I tried to start off 2021 with galvanized optimism. When I reread my 2020-in-review from last year’s last regular issue, I can see a sheen of desperation over my flowery words, a serious need for things to simply go well.
Not long after I delivered that column, I found out that my father had contracted COVID-19 from a home health care worker who did not wear a mask in my parents’ home. My father, a diabetic who has had two strokes and chronic heart failure and is disabled now because of them, got COVID-19 from someone with the education to know better than to be around at-risk people without proper PPE. Cross-country travel is a terrible idea in a pandemic, but now his health is such that any visit with him might be our last. So we loaded up and hauled it 7 hours across the Deep South to stand in the mud and shout through a window at a man who was now too weak to hold up his head. Pneumonia set in almost immediately, and he was moved to the COVID uniy of a rehab facility 20 miles from his home on Christmas Eve. My mom will not give me the home health care worker’s name.
I realized while eating sushi in a Birmingham parking lot that I’d not only missed my talk-therapy appointment, but I’d also neglected to write my first column of 2021, and I am thankful to have an editor and a therapist who are accommodating during the worst of times. I have been in a daze of anger and fear since I watched a nurse place pillows on each side of my dad, too weak to stay upright in bed. My first column of 2021 was just me answering whatever I found in my inbox, completely unable to do what I’m doing right now. This is a perfect demonstration of “we wear the mask to protect others,” and sometimes I daydream of sitting on an anti-masker’s chest and punching their face into mincemeat.
I am wearing a mask and gloves right now as I type this on a shared computer at my workplace, while our city’s largest employer is gearing up “to resume the effective delivery of high-quality instruction.” I am lucky to have a job that requires minimal public interaction, and I almost feel privileged when I think of UGA workers who can’t put as much space between themselves and the student body, especially those who have to handle materials from the public. In no way, shape or form is this pandemic even close to over. Administration of the vaccine will be slow going for the vast majority of the public, so right now the city of Athens is at the mercy of an influx of rosy-cheeked youth who wanna twerk and swap bodily fluids. Athens hospital ICUs have exceeded their capacity, and hospitals in general are full with 95% of beds occupied and nearly half of those are COVID-19 patients. I don’t even care that I didn’t get freaky with anyone at all last year when our town is literally turning into a soggy Kleenex.
I couldn’t give a farthing for the college experience. Been there, done that— and it was just fine. I don’t care if rush happens. I think about UGA football less than I think about anything else in the entire world. I care about people like my dad whose entire lives have changed because of someone else’s distrust and carelessness. I care deeply about a friend whose father was diagnosed on the same day as mine and died six days later without ever seeing his son again. I care about the UGA administration making moves to provide the “college experience” that makes the campus attractive to freshmen—and to alumni with deep pockets—during a pandemic. Numbers will rise, and more people will die for this college experience.
I didn’t want to hide in my home for the semester, but someone has to take this seriously, and I am very much about the business of taking care of one another, even if more powerful components of our community are not.
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