Nearly a year since my last it's-been-two-whole-years letter, and I finally got Covid, unless I didn't. I am frustratingly unable to test positive, whether rapid test or PCR.
Your best friend at school tested positive, and then a few days later you did, and then you spent the weekend with your dad who tested positive, and then I got sick and the urgent care doc said I definitely have Covid, test results be damned. (You felt fine the whole time, btw.)
But as someone whose day job centers so much around documentation and paper trails and compliance, the missing second line on the test strip upsets me. If it's not documented, it didn't happen, as far as the auditors are concerned. HR will not give me extra sick leave without the positive test, so I had to use vacation time. What if I'm sick forever but I can't prove I was ever sick at all? How do I convince myself I'm not faking, let alone other people?
The last time I got sick-but-not-Covid-unless-it-was-Covid was late November. Against my better judgement on multiple financial and ethical fronts, we went to Disney. I let sentimentality outweigh risk - you love Star Wars so much! Soon you will be too old to experience theme parks as magical! Also the kid ticket prices only go up to age 9!
Saturday after Thanksgiving, we flew from Philadelphia to Orlando, slept at the Best Western by the airport, got takeout dinner from the Waffle House across the parking lot. I don't think I've been to Florida since I was 9 - the one and only other Disneyworld pilgrimage of my life - but it all felt very appropriately Floridian.
Sunday morning we took a Lyft to the Disney Hollywood Simulacrum Experience and stashed our backpacks in the locker room. We sped past the weird fake Los Angeles setup - made even weirder by the fact that I'd been in the actual Los Angeles a few weeks before for a work conference. LA but humid - nightmare! Great argument for car-free streets, though.
And I will admit that the Star Wars part was very cool. You were in absolute bliss, running after Chewbacca, trying out lightsabers, getting called Padawan by the actors. You built your own droid, a BB8-style rolling sphere rendered in black and blue to match the Jedi tunic you picked out at the boutique. I enjoyed the level of detail paid to the set-dressing and the immersiveness of the rides. Amazingly well-crafted queues. It barely felt like waiting in line, almost more like touring a very crowded museum exhibit.
We stayed that night at the outer rim of on-site hotels, the All-Star Value Resorts Collection (our complex-within-the-complex honored the main four genres of pop music: Rock, Country, Jazz, and Calypso [??]). It was warm enough to swim in the pool. I managed to keep an eyeline on you splashing around while I got a drink from the outdoor bar - first, a draft beer that was so skunky I poured it out into the landscaping. Then I noticed that everyone else was buying cocktails, so I got a Bourbon Bahama something something. The Mouse pours with a heavy paw. The ethos of Disney, I was learning, isn't just to overcharge you for everything. The dollars-per-alcohol-units rate of my summer November cocktail was quite reasonable, a much better value than the beer. The better to lower one's inhibitions for the bigger impulse purchases inside the gates.
At around 2am I woke up and threw up in the All-Star Rock and Roll toilet. Maybe it was the fact that I'd drank that Bahama Bourbon drink on a nearly-empty stomach, or maybe it was tainted Romaine in the chicken Caesar salad I later ordered for dinner. (Like the draft beer, the salad had been a mistake.) Or maybe a quick-onset stomach bug from one of the thousands of other people we'd shared air with that day.
In the morning, I felt mostly better, though appetiteless. And anyway, what was I going to do? Ruin Disney? We'd been saving up for a year. There was nothing for it but soldiering on.
Day 1 had been all Star Wars, your choice. So Day 2 was my choice: Epcot, the one for nerds. Also, as it turns out, the one for drinkers. (Until 2012, the Magic Kingdom didn't allow any alcohol at all, and still only serves it at sit-down restaurants, but Epcot has been boozing it up in the fake streets since '82. Many people had drinking-around-the-world themed t-shirts. In fact the sheer extent of people in themed, matching t-shirts kind of blew my mind.)
We went to France for breakfast, as you adore croissants. I figured starting off with a relatively tame breadstuff was a safe bet for my stomach. A pastry, a latte. Feeling OK. Drank a little of your orange juice. Started towards one of the educational space rides you were excited about.
Somewhere between the United Kingdom and Canada I totally lost it. Tried to make it to the bushes or the trash can but just straight up puked all over the sidewalk. The second round of heaving I managed to get some into the trash can, but honestly, not much. Passers-by ignored us, averting their gazes.
Your poor face! The idea of your adults getting sick or hurt seems to be one of the things that scares you most. I told you to try and find someone who worked there, so we could tell them about this newly-generated biohazard. But you couldn't find anyone and then that was making you even more upset, so I just sent you to get napkins from a food stand instead.
You came back with a stack of napkins. I was still doubled over, trying to get back to normal breathing. Still no friendly Disney staff to assist me in my time of need. It was 10am and people were walking by with alcoholic slushies [Morocco] and Bailey's-spiked coffees [Norway] - did they think I had just overdone it on the breakfast booze?
I cleaned myself up, and cleaned up what I could of the trashcan and sidewalk. Just like a Philadelphian on Broad Street on New Year's Day, I cleaned myself up as best I could with napkins, stood tall, and merged back into the crowd. No one would have ever known I was the one who left the puke puddle. Not unless they smelled my breath.
We found a bench to sit on a little ways away and watched the strange and unperturbed Florida birds. You rubbed my back and said soothing things, for a moment playing like you were the parent. I took a selfie of us and tried to smile. It is not flattering but I include here for the historic record:
"I'm OK," I said. "I'm better now."
You believed me completely. You snapped back to being the child instead of the caretaker, back into your proper role. "OK!" you said. "Can we go on the space flight simulator now?"
I considered saying no, not right now, I did not want at this precise moment to go on the fucking Mission: SPACE centrifuge, literally the only ride at Disney that routinely causes people to get motion sick.
But because I am a Parent, and because there was no one else to either stop me or help me, I said, "Sure. Let's go."
Miraculously, I got through the rest of the day and our flight home the next morning without puking again, although I can't say I felt great.
I took a few days off work when we got back, convinced I had finally gotten Covid. But our tests kept coming back negative. I had a short telehealth call and the nurse reminded me that there are many other sicknesses.
So that was the last time I had maybe-Covid. And before that, there was the mysterious illness of mid-February 2020, right after we went to the packed-to-the-gills Air and Space Museum in D.C., but before Covid had officially reached the east coast. And now there's this bout, which is almost definitely probably Covid.
When I wrote last year I talked about the feeling that consensus reality is breaking down, and it hasn't gotten any better. If anything, worse, because we aren't even keeping good enough data to draw conclusions from. I have had Covid either 0, 1, 2, or 3 times. I'm fatigued and foggy which could be Long Covid or normal signs of aging (how many "normal signs of aging" are just cumulative damage from illness, anyway?) or maybe I just need some fucking sleep.
I try not to overthink Twitter spats, especially those between various factions of Philly leftists, but - god help me- a recent one really sticks in my mind, especially because I know both of the parties tangentially IRL. Both are mothers with young kids, both have I think worked for both labor unions and labor rights nonprofits. Not going to get into much detail but it boiled down to what does "organizing" around Covid look like? Does it mean getting workers to collectively demand better protections in their places of employment? What if there is no consensus about what protections the employees at a particular establishment desire? Is "raising awareness" by posting terrifying Twitter threads a valuable form of organizing when you are living in physical isolation? I am considering adding "organizing" to the scrapheap of words that have lost their utility due to overuse and overlapping definitions that cause people to talk past each other in arguments (see also hipster, identity politics, codependent). I wish I was better at organizing than I am at thinking about words, but I am not, and so for a while I am going to let myself just think about words.
I think my favorite part of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was the way all the international travelers immediately went to the facsimile of their own culture so as to criticize its accuracy while also taking delight in a sort of broad-strokes recognition. Like the moment when someone saw the Free Library logo on your water bottle and was like "Hey! We are from Philadelphia!" and I was like "Us too!!" and there wasn't much to say after that, but we had a brief moment of genuine goodwill. A spiritual thumbs up. So nice to see you here!