Our son, Alek moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in early December 2019. We Facetime every day. I’m nervous he is 24 hours away but excited he’s having an adventure. At 32 years old, single, with Angelo and I relatively healthy, he goes off, telling himself the time is right to do this. I tell myself if anything happens to him, I’ll hop on a plane and be there in 24 hours.
He traveled to Vietnam with a N-95 mask, for pollution purposes, telling us everyone wears one. Close to the lunar holiday of Tet, January 25, 2020, the Vietnamese government closed schools, urged masks, social distancing, and handwashing. Alek misplaced his N-95 mask, and I looked for one stateside for him. They were sold out in Southeast Florida, our winter home. At that time, I questioned the efficacy of the surgical masks worn in Asia. Alek says to me the masks are strange; there, if you don’t wear one, you’re weird.
Plus, he says, “Who are you going to believe, the CDC or the Vietnamese?”
He was going to fly back to the United States on March 28, 2020, and I was looking forward to seeing him.
But, March 16, 2020, Covid-19 shut down the world. I’m heavyhearted I may never see him again.
Also, I brood over the news coming out of Italy, for Angelo’s sisters, nephews, and cousins. So far, it’s the hardest-hit country outside of China. We Facetime Maurizio, the older nephew, his face is screwed up in a knot: his partner has Type 1 Diabetes. Italy is in lockdown, and he probably shouldn’t visit his 75-year-old bedridden mother, but he does. What if he brings the virus to either his diabetic partner or his mother?
I decide to voluntarily social isolate, for Angelo, who is in the high-risk group because he is 72 with severe asthma. I’m apprehensive I’ll carry the virus to him. I tell myself: I’m healthy, then later realize at 67, I’m not so young.
Late-March we attend a lakeside gathering, thinking it’s safe outdoors, but I wear a tape measure I use for sewing around my neck, to gauge social distance. The people who planned the gathering laugh when they see it, as I do - a joke, after all, we’re outside. The party planners, despite nationwide panic buying, hoarding, schools, and businesses closed, are not convinced of the viral threat: “It’s just a media hoax,” they say. They don’t see Coronavirus as a global issue, but an American liberal anxiety attack meant to undercut their President. They repeat misinformation, stating Corona is less severe than the flu insisting the mortality rate is 0.1% from Covid-19.
Angelo hugs, shakes hands with them, and I am furious. He says when I remind him we weren’t going to do that, “I forgot.” The ones he hugged say, “It’s just a virus, people will die, but people are always dying, that is just a fact of life”. Jeanine Pirro said the same thing on Fox News. They tell me, “If there’s a vaccine for this, I won’t take it.”
Much earlier in the day than I should, I drink. Fear driving me to a behavior that doesn’t serve me. I think, it’s the end of the world, might as well be happy, drunk. But I’m not.
Isolation will be an effort for us, but I tell myself Angelo and I are lucky. We are retirees who don’t have to ride public transportation, nor live in assisted living. We are not the frontline workers and our means of income is secure. And we have the lake we live on, the beach nearby, kayaks, bikes, and legs for walking.
Vietnam seems to have the magic formula for combating the virus, no deaths and our son is safe. I’m accepting we can’t get to Italy or Vietnam anytime soon and I’ve adopted the Asian habit of wearing a mask every time I leave my apartment.
By early May, we head back to New York, quarantining for 14 days. Almost everyone is wearing a mask, social distancing and the attitude towards the virus is serious. They have been through the worst of it.
Christine Jacobsen is a retired school counselor, visual artist, and wannabe writer. As a writer, she has been published in regional New York magazines focusing on health and parenting.