My desk doesn't look so different. To one side rests a folder holding the statements for my tax return. Notes and homework for my music theory course are spread across the blotter. On the other side sits my appointment calendar.
But none of this is quite as it should be. The tax returns would normally be done by now. The notes for my course were not taken in the classroom, they were created by our teacher during a Zoom video chat. And the calendar reminds me only to put out the trash. Like almost everyone now, I have nowhere to go.
I sneeze and cough and wipe my nose. This cold is the last thing I brought home with me, probably from bowling, before the pandemic struck. Obviously I have no business going beyond my sidewalk.
Yet I am lucky, so very fortunate when so many are nearing the end of their rope as I write this in mid April. I have food and medicine and a home. I have neighbors to check on me. I have a background in biochemistry to help me make sense of it all.
In January, after I put Christmas away, I read the latest in a string of books I've devoured on practice and self improvement. Anything to keep me from chopping up my guitars in frustration and feeding them to the fireplace. It mentioned the 1955 announcement of the success of the first field trial of the Salk polio vaccine. This piqued my attention because I was born in 1953, and the fear of polio was still palpable during my childhood. What really roused my curiosity was the account of Jonas Salk's speech that day. His failure to acknowledge his coworkers' contributions tainted his reputation for the rest of his life. As a scientist, and as one who remembered polio, I wanted to learn more.
I found the source, the Pulitzer Prize winning Polio: An American Story. I followed up with the HBO movie "Warm Springs", which dramatized Roosevelt's experience. Then I read The Cutter Incident, about the contaminated lots of hastily produced polio vaccine that sickened, paralyzed, and killed hundreds of children and adults later in 1955. In February, I watched "Contagion". I know what a strand of RNA can do. Nothing since has truly surprised me.
I can’t meet my young guitar tutor for our weekly lessons. He needs income, and I need to avoid people, so he made a grocery run for me. I paid him hazardous duty rate and more. For all I know, he might have saved my life.
My music stand holds a stack of songs. I chip away at the exercises and scales. During pauses, I glance up at the photos of the gang from Gatherings past. Most of us aren't spring chickens anymore. My imagination turns feverish. I see myself looking up at a nurse in hazmat gear. They’ve taken my glasses. She – or he – is blurry. I’m terrified of drowning, alone, in my own pleural secretions. The first molecules of propofol reach my brain. The lights go out.
I shiver. I stand up, put the guitar down, and walk to the kitchen and fix a snack. I munch a while, flip through a magazine, and go back to my guitar. I play my heart out.
These days are all we have.