While my wife, Belinda, and I were packing our car to go to Minnesota and escape the coronavirus outbreak in New York, she turned to me and asked, “Aren’t you thinking what’s it going to be like when we get there?”
I hadn’t. Minnesota felt safe. I had grown up there and had good memories like geese pulled south in the winter. Something awful was again happening to my generation, and for me, the only place to head was West. In this direction, all others before us fled seeking safety and security: Puritans, Irish, Jews, and now, the Princes.
But I had forgotten about the Joads from “The Grapes of Wrath”. Because, Belinda was right, what was going to change once we isolated ourselves in my parents’ downstairs? Would my asthmatic ass have better healthcare access because I wasn’t near a ventilator shortage should I come down with COVID-19? When did I come to live in a country where such deficiencies existed?
I was about to find out because, a day after the 18-hour drive, both Belinda and I had coronavirus symptoms. We reached out to our primary care providers, a premium healthcare subscription service we each paid $200 annually for, on top of insurance, that advertises its accessibility to its doctors. We got recycled answers that, in summary, offered nothing more than, “Assume you have it and good luck,” while we scrolled through stories of celebrities, athletes, and politicians touting their COVID-19 test results… something that we had to fight for. “Premium healthcare” or not.
About two weeks after fevers cooled and senses of taste and smell returned, Belinda and I went for a walk. The neighborhood I had grown up in had changed a lot. Behind my parents’ house, the “Hundred Acre Wood” I had played in as a kid had been razed to make way for new near-million dollar homes. The light was bright, blinding, and bizarre from the subdivisions that were edging out my childhood memories.
“You ever wake up from a fever to find that you weren’t hot at all? Just cold? Like there could never be enough blankets in the world?” I asked Belinda as we walked. “Your body gets used to being hot. We get used to things even when they’re not good for us. And when our body tries to bring us down to reality, we pile on more and more stuff to make us feel better even when it’s not helping at all. It’s weird being back here. And the fact it took a pandemic to remind me who I am and where I come from. We can’t escape it. Even when we try to recreate ourselves in places as far-flung as New York.”
“We put our childhood aside,” she said.
She was right. Millennials straddle conflicting generational ideologies. Breastfeeding in public is a right, but it should be censored on social media. And participation trophies help us stand out while our grandparents’ horror stories about pogroms remind us to blend in.
We entered back into my parents’ downstairs through the second entrance that they had built for when they assumed their children would return to their homes to “get on their feet” after college. My feet that, while always forward-moving, could never seem to get traction in what they intended to do because of outside forces.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy knocked my acting career completely off-course. I had shown up to the first day of rehearsal and been told to go home, that the theatre no longer existed. The TV show I was up for had moved to Los Angeles and would cast there. A modeling gig, gone.
In response, I started to write, then write professionally, which got me to where I am today. I also started my own consulting company on the side, building something that could survive most things. Then I purchased items, like subscription healthcare, that would make me believe I could survive anything. And here was another failed test, and it was all too easy to linger on. That success, some traction I was starting to get, would repeatedly elude me because of outside forces, and now it was not just a hurricane, but the potential end of the world. Something that we’ve all read about in science fiction, but we’ve all seen ourselves as the exception.
I don’t have wool over my eyes to believe I’m the exception anymore—no more blankets.
One good thing from this all is that the precious time I always wished I had is here. I’ve always wanted to play guitar, not because I want to be a rockstar, but because I want to be the guy at a campfire who plays guitar. Before this time, that would have impeded me, because still part of me would have thought, Why learn guitar if you can’t post it on Instagram?
But when people like the Joads headed West, someone brought a fiddle with them not because they were looking to become the best fiddler recording artist in California but because it made them happy. And maybe someday, I will post me playing guitar on Instagram, but right now, I know three chords, and I’m like, “Cool.” And I snapped my first guitar string, and I had to learn how to replace a guitar string, something the old me would have tried to pay somebody to do.
But now I have to learn how to do these things. And that’s a success. That’s traction. That’s growth.
It’s spring. Who knows, from all this madness, we will have the “COVIDssance” everyone is projecting now that we’re all in a different place, whether physical or otherwise.
At the end of “Grapes of Wrath”, a mother loses her child. She then uses her milk to feed a starving man. Maybe in a way, before coronavirus, we were all trying to birth something new instead of feeding an undernourished part of ourselves.
I like to think so.