Fiction

Pandemic School, Part 7

Connie is better. Caleb is better. The whole world is inhaling more easily. A new year has begun.

But…everything is still difficult; nothing is as it once was. Perhaps it never will be again. My history teacher keeps drawing parallels between our times and the World Wars. Each worldwide collision with our mortality left society altered fundamentally and institutions shaken to their foundations. Will I tell my children about the year that the world stopped turning? Will my grandchildren ask me about toilet paper shortages, quarantining, mask ordinances? Will I even have children or grandchildren? When you have watched your parents and dear friends and society stare down death, it’s hard to take anything for granted.

Connie’s lungs may bear the scars of her battle with this coronavirus for the rest of her life. Caleb’s heart will certainly bear the scars of his battle with guilt, shame, and the resentment of his family.

After our conversation, I couldn’t leave Caleb in that house, alone. So I began to visit every day – once he was on the mend. And those visits allowed us both a measure of healing.

“Have you heard from your parents today?” I asked, two weeks into Connie’s hospitalization. I never asked about Connie around Caleb. That wound was openly bleeding and didn’t need to be prodded.

“No. They don’t call much. Mostly Dad; never Mom.”

“They DO love you. They do. But right now, their hearts and minds must be overwhelmed.”

He looked at me over his fist full of cards. We were playing gin rummy, “I’m just glad you keep coming. Seeing you is like having a part of my sister back…it…well, seeing you, it kinda gives me hope.”

“There’s always hope, Caleb,” I laid down a straight, “except when you insist on playing me in gin rummy.”

My whole family was there surrounding Caleb as his Mom and Dad arrived home with Connie. I wanted to yell and scream and leap for joy that she had survived…that she was home! But Mr. and Mrs. Wallows set a muted tone, nodding to all of us and rushing Connie to her room. Riding home in the backseat of our family’s car, two gigantic tears trailed down my cheeks. Would anything be worth celebrating again? “I’ll turn your weeping into dancing…” When?

Once his family returned, Caleb and I didn’t see each other, didn’t even really text much.

Me – How u doing?

Caleb – Not great. It’s like we’re all alive but not living.

Yes, Caleb – exactly. It’s like we’re all alive but not living. The whole world holding its breath…waiting…waiting…

Vaccinations are starting as I type. The world exhales and draws fresh air into its damaged lungs. My grandparents are about to receive their second shot of the Moderna vaccine. Vaccine experts have sprung out of the woodwork. Former business executives and factory workers are debating pros and cons of mRNA vaccines versus live attenuated. It would be almost laughable if it were not a matter of life and death.

I have no idea when I or my family will receive a vaccine. We are all healthy and under 55. No underlying conditions. Not front-line workers. For us, the waiting continues. But at least I have my best friend back. We text and Zoom and Polo.

Me – Connie, please tell Caleb you love him.

Connie – I promise.

Me – Do you think you can ever forgive him?

Connie – I already have.

Whatever the next steps in our stumble through this darkness, daily forgiveness and undying love cast a beam strong enough for us to place one foot safely in front of the other. Danger and death strip away comfort and provide searing clarity. But love and hope will win the day.

The End

Copyright ©2021 Heather C. Morris

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