Illinois, USA

It’s Friday night of COVID-19.  It’s late fall or midwinter or spring of the start, interminable middle, or uncertain end of quarantine, or the ongoing social isolation when there is nothing to do but slog down the line of viral variations.  The only certainty is that it’s Friday night and you’re sunk into the couch with word puzzles and a double bourbon cocktail.  It’s dark inside your condo except for the glow from your clipboard light and the blue light from the bookshelf speakers you bought after the administration said to stay home from school.  Is tonight the night you’re streaming film scores to mellow out?  You’d usually work the puzzles over several days as a pleasant diversion, but what better time to dive deep with them?

*

You’re waiting for Moonbeam to make you her couch and show you how to really sink into something.  How long since the tumor grew in her sinus cavity, since you cradled her in the examination room, her blissfully unaware of the fatal dose the vet would push into her vein?   The cocktail reassures you that you had to do it and it’s a good thing you did it before officials declared quarantine like it was a dance everybody already knew the steps to and could ease into anywhere along the way, because there’s no certainty about a vet appointment now and you’d have a cat mouth breathing and wheezing through the night, her nostrils crusted closed.

*

How is Michelle managing the pandemic tonight?  The 763-mile drive to her house is a trip to the moon under normal circumstances; now it’s a trip along empty highways to another galaxy.  She’s your girlfriend or fiancée or wife tonight.  The virus brought the relationship to a decision point:  You’ll marry under COVID shotgun if either of you tests positive.  So this Friday night you have already spent or will spend seventeen days in her spare bedroom teaching remotely and managing her household while she coughs and cries and tries to eat.  She’ll relocate across a third of the country, and only then will there be a warm body to sink into the couch alongside you.

*

It’s Friday night of COVID-19 and you’ve knocked out three puzzles.  Your glass is empty.  It’s common at school to discuss students self-medicating with weed or alcohol, and now you’re ready to scrape yourself off the couch to mix another double.  It’s likely you’ll drift off and wake up pre-dawn full of cramps and regret.  Natural consequences is another frequent topic of discussion at school.

*

There is Hope Even in the Darkness by Edwin Cabrera

*

Mixing another one means turning on lights.  Why wreck the mood?  Two doubles will soothe nerves jangled from tracking down seventeen homeroom students to check on their needs.  And how beneficial are check-ins and reminders about support services for students whose home lives are scarier than COVID, for students who have already faced COVID in unimaginable ways because the virus tears hardest into the lives of people born into the wrong demographic?  Have you made those calls yet, or is this what you know will happen?

*

It’s Friday night of COVID-19 and exercise tomorrow will help.  Either yoga, running, or bike, each a part of a three-day rotation you devised along with a day off before restarting it.  Your upper body is softening from lack of weight training.  Did you exercise today?  What day was yesterday on the rotation?  Cocktails don’t count for hydration.

*

Two or maybe more years ago you flipped your home office into a space where you like to hang out.  What better place now to work puzzles, stream music, and sip cocktails in the dark among the perfectly arranged couch, recliner, desk, and bookshelves? You bought Sixteen Short Novels thirty years ago, and now’s your chance to finally get into it.  Have you read four or five since this started, or do you still have sixteen left?  There’s a Roth in there that you’ll like.  A Steinbeck, too.  And you who claim to be so influenced by Carver, why haven’t you read that Chekhov novel?

*

The brother you haven’t spoken with for a decade is sick or dead by now.  A lifetime of overworking for early retirement with no mind towards wellness can’t defend against the virus.  He wanted no funeral, memorial, or obituary, just to dissipate into the fog of COVID-19 and remain as unreachable and unknowable from here on as he has been since he cut loose from the family.

*

Since it’s Friday night of COVID-19, you’re on parole from Zoom classes, where you spend forty-seven minutes five times a day mostly talking to yourself in front of a black grid.  Even when you’re not in front of the screen, you reach for your ear as instinctually as you blink since you’ve become so used to the feeling of your Bluetooth earpiece that you’re not sure when you have it attached and when you don’t.

*

It’s Friday night of COVID-19 and you know shockingly little about the virus.  You don’t know a PCR from an antigen test except that neither is a rapid test, all of which you’ve passed once or a dozen times by now.  You have blind faith in ignorance.  If you don’t think about the virus too much and if you don’t dwell on infection rates and if you don’t bother to learn what “positivity rate” means and how to find it for your town and if you refuse to recognize the full body of the COVID-19 beast and if you refuse to provide it more purchase in your mind and do all you can to keep it out of your body, you’ll make it through.

*

Another cocktail will sink you deeper into the couch.  Just shimmy down the neck of the bottle and swim around in the deep brown.  Pull yourself out after a while.  Swimming doesn’t mean despair.  Besides, it’s Friday night of COVID-19 and you’re your own lifeguard.

 

 

Jeff Burd is a graduate of the Northwestern University writing program and works as an English teacher at Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, IL.  Mr. Burd spends a lot of time writing and thinking about writing, and worrying about not writing and thinking about writing.

 

Edwin Cabrera is a seasoned 20-year teacher, artist and avid photographer. Prior to teaching, Edwin was a graphic design for 11 years. He left the corporate world to make a difference in students’ lives. Edwin has worn many hats in the education field from classroom teacher, literacy coach, dual language, ESL and reading specialist. He incorporates his passion for art into his classroom and helps students learn through visualization and activities.