Presumed positive

This post originally appeared as the introduction to my April newsletter.

I refused to wear uncomfortable underwear when I had coronavirus. This is probably TMI for at least 86% of the people who subscribe to this newsletter—parents, colleagues, people I’ve met once in a networking setting, people bamboozled enough by my tweeted self-promotion that they’ve subscribed (gotcha). But it is the truth and this is my newsletter and I will do and say what I want. I wore only comfy underwear for the 4 days I was symptomatic, rolling around in my own sweat with a fever that wouldn’t quit. I wore comfy underwear to the clinic where I was tested, only to wait a week and a day for results that confirmed what I had suspected. I wore comfy underwear for the week and a half I self-quarantined afterward, not leaving the house, not speaking to anyone closer than 6 feet away, communing with friends on my birthday through my open first-floor window while they stood in the street with masks on. This past week, when I finally did laundry, what I folded was a massive pile of comfy underwear, leggings, T-shirts, and just about every sweatshirt I owned. And, thank god, finally, my sweaty coronavirus sheets.

By now, several of my friends and friends’ friends and friends’ relatives have symptoms of coronavirus. They don’t qualify to get tested, but they’re presumed positive, quarantining and self-regulating as best they can with Tylenol and Gatorade. I was something of an early adopter; I started showing symptoms on March 10, the day after I returned from a trip to Paris, the day before Tom Hanks tested positive, the NBA canceled its season, and a proverbial dam broke in the American consciousness, forcing many who had brushed off the virus’s implications to finally take it seriously. No one I knew had had the virus, and I second-guessed my own symptoms, convinced myself that the low-grade fever was the result of travel exhaustion or an airplane bug. But the fever stuck around, creeping upward and making it impossible to sleep. My body felt mangled, like a wrung sponge. My eyelids burned and my head ached and I developed a slight cough, barely there, but worse if I moved or spoke. (I didn’t do much of either.)

On day two I decided I ought to get tested; my boss is 62 and in remission. I called about a million numbers: first a nearby hospital; then, at their instruction, 311, the city’s glorified grievance hotline; then my insurance company; then a few primary-care doctors whose numbers they gave me; then the Brooklyn Hospital Center, where one of the primary-care doctors allegedly worked (she’s no longer with the practice, I learned). From there I was patched through to the sole person at BHC handling the coronavirus response who offered to “Google some urgent cares” for me; finally, he connected me to an ER technician at the hospital. I walked through my symptoms and exposure history (the trip to Paris, the contact with friends who’d been in northern Italy, the multiple confirmed cases in my office building), and he concluded that I met the criteria to be tested. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “you probably have it.”

Still, he advised against getting the test. I could expose others, or be exposed, and I would certainly increase the burden on New York’s already-crowded hospitals. He was helpful and kind but sounded pained, harried, with a million other voices on loop in the background. I hung up, texted everyone I’d recently been in touch with to give them the presumed positive, but resolved to stay home. What finally changed my mind was a friend’s encouragement and the news that CityMD, a branch of which is walkable from my apartment, had tests. I had to talk my way through a receptionist who insisted I wasn’t sick enough to be tested, and a member of the medical staff who told me it would ultimately be up to the doctor I saw at the clinic. But, he said, I’d likely be approved. So I walked there.

The clinic seemed laughably under-prepared, with motion-sensitive hand sanitizer dispensers all around, sure, but the woman at the counter had me log in, gloveless, at the touch-screen kiosk. I signed a form; she put my pen back in the communal cup. I had to ask for a mask and sit away from others of my own volition. Most of the staff was wearing surgical masks, and the nurse had on an N95 respirator. When she came in, the doctor was wearing a gown, an N95, gloves, and a face shield. My flu test came back negative, so she administered the test for coronavirus: a swab up the nose (and, it felt like, into the brain—a description that, it turns out, is not entirely inaccurate). On my way out, she handed me a sheaf of paper with instructions and told me to expect results in 3-5 days. I walked the 20 minutes home. It was March 13, the first warm spring day, and I had just showered for the first time in a week.

The days after that were easier—the fever stayed away, the night sweats dissipated, I was able to eat again. My symptoms devolved into coldlike, and my senses of smell and taste disappeared entirely. The 3-5 days turned out not to be true, though. It wasn’t until Saturday the 21st, three days after my birthday and more than a week after I was tested, that a doctor called and told me the results had come back positive. He was kind and concerned and told me I’d been doing all the right things, and he apologized for the delay. But from what I’ve read, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

It feels strange to use the phrase “lucky” in reference to, well, getting coronavirus (or rather covid-19, as the disease caused by the virus is technically called). But I was. My job gave me time off, though my boss later joked that, the entire time I’d been sick, I’d only missed two days of work—curse my capitalist mindset. I still had a job to begin with, one that allowed me to work from home and provided me with health insurance. I had a support network of friends and family who sent Gatorade via Postmates, brought groceries to my door, and checked in regularly. I lived alone, so I had an entire apartment to putter around in without fear of infecting others. My cat didn’t leave my side; the fever made me a human heater, which she adored.

Most importantly my case was mild, and nothing about my condition put me at greater risk. The illness sucked, and isolation was hard, and that was the worst of it. So many accounts are so much more horrifying than mine. Still, it’s strange to pick up the phone and hear a medical professional say that you have the nightmare virus that’s spreading across the country, killing more than 12,000 people to date. It’s strange to be a statistic, and it’s even stranger to be one of the first.

Presumed positive


No one told me my parents’ divorce would make me an excellent packer. That detail was absent from the Reddit threads and Tumblr blogs I visited in search of answers, as it was from the literature splayed on the table in the office of the psychotherapist my father brought me and my sister to see. But it was true: in spending every other weekend at Dad’s, I developed a mental checklist that cemented itself in my mind, and hasn’t budged since. The handful of times I forgot a crucial item, forcing Dad to drive all the way back to Mom’s to recover said history book or ballet shoe, ensured I never did so again.

As I grew older, I learned to derive pleasure from packing very little. There’s something empowering in the notion of traveling light—something reassuring in reminding yourself that the things needed to sustain you are few, that you are efficient, that at any moment you can pick up and leave and want for (almost) nothing. I am proud of myself when I pack light for a trip, not only because it saves me the pain of asking someone else to lift my carry-on into the overhead compartment, but because it means I have streamlined my life into a shape I can handle alone. I feel the same way when I pack a tote or backpack for a day running errands in the city, and remember a snack, my water bottle, a phone charger, an extra battery, a flannel to throw on if (okay, when) I get cold. The trick is never to over-pack, but to have handy anything and everything you might need. To be the best prepared of anyone around you. In this way, you beat the game.

Of course, there’s also something soothing in the process of packing itself: the folding, the rolling, the fitting of items together just so, like a real-world game of Tetris. At this point, my hands do the work automatically—again, a product of so many weekends away. There’s a satisfaction inherent in running through my mental checklist and finding it complete. Even better, over the years I’ve acquired packing accoutrements—suitcases, pouches, laptop sleeves, shoe bags—that are uniformly black and rectangular. They’re arrayed on my bed even now, ready to be zipped and flown to Florida. And I can’t deny that the sight of them pleases something primordial in my core.

In a way, this fondness for packing is an offshoot of my penchant for doing that keeps me functional even when my mind is spinning out. I’ve cried every day this week, overwhelmed by a deep-rooted fear that I am unlovable and unknowable, and each time my hands begin to move of their own accord, washing dishes, doling lentil soup into a Tupperware for lunch, packing or unpacking or re-packing my work or gym bag. The rhythm of these actions propels me forward, casting an aura of functionality around my body while my brain implodes and spirals ever deeper into worst-case scenarios. But when I finally break the surface of reality again, there are the clean dishes, there is the ready lunch, the packed bag, the suitcase filled with everything I’ll need for a few days away. A big part of growing up, I think, is learning to save yourself.

There are times when I crave the opposite: someone to still my hands, pull me close, tell me they know me, they love me, and everything will be fine—that it’s okay to rest for a moment. Another part of growing up is learning to be vulnerable in ways you thought you’d stamped out of yourself: shucking off a self-preservationist instinct in favor of trust. Believing a good thing can last. Relinquishing some control. Packing a little heavier, every now and then.


The Lonely Writer’s Club: 3

ICYMI: I joined my first-ever writer’s group, which we dubbed — somewhat unoriginally — the lonely writer’s club. We meet every other week, so every two weeks I’ll post my free-writes from the group on here.

This week’s prompt was simply, after the election: What now?

My response to the election of Donald Trump has been to dress gayer. And while the question, “What does it mean to ‘look gay?’” has many contentious answers, mine is a snapback. Combat boots. Baggy leather pants and aggressive jackets. No makeup, rap music, and a ‘don’t fuck with me’ face. I snarl at every white man on the subway, wondering if he’s the asshole who decided my basic human rights are less important than economic policy.

I continued this philosophy on Saturday night. And, sitting on the subway to 8th Avenue with my headphones in, I felt a man tap me on the shoulder. He was sitting right next to me, and while I fumbled to pause Rae Sremmurd and remove an earbud, he leaned in close, waiting. My whole body tense, one hand inching toward the pepper spray on the key ring in my right pocket, I addressed him.


“Do you know how to get to 59th Street?”

I wasn’t sold—we were on a Manhattan-bound L train going nowhere near 59th Street. And why, out of everyone on the train next to and across from him, did he ask me? Every synapse in my brain lit up like I was being held at gunpoint. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and pounded in my ears. I’d spent my week writing about hate crimes committed against black, Hispanic, and gay people by those who felt Trump’s win meant they could act with impunity. I was more than a little paranoid.

“You’ll have to transfer to the A/C/E,” I answered, a steely edge to my voice.

“Oh, okay. Which stop do I get off at?”

“The last one.”

I replaced the earbud. He wasn’t a particularly menacing man—his sweatpants and parka were clean, as were his shoes and fingernails. He’d stuffed a fuzzy beanie in his back pocket to reveal a fresh haircut. And I was used to men addressing me — asking for directions or tossing out an unsolicited, “I like your haircut” — without considering that I’m small, I’m female, and I’m traveling solo.

But I was wearing the hat and the pants and the jacket. And we were living in Trump’s America.


The Lonely Writer’s Club: 3