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The Shipwreck Rose: Mental Drift

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:28

And now you will be treated, reader, to the boring column in which I describe the circumstances in which I finally caught Covid-19, in the long boring anticlimax, the dreary denouement, nearly three years after the plague’s thunder-and-brimstone debut.

It isn’t even interesting, anymore, to have Covid. (I mean, I understand it is rather more interesting and perilous if you aren’t among the vaccinated, but I am talking about the current, domesticated, garden-variety Covid here experienced by the vaccinated masses, most of the time. I’m not really sick, but muddle-headed and sleepy. I’m too sleepy to argue.) I seem to have the “like a head cold” version, knock on wood, but with the addition of a certain mental vagueness and a loss of taste and smell.

I’ve been wandering around the house, not entirely sure if it was yesterday or this morning that I belatedly planted the amaryllis bulbs in their holiday vases, pressing my nose up to various objects, hoping to perceive their perfume: bars of spicy-clove soap, lemons and limes that I’ve sliced open, a hunk of stinky Morbier cheese removed from its plastic wrap, bottles of scent, taking them one by one off the vanity table. I cannot smell Joy de Jean Patou, try as I might, or the new L’Iris from Officina Santa Maria Novella, but I can just, just detect the slightly armpitty fug of calla lily that predominates in my favorite perfume of all, Frederic Malle’s Lys Mediterranee.

Sarah Koenig, my dear friend from Sagaponack, did an entire segment on “This American Life” some years ago detailing the seven deadly sins of boring conversation, according to her mother, Maria Matthiessen of Sag Harbor, who — as one of my most determined readers, bless her cotton socks — will be reading this column right now with either a sigh or a chuckle. I am aiming for a chuckle. According to Maria, as recorded for all posterity in a public-radio segment titled “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About,” it is boring to talk about, 1) your health; 2) your dreams; 3) your period; 4) your diet; 5) money; 6) how you slept, and 7) “route talk” (that is, how you got from home to the dinner party, no one cares).

I’m in complete agreement with Maria’s list of boring topics — no one cares! — but it is also comical how frequently we bring up this list of verboten topics as a topic of conversation in and of itself. It’s become a sort of meta-boring conversation about boring conversation in our social circle. Always good for a laugh.

So to defy Maria’s rules of conversation and describe the stupid circumstances in which I stupidly caught Covid-19. . . . It was on the cruise ship I described for you in last week’s column, of course! These are the wages of sin: You decide, like an idiot — blithely casting aside your stated principles of environmental responsibility, in a fit of self-indulgence and haute consumerism — to go on a floating classic-movie festival aboard a megaship owned by the Disney corporation, and — as a side dish to the endless plates of pasta “purseittes” filled with champagne and truffles, and the unending chain of ice cream cones self-served on Deck 11 under the swishing and swashing course of the Aquaduck water slide — you can expect to reap a fat helping of pandemic coronavirus.

Maria’s other daughter, Antonia, was my cabin mate aboard the T.C.M. Classic Cruise, sleeping alternately on a bunkbed that the porter pulled down each night from the ceiling and on a chaise longue out on the wide veranda, but she seems to have avoided catching Covid-19. I’m not sure how. An immune system of iron. I’ve been stuck at home alone since I got back from the airport and flopped into bed on Thursday night, not quite sick enough to be stay in bed, but just sick enough that I feel shivery when, in my boredom, I open the front door and step outside into the yard on some slim pretext — pulling ivy off a fence in order to make a holiday wreath, for example, but then I’m too sleepy and absent-minded to actually make the wreath — and so, partly to keep myself entertained, I have been texting Antonia four and five times daily to check in and see if she’s developed any symptoms.

I’ve also been spam-texting Sarah, and Almond, and Alison, and my children. Just now I’ve implored Teddy to text me random photographs of the random things he’s doing today, because I cannot keep myself entertained with Netflix. He is at his dad’s house during my isolation and replies that he’s not doing anything photograph-worthy. But I’m so bored I’d be grateful for a photograph of his breakfast plate, or the basketball court at Herrick Park. I’ve watched three or four movies about World War II, I am not sure how many. My attention wanders. On the classic-movie cruise, I was reading a book by Vladimir Nabokov — who had been, until a gimlet-eyed re-examination by me this year, my second-favorite author, after Tolstoy — called “Look at the Harlequins,” but I didn’t manage to quite finish it before our last stop, at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, and I cannot finish it now because my mind wanders off, mid-page.

Vague, Covid-brained penseé: “Reading Nabokov on Castaway Cay” could be the title of my autobiography.

I’d kind of convinced myself, years ago now, that I was mysteriously immune to Covid-19, because I’d been exposed to it so early and so often as an E.M.T. with the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association. I know the exact date that I transported my first Covid patient: Feb. 28, 2020 — weeks before the authorities caught up with events and acknowledged that Covid was here, among us, on the East End.

It was so early that we weren’t even wearing masks when we walked up the front steps into her house. She, the patient, a young mom, was having trouble breathing and would go to the intensive care unit on a ventilator, with heart damage, but she hadn’t traveled to China lately. The protocols lagged. (I remember stepping aside to confer with a fellow E.M.T.: Let’s put on masks, shall we?) It was only later, when that patient survived, that her doctors confirmed the diagnosis. That was a long spring. We were frightened, honestly, those first few weeks, driving to calls, putting on white coveralls like Hazmat suits. It was all so unknown and unknowable, a black vapor of contagion.

How fortunate we are that it has become so mundane. Blessedly boring, I guess.

Friday, the morning the dreaded second vertical line popped up unmistakably on my at-home rapid test, was my birthday, actually. I’m a bit philosophical-minded, even with Covid brain, and I said to myself that this, the birthday I tested positive for Covid, wasn’t the worst of all possible birthdays; I mean, at least something happened. At least it was a memorable one, right? My Covid birthday. Almond came over and left a big bouquet of hydrangeas and a chicken pot pie on my doorstep, and I waved at her through the living-room window, and Teddy baked me a chocolate cake, my favorite, using Hershey’s Syrup. It’s a beautiful birthday cake. I’ve only eaten a few slices, though, since Friday, because try as I might, practically burying my nose in the frosting, I cannot smell the chocolate, and while the texture is perfect, I cannot taste the cake.

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