No COVID-19 Detected, or Reconciling Regret

This is the story of how I learned not to under-react and that there’s no such thing as overreacting to this pandemic. Or it’s the story of reconciled regrets. You decide.

I woke Sunday with a slight cough, sore throat, and aches. I mentioned it to my sister in an “I hate COVID times” sort of way. She said, be tested. We chatted a bit more before I realized she was serious. My sister is a doctor and one of the smartest women I know. She is the one who said, you cannot overreact with this.

So I scheduled a test for Monday afternoon, the first available. Then I sat masked on my bed and watched my masked husband transform our bedroom into an isolation chamber for me. He shut the door and I had a bed, a small fridge with ice and water, snacks, a bathroom, and a makeshift desk.

Under other circumstances I would have been gleeful for a couple days to myself. But on Sunday I felt crummy all over.

Monday I went for the test, which isn’t bad. Very quick. And then I returned to work at my makeshift desk in my bedroom.

I’ve gotten decent at compartmentalizing. There are certain thoughts I do not entertain. I do not dwell on worst case scenarios as I once did and I do not practice for the worst moments of a life that I may never have. Not any more. I simply disallow my brain from going into the dark.

I had one moment of morbid notion. It happened Sunday night. I was preparing for bed and it occurred to me that the thing I had to regret should I die was that I had spent so very much time chasing a dream. Without ever catching it.

No particular emotion accompanied that thought. But the thought itself has nested. Do I regret the last thirteen years since ShyJot became a thing? Do I regret the time before that when I wrote in the margins of life? No.

I regret not being better at being a creative. I regret not pursuing the payoff as if it never mattered. I regret not capturing the dream I harbored for a certain kind of creative life.

And I regret all the opportunities my family lost because I was dream-missing.

This afternoon I received the text message with a link to my results. I entered my information. Nervous at the thought of more days of isolation or worse, getting my loved ones sick, I wondered if it might be better not to know.

And I hit enter. No COVID-19 detected.

The result didn’t mean I was well; it meant I wasn’t in danger of falling more ill. It didn’t mean I could go anywhere and do anything; it meant I could rejoin my family beyond my bedroom door. It didn’t mean I overreacted; it meant I followed a path.

Tonight a sore head and throat keep me awake. I shake loose all this debris and look for patterns. Here’s what I see.

Sometimes you have to call “It”. You have to chase down a possibility that’s too risky not to, like with COVID-19. You have to chase down answers to problems like how to isolate one of a family of five. You have to claim as your own the responsibility of being it — the actor, the do-er, the instigator and continue-er, the change agent, the conduit, the one to make things happen.

The same is true of anything in life that matters. Parenting, spousing, relationshipping of any kind. Career and culture and cause. The fact remains that if I never called myself “It” and chased a creative live, then I never would have become who I am today. It’s not better not to know.

There is not a life without regret if you’re doing it right. I’m convinced of this. Because living is making choices and choices beget beauty and chaos and ruin and triumph and mediocrity and life and regret.

How do I reconcile regretting spending the last twenty some odd years chasing a creative life with my choice to continue the chase? I accept that regret is a byproduct of any choice and I prefer these regrets to others. I still call “It.”

Back-to-School Eve

Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. Tidy desks lining the walls. Fresh reams of paper neatly stacked, wondering what life as a tree was like.

This is how school lies in wait for us this late summer night. Mere yards from my bed where I write this. I feel a great many emotions. Joy because the start of a new year is flush with possibilities. Peace because we’ve done all we could do to set up success. Disbelief (is that an emotion?) because I never imagined 8 months ago that we’d be here doing this.

A family of five, living, working, and schooling all in the same square feet.

Early in the pandemic I encouraged my kids to do life the way it is. Not the way we want or think it must be but the way reality has unfolded it at our feet. It’s more true now than even then.

Yet for the first time on the eve of school I don’t fear a school shooting. I suppose you’ve got to gild whatever is available for the gilding.

I do still fear. Mostly my inadequacy as a go-between for my children in their education. Our elbow-to-elbow schedules. Our spending several hours together in one room on various conference calls and video meetings. Chemistry problems. Math I no longer remember. Lack of everyday friendship. The list grows longer the longer I ruminate.

We are not in a terrible position. Our kids are old enough to use a computer adeptly, make their own lunches, and read (which, honestly, is the only reason this could possibly work). My sympathies pour out to parents of lesser means, younger ages, and essential jobs.

I couldn’t send my children to brick-and-mortar school right now even if it were an option. Why? Because I’m privileged enough not to and willing enough to not add strain to the education system.

If anyone didn’t already know, this pandemic should have taught them by now that schools are heavily relied upon to make the world go ’round. Child care. Meals. Health care services. Front line combat of home violence. Socialization. Motor skills. And book learning to boot.

Teachers, administrators, and support staff are in an untenable situation. They know the needs. Many of them experience these needs. Many want to be where they long to be.

I cannot fix education. Or the social systems that entrench Americans in patterns that elevate few and shove down many. I cannot of my own will create a new way wherein people have plenty and can care for their children easily and have simple equity (were that a thing) and all the rest.

I cannot blame any parent for sending a healthy child to school when that is the best of too few options. I cannot blame any teacher for teaching through the risk to provide for themselves. And I cannot blame a teacher who refrains from teaching in an unsafe environment.

I can withhold judgment. I can do the best I can with what I have. I can reduce the educational strain by three students. I can demonstrate for my boys that a thing can be hard and done out of necessity and still be worthwhile, beneficial, and have at least spots of genuine fun.

So tomorrow’s supper sits in the fridge. And new notebooks sleep on fresh desks. Log-ins buzz with restraint, and the house settles into quietude. But the quiet doesn’t always herald a storm. Sometimes it’s just what it is, a slice of contentment exhaling softly. I’m living it as it is.

I hope you have quiet when you need it, fun when you want it, and the best possible, most successful school year ever!

Lights out.