The Lonely Togetherness

As the sound of the ambulance sirens swarms a once quiet town in Queens, I find myself reflecting on the past 60 days. Struggling to put my thoughts down on paper, I cannot help but think about the poor soul who is in the back of that ambulance. “Is it someone’s parents, child, relative or friend”?; “Is it someone I know”?; “Is that person alone”?; And sadly, “is that person going to survive or not”?. The thought of that person dying without a loving family member by their side is mind-numbing. The loneliness this disease has caused transcends the infected; their loved ones; and the ones who have been staying home to protect themselves and their neighbors.

To sit here and say that the past few months has not been one of the scariest times of my life is a lie. From being told that I had a common cold to a life-threatening virus that can infect someone by just breathing, knocked me off-center. Still, after so many weeks of dealing with this crazy thing, I find myself questioning every heartbeat that feels different; every sniffle that comes down my nose; and every time the heat rises in my body. So many of us have been dealing with the emotional, physical impact of COVID-19 for some time now. This disease is a complete MIND-FUCK.

I am not going to take this moment to describe the lingering symptoms that invaded my body like a swarm of bees, but I do want to share a glimpse of how this virus impacted my life on March 11, 2020. That evening, I went from having a very active life in the city that never sleeps to being locked in isolation away from the people and world I loved.

I am fortunate enough to have an apartment in my family home. Standing tall on the edge of a pandemic, my mom, who is 72 years old; my dad who just turned 80; and my younger sister would spend the next seven weeks taking care of their son, brother, many feet away. My nephew, a teenage 9-year old, was silently cautious, not because he didn’t love me, but because he was scared for his Zio.

Putting their lives on the line to put food in our mouths, my parents would venture out once a week to the grocery store. Like soldiers heading to war, they would leave the home base to come back with distant blank looks on their faces, like the scenes you see in war films. They would express how scary it was out there, a world where the grocery stores were packed with mindless, selfish, ignorant people who did not care to practice social distancing.

Food was soon prepped with love to nourish my ailing health. As I would devour my mom’s home-cooked meals, I would hear my family laughing through the textured ceiling in my lonely dungeon. It warmed my heart, knowing that they were having a good time in this new world we were living in, and thankful they were okay health-wise. I would be dishonest if I didn’t have a deep sadness in my heart, but, as you all may have figured out, this had become my new reality. Locked away from any form of socialization, it felt like I was living in a scene from “Flowers in the Attic,” except the poison was not in the food; it was in my body.

On a good day, I would check my temperature, O2 levels, and pulse 20 times a day; and on a not so good day, many times more. I would fill myself with every immune building vitamin out there, Nonna’s infamous tea, and as much information I could find on the world wide web to fight this thing. You may be surprised by how much you can learn from different countries that are four weeks ahead of you.

I would spend my days working and resting when I felt fatigued. The people I loved would beg me to take time off, but It was the work and the virtual connection to the outside world, that kept me from diving into a dark black hole.

In the evenings, I would talk to as many people as possible to avoid thinking about this deadly virus I was fighting. Zoom had become my new best friend. And while a majority of the people slept at night, I would be wide awake listening to the sirens pass my once quiet block and connecting with other COVID-19 patients. Each of us is looking for a connection and answers, each of us struggling to stay awake so that we can stop ourselves from getting worse, and each of us is fighting to live.

As the days were getting warmer, I would venture out to breathe in the fresh, crisp air and feel the bright sun shining on my face. I would take that moment to take a glimpse of the family I was longing to hug. Oh, heck, I wanted mommy and daddy to hold me tight like when I was a baby. I reluctantly accepted that the only way to see them was through the glass door in our backyard. Some nights I would pull the table against that door so that I could have dinner with them.

Some days we would all congregate in the backyard with masks and gloves on, sitting many feet apart, listening to the “oldies, but, goodies.” I would get to see my nephew play basketball with my sister; I would see my dad’s bright blue eyes, and my mom’s youthful face. We would laugh, talk politics, and argue. This was the new norm and the highlight of my day.

On Palm Sunday, we decided to eat outside. I sat at the children’s table many feet away. It was such a beautiful day, and I ate a lot. As the week progressed, I started to get healthier and more comfortable; my family encouraged me to go upstairs. And, finally, according to my sister, as the lord rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, so did I.

Missing the human touch, I started my transition back into society. My anxiety levels were high. It was emotionally challenging to be in the same room with my family without thinking that I could still infect them. As I started to get more comfortable, I would go upstairs more frequently. I took long walks; started to exercise, and this past Saturday, I played basketball with my nephew.

I am ever so grateful for the many good people around me who kept my spirits up and telling me that I was going to be okay. I have to admit I still struggle with health set-backs, as well as mind-fucks that make you question if this is still the disease? Or “after-shocks”?, who knows; nobody does.

As I bring my story to an end, I leave you with this one little last bit. A few weeks ago, I was telling my friend that I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. She stopped me mid-sentence, which is typical of how we conversed and said, “but Gio, you are in that light right now.” “You are in the light.” Wow, that stopped me mid-track. It sunk in; the word light! Light: Through the darkness of these past few months, I found the light longing to live.

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