They told me to wait a few days before getting tested. They said that the first test, just a few days after contact, wouldn’t be accurate, and friends who were in the know told me, when I finally came out with the news, that they’d suspected it all along. It’s a good thing you waited, they said. But when I got up on Wednesday, it felt like everything had come at me so fast. I sat down in front of the computer to write an email that I’d had no intention of writing just 24 hours prior. Today was meant to be my first day of school after over a month off. I sat there, took a deep breath, and did two things: I sent a text to one of my colleagues and then an email to the scheduling manager, both of them saying basically the same thing: that I wouldn’t be able to come in because, even though the CoVid test I’d taken the evening before had come out negative, the sniffles and fever and sore throat that had developed practically overnight seemed proof enough that another test was needed.
It seems strange that such a major moment would be sent off with the poof of a text message, an email, quiet as the buzzy rumble of the phone when a new message appears. We exchanged texts after I took a shower (I got ready for work anyway, just in case, wrapping my hair in a towel as I grabbed the phone to see what news was waiting for me). The teacher said she’d figure it out. The scheduling manager wrote back saying not to worry, and to take Thursday off as well, just in case. And after a while of busy back and forths, there were no more messages. Not a single one. I sat at the table after all the emails and texts were sent, in that silence of the morning when the house sits still. I sipped coffee and ate a slice of leftover Christmas Panettone, and I wondered if I’d made the right move, if this was a major moment, or if it was just me getting caught up in my fears of CoVid, my paranoia at the way the pandemic seems to go in stages — muffled some days, and then you hear it so loud, reaching a fever pitch — as if it is closing in.
The day before all of this, I found out I’d been in contact with family who had tested positive. I was out running when the text came, and on the way home I bought two tests from the pharmacy. I stood at the desk, not knowing even how to word it in Italian: kit per CoVid a casa? The pharmacist obliged as if she’d been through this vacancy in our vocabulary a million times before, and she handed me a couple of boxes with instructions in every language inside, pages and pages of diagrams and explanations of how exactly to stick a cotton swab up your nostril. I took two tests — both of them were negative. Then, later in the evening, when I thought I was off the hook, I started to feel it creep up: sniffles first, then a sore throat, then a little bit of fever. Is this how it works? I wondered. Or is it like every other time in these dreadful two years, when, with every cough, every tickle in your throat, every single sneeze, you think it’s CoVid. Except it isn’t. Until it is.
That was Tuesday. I didn’t find out I was positive with CoVid-19 until Thursday morning: three CoVid tests later. One of those tests was at the CoVid bus parked outside the supermarket off of Via Spalato on a late Wednesday afternoon. Negative. The other tests were all home tests. I almost ignored the one I took on Thursday morning: I was in the middle of writing the email to school saying: yes, I’ll be in on Friday. All my tests are negative! And then I happened to look a little closer at the test results that were developing before me. There were three minutes left and I spotted it: the tiniest figment of a line, just a slip of pink fading into the white strip, sending me into a panic. I called everyone I knew: is this positive? Do I have CoVid? How faint can the line be for it to be positive? But CoVid is a lesson in patience, in waiting it out, and this, apparently was my first assignment. The next home test, taken in the afternoon, produced a darker line. I wrote to dad. I sent him the new picture (looks positive to me, he said), and Antonello picked me up in the early evening (the doctor had explained to him that, in order to take the time off work, I would need something printed out and official, stating, in no uncertain terms: POSITIVE) and took me back to the same bus as the day before, the same people, the same color of blue sinking into the night sky. We were nervous. I felt it rushing through both of us. I held Antonello’s hand. And then, when they called my number (after the most painful CoVid test yet), they pulled me aside. The doctor looked at me, and then looked at the paper. There it was. POSITIVE. She pointed at it as if I hadn’t already noticed, tapping it twice. And then she sent me off to fill out the paperwork. I wish I could have that day back. We drove home and it was too late by then. I already knew. I was positive. By that point, I was officially one of the numbers myself.
You learn things when you are at home with CoVid. Some of it is what everyone learns: that thought that goes through your head of: and if I hadn’t been vaccinated? as you are grateful for the mild symptoms, the slightly scratchy throat, the fever that only lasts a couple of days, the extra hours of sleep that you blame on CoVid. You read everything online yet again — stuff you read 2 years ago, other stuff you are only uncovering now. You also learn that your experience with CoVid is your own. Your symptoms are yours, and they can change every day. Sometimes you dream them up. I go first thing every morning to wash my hands and brush my teeth, to see if I can still smell the soap, still taste the toothpaste. We learned last Friday that my dad tested positive for CoVid as well, and every morning there is a message from him when I wake up: a quick run down of their day so far, and a ‘how are you feeling?’ to start mine. You learn that, too: everyone reaches out at their own pace. My friend Nicola sends me texts saying “Are you bored out of your mind?” accompanied by a different emoji each day. Corrie sends websites to keep me busy, and other friends send voice messages or call on the phone to talk about everything but CoVid — to keep my mind elsewhere, to keep me sane. One day a student dropped a bright red gift bag full of candied almonds and hazelnuts at our front door step with a note saying: buona guarigione Jackie — Get well soon. I sent text messages thanking him profusely. Another day my brother in law brought Antonello and me pastries for breakfast (in the five days at the beginning, when Antonello had to quarantine with me just in case). He dropped them off as I waited in the bedroom. I yelled grazie mille! and then rushed out to eat cannoli when I heard the front door close shut. Some days we order pizza. We make French toast for Sunday lunch. I try to exercise in the evenings, dragging out the yoga mat and watching Cardamom wrap herself up in it — her tail flicking from side to side, her eyes as round as moons — ready to play.
That’s another thing. Cardamom spends all her time here now. She sits on her haunches and waits (for what? I’m not sure), staring at me from the hallway. In the afternoons when the heater’s on, she curls up on the windowsill or in my lap. She nestles her head under a paw and falls asleep purring. She is my witness, through all of this, my partner in getting better, my welcome distraction. One morning she was playing and she got a claw caught in the radiator in the living room. She squealed at me, her eyes on fire, and she flailed around like a rag doll, trying to rip her paw away, to free herself. She wouldn’t let me near her at first. She growled and screamed and jumped from here to there, but nothing. Finally, at one point she dropped her head behind the guitar stand and whimpered quietly, giving up, her body a trembling mess. I reached out, held her still, and slipped her paw firmly out of the radiator as quickly as I could. She didn’t miss a beat — she hobbled off in a hurry, hid under the kitchen table, licking at her paw, looking up past the chairs in my direction. I cried. They say that cats track their owners’ movements, that they know where you should be at certain times in the day, and they expect you to be there when they round the corner. But with these endless hours at home, I was starting to track hers. We were learning to know each other, me and this animal. How strange these CoVid years are, and what they’ve meant for all of us. Out there, in the world where everyone else was living and working and carrying on — I had disappeared entirely. All I had now was this quiet, empty space. When you’re forced to quarantine for seven days, ten days (or however long it takes) your world shrinks to the size of your apartment — the doors, the walls, the windows whose shutters stay closed all day — and you can’t see anything past it.
There would be texts from dad later. There would be lunch to make. Antonello would be home from work just for an hour, to eat pasta and then pack up again, out the door, and I’d be left alone to sleep, to read, to get through the silence of another afternoon. But in that morning — fifteen minutes later — Cardamom peeked into the bedroom where I was sitting and hopped gingerly onto the bed. She wouldn’t let me near her paw (believe me, I tried), but she circled around, finally settling down, finding a space at my feet. She curled up and looked over at me, her little nose twitching, her eyes as round as moons. For now we had each other, for whatever that was worth.
Today I’m listening to: Right on Time by Brandi Carlile.
4 thoughts on “In These Silent Days”
Hugs, Jackie, as you go through this strange rite of passage.
thank you Katherine. It means a lot! I’m doing much better now.
I’m sorry to hear this. Wishing you a speedy recovery, Jackie. By the way, I’m also listening to Brandi Carlile! My favorites are Right on Time and Stay Gentle. Take care!
thank you Darlene! I’m doing much better now. Yes I love Brandi Carlile! I like You and Me On the Rock and Right on Time, and a lot of stuff from her older albums as well! Her recent SNL performances are great!
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