting our students and ourselves at risk. Researchers tell us a year of human life is worth $129,000.

Our daughter turned 13 this week. I tell you, the value of her single life is infinite.

The third fight had nothing to do with my doctor friend. I didn’t need to go out at all, but I desperately wanted to, so I went. Maybe I bought flour, or sugar – whatever it was, it was an excuse to leave the house. Two months is a long time; sometimes I go out because otherwise I feel like I can’t breathe.

I can’t pretend that feeling is the same as actually not breathing. I’m staying in as much as I can stand; I think of the healthcare workers, and that helps me stay in a little longer.

Right now, I’m holding my breath.

******

– Mary Anne Mohanraj, “Three Fights”

Thanks to Nicole Walker and Matthew Batt for inviting me to contribute a piece to their compendium, “How We Are” — writers and artists reflecting on this moment of pandemic. It was good to pause for a moment and try to articulate a little of this.

Link to the project in comments; so many meditative and fascinating responses to browse through!

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