I am texting the doctor. I am texting T’s five siblings on a group chat, texting my parents and my brother, texting T’s business partner and employees and his dearest friends and mine, in loops and loops, with hearts and thankful prayer-hands emoji. He is too exhausted, too weak, to answer all the missives winging to him at all hours. “Don’t sugarcoat it for my family,” he tells me. He has asked for the gray sweater that was his father’s, that his father wore when he was alive. He will not take it off.
It’s as if we are in a time warp, in which we have accelerated at 1½ time speed, while everyone around us remains in the present — already the past to us — and they, blissfully, unconsciously, go about their ordinary lives, experiencing the growing news, the more urgent advisories and directives, as a vast communal experience, sharing posts and memes about cabin fever, about home-schooling, about social distancing, about how hard it all is, while we’re living in our makeshift sick ward, living in what will soon be the present for more and more of them. “I took out the kitty litter,” CK says, “and I saw some people standing on the corner, and I was like, I want to see strangers! And then I heard them saying: ‘It’s actually been really nice. It’s been a chance to connect as a family.’ And I was like, No, actually, I don’t want to see strangers, and I came back in.”
CK and I confine ourselves to the half bathroom, the one with the litter box, which she is now in charge of. Over the past days and days, drifty, dreamy CK has become my chief assistant on my nursing/housekeeping/kitchen rotations, feeding the cat and cleaning the litter box, folding laundry, preparing T’s small meals, washing dishes and pots, coordinating with me in a complicated choreography when I come out of the sickroom holding dishes so we can get them into the dishwasher without my touching the handles or having to wash my dry, raw hands even more. “I feel like we’re talking to each other more like equals now,” she says. She is right.
I am consumed with trying to keep us safe. I wipe down the doorknobs, the light switches, the faucets, the handles, the counters with disinfectant. I swab my phone with alcohol. I throw the day’s hoodie into the laundry at night as if it were my scrubs. I wash all our towels, again and again. When CK wants to shower, I wipe down the whole main bathroom — where T refills his water cup, where he has had diarrhea, where he coughs and spits out phlegm — with bleach, take out T’s washcloth, towels and bathmat and replace them with clean ones, telling CK to try not to touch anything, to shower and go right back to her room. Then I do the same. If T needs to use the bathroom before we’re ready to shower, I do the whole bleach routine again before we go in. Twice, in the first week of the illness, I eased him into an Epsom-salt bath. But not since then. He is too weak. It would be too much. There is no way. When he shuffles down the hall from the bedroom to the bathroom, he lists against the wall. He splashes water on his face in the bathroom, and that has to be enough.
I run through possibilities. I’m not so worried about CK getting sick. I can nurse her too. It’s if I get sick. I show her how to do more things, where things go, what to remember, what to do if — What if T is hospitalized? What if I am? Could a 16-year-old be left to fend for herself at home, alone? How would she get what she needed? Could she do it? For how long?