It’s animalistic, my reaction when someone crosses my path at too close a distance. They are all predators, my survival instincts tell me, potential carriers of a virus who’s only goal is to destroy me. But what I realize now is that I am the predator. Or was. On Sunday, I tested positive for the antibody, which means I’ve had Covid-19 and didn’t know it. I’d thought it was the flu.
I went to urgent care on a whim last Thursday. I’d heard the antiviral tests had just become available and I had an inkling—my ‘flu’, while not debilitating, had come with a strange heaviness, as if an alien being had taken up residence inside me with no plans of leaving until it found a door deeper in. I walked one block to City MD on 23rd Street and Fifth, masked and gloved and shaming myself for being self-indulgent, for wasting the doctor’s time, etc. But it wasn’t like that. The waiting room was empty. The staff were super welcoming. It was like they’d all taken happy pills. They listened. They answered my questions thoughtfully. Tiffany, the doctor who took my blood, was a pretty blond in her thirties who looked like she could use a hair wash. Her gown had a ragged tear at the chest. Since we both wore masks, we did a lot of communicating with our eyes, which held, when she told me she was hanging in there.
When I read the results via email three days later, I wasn’t sure what I was reading. I showed them to my husband. He got out his glasses. Yep. That’s what it says. What came next were a few hours of wandering around our apartment pretending to do other things until we found ourselves facing each other again asking: when, how, where, and above all who? Until this moment Covid had not touched us directly. How does my immunity change things? Can I fly to California to see my eighty-two-year-old mother? Can my husband, if his test comes back positive, go see his parents in Italy? What does it mean to be immune? Can I sell my blood on the dark web? Should I give blood? Is my blood a cure? How many thousands of others are immune and don’t know it? Doesn’t this change everything, to have this kind of information? Can a segment of us go back to work? Or can I still infect others even though there’s a strong chance I can’t get infected myself. So many threads to unravel and yet I can’t stop thinking of this one thing: who did I kill?
Here’s the list I came up with:
The Eataly checkout person. The pharmacist at CVS. This was the beginning of March, before they’d put up the plastic shields for the check-out workers, before NYC had reached Defcon 5. My cleaning lady. The people at my yoga studio. Tommy and Hayden. My nephew. The fresh trout old timer at the Farmers’ Market who never looks very healthy anyway. The Martin’s pretzel guy. The grey-haired person who sat in the theater seat after I did. Mitchel, my neighbor. Anybody I might have walked by. Back when masks were discouraged. Back when there was so much we didn’t know. Still don’t know.
“I hope I’m positive,” my husband told me a few days ago. A weird thing to say but it’s true, I suppose. “We’ll travel the world,” I kidded. He didn’t laugh. “Why is it we feel this incessant need to travel so much anyway?” I said. “Because we can,” was his uncharacteristically feeble answer.” It’s who we are.” I looked at him and said that maybe those weren’t good enough reasons anymore.” He did not disagree.
I’m not asking for much, I just want to go outside and not hate everyone.
On Saturday, before knowing the results, we walked to the Freedom Tower, taking West Broadway all the way down what I like to think of as lower Manhattan’s bumpy, crooked spinal cord, to avoid the rivers and parks, knowing that the sun would incite a prison break. We left early to run into as few people as possible. Not too much of a problem, though with all the darting and zig-zagging my mask was wet with condensation fifty-two minutes later when we stood at the ghostly juxtaposition of the Oculus, Freedom Tower, and Reflecting Pools. The sky a perfect blue, a few fluffy white clouds. “I never understood the Oculus,” my husband said to me as we stood staring at it. I said that I had always loved the Oculus. The way the ribs of its reptilian spine shot orthogonally out across the stout, slanting angular shapes around it. But what we couldn’t get over was the silence. I could count the number of people who trickled throughout these sprawling few acres on one hand. You could hear a pin drop, the breeze rustle through the trees, their leaves an unpolluted green. We wandered around, pausing every so often to stare deep and way down into the pools where no water fell. A lone security guard was fervently polishing the names carved into the plaque framing the pool. Polishing and polishing, we watched him work his way down one side of the south tower. “The footprint never seems large enough,” my husband said finally. I said, “Nope, it doesn’t.”