By Kathryn Olson

Day one: I went to the grocery store today against my will to make sure we have enough food for the pending pandemic. It was literally packed out. I made new friends as I waited in line for an hour with a mass of humanity and carts filled to the top. A man with two small children desperately asked me where the toilet paper was. Knowing that the TP aisle was already empty, I begrudgingly gave up one from my cart. I wasn’t comfortable with the lack of social distance and waiting in line, I began to hear my heart thumping. Bradley, age 14, was waiting at home with his compromised immune system. He has been battling leukemia since he was 12. What have I done? Is toothpaste and toilet paper worth it? OK, rationalise. “In the US, only 50 people have died from the coronavirus in three months when over 3,000 die in car accidents every day. True, the few that have died were in fragile states such as Bradley, yet I sanitise my hands, I’m careful, I’ll even shower before I come near Bradley when I get home and he will not help carry in the groceries.” I walked through the door weighed down with groceries and covered in all kinds of weird guilt. My husband said I did the right thing and assured me Bradley will be fine. I sighed in relief and switched my concern to my elderly dad in Florida.

Day two: I heard that all elective medical procedures have been postponed. Unfortunately, a bone marrow biopsy and lumbar puncture are not elective and ours was scheduled for today. We had to go to a busy children’s hospital where germs seemed to be flying around like bats. I put on a face mask and Bradly angrily insisted I take it off. He said, “I get stared at enough already, don’t draw more attention, please.” These procedure days are unpleasant for him. We were about to pack in the elevator like sardines in a can when I suddenly announced, “We’re taking the stairs!” Bradley has had around 30 bone marrow biopsies. Today’s procedure was not the most emotional, but it was definitely the most stressful.

Day three: I wake up to the sound of classical music coming from the TV where ESPN or CNN are usually blaring. My husband says, “We’re not watching the news anymore.” The CDC website says they update Monday-Friday every day at noon. It’s 12:45 and it hasn’t been updated yet. Why? Have the numbers gone up? Why do I need to know so badly? I’m not going anywhere. We’re stocked up on food and my husband, my two teenage sons, and I, are sequestered in our home. People are posting on social media that their children have been home from school for one day and running out of things to do already. I roll my eyes because Bradley hasn’t gone to school or played any sport in two years. I ask my editor if I’m overreacting. He immediately snaps, “You’re probably the only one who’s not.” I think about our server where we have Sunday brunch and wonder if I should drop off her usual tip. I randomly think about the acrobats in Cirque Du Soleil. I hope they will still practice. I think about my 16-year-old and his first girlfriend and hope the relationship doesn’t fizzle out during this quarantine and then I think, “So what if it does?” Then I realise we’re already out of eggs.

Two weeks later: Yesterday, for my birthday, I opened up my front door to find a patch of neighbours all standing at least six feet apart. The closest one held a guitar and they all sang happy birthday to me as she played. Many of them speak Spanish, so after they sang the birthday song in English, they broke into a very long Spanish version and everyone began to cry. I don’t know exactly why they were crying, but I too felt the emotion. Were we crying because we have to be so far apart and can’t even hug? I was deeply touched because of the way they came together for this thoughtful gesture. However, I wonder if the Spanish song reminded them of family in Spain and Puerto Rico. Were they wondering when and if they will ever see them again? When my parents called later in the day from Florida to wish me a happy birthday, I couldn’t help but wonder when I will see them again. My dad isn’t in great health and I know I would be with him now if not for the coronavirus. It’s spring break and my two teenage boys are handling our cancelled trip pretty well, but we lost our airfare and another precious opportunity to see my parents.

Later in the day, my doorbell rang again, and it was a best friend, her two girls and a new puppy. The youngest was sitting on top of the car through the sunroof holding the puppy so I could see it. My friends and the other daughter were standing by the car wearing masks and holding signs that said, "Happy Birthday"! Laying at my front door was a bouquet of purple flowers they’d picked from their garden. My dear friend said, “I wanted to pick some tulips, but they were already starting to wither." Later, while walking my dog, I found myself looking at a patch of tulips that were just starting to wither. I stood above them and studied the inside of each bloom. In all my life, I’ve never looked deep inside a tulip. Although the petals were just starting to wither, they were still beautiful as a patch. What I found exquisite and most beautiful was what was inside the bloom.

I thought about aging and how we begin to wither too. I stopped thinking about getting back to the salon to cover my roots and get a pedicure. Instead, I thought about the beautiful patch of neighbours singing Happy Birthday outside my door. For the first time, I really saw my neighbours as a patch of beautiful tulips and I saw inside their hearts.

Other friends stopped by and tossed cards and gifts at my door yesterday and my sister-in-law baked me a chocolate torte and drove half an hour each way to leave it at my door.

Thanks to my coronavirus birthday, I will never see tulips, family, or friends the same way again. We are more beautiful when we come together ,and if we look deep down inside, that's where we will find what's most exquisite in each of us.

 

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