Fear & Freedom // Two friends gaze across the chasm of illness and infection

On a muggy evening in late September (fall offering no respite from the stifling heat of the previous months; airless and oppressive, the physical universe both mirrored and intensified our surreal sense of having been hurled into Dante’s Inferno), my friend and I sat six feet apart on a park bench and discussed the past summer.
“It was AMAZING!” my friend enthused. “My husband and I spent a week in Boston, renting a house on the Charles River. It was so beautiful, so serene. Then we went camping in a state park in Pennsylvania and I felt like a kid again! (We are both in our 60s.) We found some spots in New Jersey we had never visited before—Passaic Falls was magical, and Cape May is very quaint!—and we took our grandchildren to Sesame Place. We had so much fun! What did you do?”

I looked at her, stricken, rendered mute. She studied me in bafflement, and then struck her forehead in the universal I am such an idiot gesture. “OMG,” she cried out in remorse. “I am sooo sorry.”

In March, my friend and her husband had been among the early sufferers of COVID-19, thankfully recovered, and were now antibody-rich. I, on the other hand—despite having taken no less than six COVID tests so far!—was still COVID-free. “Free” was a grievous misnomer, though. I felt as if a stealthy predator stood shrouded in the shadows, stalking me, waiting to pounce the moment I relaxed my vigilance.
Consequently, I suffered from moderate levels of anxiety, especially since I checked all the boxes for vulnerability. I was in the high-risk age group, overweight, diabetic, hypertensive, and endowed with Type A blood (which some researchers say increases susceptibility to the virus).

Yes, I was COVID-free, but in every other instance I was shackled—both to my anxieties and to the confines of my apartment. While great throngs of people had poured out of their homes in joyous liberation during the summer months when COVID lay low, the “elderly” and “immune-compromised” were advised to still stay put.


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