From 20 to 12,000 in 30 Days: My Family Confronts the Coronavirus
Tigerlily Theo Hopson
April 12th, 2020
26 people are dead because of the coronavirus in the United States. The virus, unknown to me, begins to fester throughout the country. It trickles into New York City, but is still treated as more of a myth than a reality. I wake up groggy, my head pounding, disoriented. Sun filters through the windows, I grapple with my alarm clock. It's almost 9:00. School started at 8:30. I groan and flop down on my pillows. “Mama!” I scream through clenched teeth. She shut off my alarm. We spend the morning yelling at each other. I call her paranoid. “I definitely do not have the coronavirus,” I mumble, rolling my eyes. She tells me I need to be careful. I stay home, fuming.
31 dead. Any symptoms I may have had, a slight fever, headache, achy bones, are gone. My mom is still unsure, but I promise I am fine. I ride the G to the L, go to class, gossip with friends, and after school go to my tap dancing class. I tell my dance partner I’m sorry I missed class yesterday, complaining about my mom making me stay home. She laughs and says her mom is overreacting too. But it’s a nervous giggle. Different from when she announced to our whole dance studio that it would be fun to have the coronavirus. “Think about it. I probably won’t die, and I’d get a lot of popularity,” she had said. That was back when in the United States no one was dead and every coronavirus case was a news headline.
37 dead. Including the first person to die in New York. My mom shut off my alarm again. I jump out of bed, late for school, trembling with frustration. I stamp into my mom’s room. I hesitate as I look down at her pale face pressed into the cloth of her pillow. Her hands are shaking. “Last night, I had trouble breathing. I am so grateful to be awake,” she says. I wish I had crawled into her arms then, hugged her, and kissed her thin black hair. I wish I had told her it was okay, that it was going to be okay, that I loved her. I wish I believed her. But I was stupid and angry and scared. So, I told her it could have been a million things, having the coronavirus still seemed preposterous. It seemed impossible. She had to be exaggerating, but my mom had never been one to exaggerate.
50 dead. I don’t go to school for the rest of the week. The coronavirus begins to dawn upon me as a current threat. My symptoms come and go like a tide. An ever present-pressure thumps at my temple. I begin to believe. As my mom says goodnight to me I pull her close and huddle next to her. My hand on her chest. Listening to her breathing. Out the window, through the darkness, I spot a star. I think back to a muddled memory where I’m in mama’s arms. I’m no more than three, maybe two. It’s a clear night, and she points up to a pinprick of light twinkling in the sky. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight… The words echo back to me. I fixate on the star in my window, repeating the words. I pray for mama’s recovery. She has tried for days to get a test with no luck. I pray she gets one.
68 dead. The mayor’s office announces that schools are officially closed until April 20th. I call my friend and we yell and complain. We know it’s for the best, but it’s our junior year; our last chance, before we are seniors, to get in on the “teen scene.” We make lists on how to keep ourselves busy at home and lists on how we are going to make our precious time at school count once we become un-quarantined. We have no idea how bad it will get.
1,276 dead. More than a thousand, but I have not yet become panic stricken. I am distracted. Online school work has kept me busy, and my grandpa, over two thousands miles across the country, is sick. My dad dances around what is wrong… a kidney failure? Cancer? Something along those lines. The conclusion, though, is clear— he has two weeks to live. No one saw this coming. My dad sits helplessly, there is no way he can leave New York to visit his father. I call grandpa on the phone. It has been years since we’ve spoken, and my hands are moist with sweat. He tells me he’s in “lalaland,” his words slurred by medicine and drugs. He says to smile, that he’ll see me soon, and everything will be okay. I push up the corners of my mouth and hope he is right.
5,700 dead at 4:00 pm, a thousand more than yesterday. By the time I go to sleep it will be 6,257. I spend the evening watching the news. I am captivated by Rachel Maddow’s somber face framed by short black hair, clips of Morning Joe, Nicolle Wallace’s dismal tone. Sirens screech past my house, red and white lights flashing. My mom clutches at her ribs and closes her eyes. She makes a garbled comment about her breathing. I wonder if the coronavirus is in her, growing. There is no way to know for sure. In that moment, with red and white silhouetted on the windows, my mama’s groan filling my ears, and the drone of news burdening the air, the surrealness lifts, and instead, it feels all too real. I encase my head in my hands.
7,122 dead. It seems like eternity, but it was only a few weeks ago when I trusted the headlines and my teachers’ promises that everything was going to be okay despite my mom’s frantic warnings. The coronavirus then had felt far away, like a picture, blurry and undefined, that would never come in full focus. Up until now it felt surreal— the word my friends repeat on tired Zoom calls over and over again. Last night weighs on me. When I hear the new death toll, how can it not begin to feel real? 7,122 people. Rock solid. A statistic, yes, but within that statistic thousands of human beings with families and hopes and dreams whose lives have been stopped short.
9,655 dead. I think of my grandma, my Nana, in a nursing home in Baltimore. We call each other every day. “Así es la vida,” she says, her voice smooth and comforting. “Such is life.” She tells me stories, we talk in loops, I ask how was her breakfast or lunch. Despite being so many miles away I can see her nose crinkle up in disgust. She wishes for Mexican food. She says being trapped in her room is worse than when she had to comply with the restrictions of World War II. I try to dry the tears that well at my eyes when I think of news reports of spreads in nursing homes. “Be safe” is all I can say.
10,938 dead. Despite the sun and the bright blue sky, somehow when I search for light, all I can see is thick clods of ominous gray choking up the sky. I cry uncontrollably. I cry when I get two problems wrong on an online assignment. I cry when I stub my toe. I cry when I time out of a Duolingo practice session, and when I’m hungry, and when I check the news, and when I think of my grandparents. They are quick, stubborn tears. I rub my eyes each time my mom or brother comes in the room, plastering a smile on my face. My eyes hurt from staring at a screen for so many hours. I watch the president’s press briefing at 6:30 that night. The sun seems so far away as the man spins lies, crafts doublethink, and talks down to reporters asking sensible questions. The tears turn to anger and I scream at the orange man on my computer. My hands close into fists. My new gentrifying-neighbors have a party next door blasting “Last Christmas” even though it is April. I curse them under my breath.
Over 12,000 dead. My mom is better. Not perfect, but her breathing is stronger. My symptoms have completely gone away. It’s been 30 days, so if I had it, if my mom had it, we’re officially clean. At 7:00 at night, I throw open the window and clap for all the healthcare and essential workers, joined by faces and cheers in windows across the city. I am so so thankful, so grateful. The world still seems so dark, but the claps provide a thin ray of hope over the blaring sirens. We are all in this together. That night, the moon is round and gigantic in the sky. Its silver light shines down on my face with a welcomed warmth. I spot a star. I finish the simple rhyme, back in my mama’s arms: I wish I may, I wish I might, for this wish I wish tonight. I close my eyes, and pray for a miracle.
All death rate numbers sourced from The New York Times: “See How the Coronavirus Death Toll Grew Across the U.S.”