Note: I have avoided writing about this subject like the plague that it is. But events have drawn me to it in spite of myself. Before reading, you should know that this was written a month ago. It was out of date by the time I finished it. But I have chosen not to change the numbers, so the piece can be an archival record.
It’s still dark. The room feels stuffy. I leave my bed, open the window, and the sound of rain fills the room. It echoes the sound I hear in my brain.
It sounds as if I’m deep in the woods trying to tune into a low-signal radio station. Static of the worst kind. Angry, crackling dissonance. A constant hissing as terrifying as if all the voices in the world are speaking in my head simultaneously.
This is not the cadence of a gentle rain tickling our metal roof, a meditative thrum to sleep by. This is the sound of nightmares. Of madness. A discordant jumble of sound I cannot make sense of. The sound of nonsense numbers.
Numbers too big to contemplate clamor for attention I do not possess.
Ten is a number I can understand—the size of a family Thanksgiving gathering. Thirty—my grade- school classes. A hundred? Maybe my granddaughter’s high school soccer games.
But twenty thousand. What does that number mean? The population of my town. Have I ever seen all those people together in one place? If I drove to town one day and all 20,000 lay dead in the streets, could my brain take it in?
And yet, the numbers in my head are exponentially bigger than that. And they are real. They are human lives. The raindrops are their voices. I have no space to breathe.
Overnight, the number of deaths in the United States from a single virus passed the 50,000 mark. Overnight. By tomorrow, we will have exceeded a million documented cases. Before I can blink, cases worldwide will rise to 3 million with 200,000 deaths. How am I supposed to understand those numbers?
I read a New York Magazine piece the other day. The reporter wrote that what we call “under control” is Americans dying in multiples of September 11 every week.” That kind of death toll is being normalized.
My stomach flips, but my mind is disengaged, my heart numbed. Too many numbers, too many voices—too little meaning. A tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing,
But . . . tonight I am told someone very dear to me has the thing whose name I dare not speak.
Simultaneously I learn that 40-somethings with barely any symptoms are dying of virus-induced strokes. My son’s age. My daughter’s age.
Now, I feel it.
The cold sweat of bone-chilling fear.