Positive Thoughts for Negative Results
With equal parts meticulous care and indiscriminate luck
Life is messy. Those of us living it know this too well.
Everything can be ticking right along according to your vision board and then—BAM! Chaos. Free-fall. Ruination and revelation.
Sometimes what emerges from the wreckage can be profoundly beautiful, thrilling you from stem to stern.
Other times, the BAM! just… sucks. I am currently navigating some Grade A suckage.
The reality of a global pandemic is that no matter how careful you may be, how diligently you mask, how swiftly you offer up your deltoid for a vax, you’re never 100% guaranteed safety. The COVID-19 virus and its insidious variants are greedy, opportunistic <<swear word redacted>>. Given time and opportunity, this thing comes for us all.
Recently, it came for me. Ten days and five tests later, I’m still testing negative. But Marido and Filha’s tests were the bad kind of positive.
Luckily, Marido and I are fully vaxxed—we got Pfizered back in San Francisco last spring, as soon as we were eligible. So Marido’s symptoms were fairly mild, all things considered. He’s mostly recovered now, just fighting off a lingering fatigue.
Filha, however, is not yet 12, and doesn’t have the luxury of mRNA protection. When she tested positive, my heart stopped for a small eternity. I imagined the virus inside her body wreaking all sorts of havoc—as it has for far too many people.
As you know, if you’ve been reading along for awhile, I am really, really good at imagining the worst possible outcomes. If I can think of the most awful scenario, if I can picture it in all its horror and heartbreak, then I can protect us somehow. As if by preparing myself for the worst, I can magically prevent it. So as the double line appeared and my heart hit pause, my brain galloped on through a thousand-thousand ghastly possibilities. It wasn’t hard to imagine, because this virus has taken so much from so many.
But we are to be the lucky ones, it seems. The only COVID symptom Filha experienced was a mild headache. (I say this, and then I knock on wood and imagine a few more horrors, just for good measure.)
For her, the bigger hardship has been the isolation and confinement. She’s not used to being banned from the outdoors. But banned she is. Filha and Marido have been sequestered upstairs in our house, where the bedrooms and kitchen are located. Vila and I have quarantined downstairs, rattling about the living room, guest room, and writing room by ourselves. (Good thing each floor has its own bathroom!)
There’s a door at the top of the stairs, a tall glass-paned thing we had never closed, not once, until the plague entered our home. The door stays shut all the time now, and when we do need to mingle (because I have to eat), we all mask up and my people retreat to their bedrooms and close two more doors.
Sharing space with the people you love most, but being unable to touch them—it’s incredibly demoralizing. This last stretch of days has been lonely for all of us.
“You must really miss your community during all of this,” one friend texted me last week.
I do miss the family of people who surrounded us with love, snacks, and easy camaraderie in San Francisco. (I have also been missing Sri Thai, the little restaurant just a few blocks from our old home. Through the years we lived on 46th Avenue, they delivered countless delicious meals to our door—hot comfort in compostable clamshells.)
We don’t have a big community here, not yet. But our first friend in Setúbal, our realtor Elda, called and texted to check on us when she heard the news. She also made stopped by to bring us ginger from Angola, and dried thyme leaves to drop in a hot tea to soothe sore throats. My fellow American-in-Portugal friend Shanna texted multiple times to see how I was feeling; if I needed to talk. Google translate helped me break the news to Germinia at the cafe next door, and I don’t think I’m imagining that her Bom dias and Boa tardes have been especially sympathetic these last 2 weeks.
And of course all three of us have been in touch with friends and family by phone, text message, and zoom calls through it all. So we’re not in this alone. Our community—in the old country and the new—offers support and strength and ridiculous gifs when we need to laugh. (My sister J is especially good at those.)
All of this unexpected upheaval has made me think about this simple truth: No matter how gorgeous the landscape outside your window, no matter how idyllic the town, how picturesque the scene you’ve settled into, life can still hit like a hurricane and leave you decimated.
Back in the US, New Orleans drowns in darkness and wildfires ravish California. My sister’s home sits on the edge of the evacuation zone for the Caldor Fire, near Tahoe. When she steps outside, the air is choked with ash and dread.
Here inside my home across the Atlantic, COVID has turned our breath to poison and I haven’t hugged my daughter in more than a week.
There’s a song by The Oak Ridge Boys that my dad loves to play on his guitar—I remember him strumming and singing it often when I was a child, and it remains one of his favorites today. A few of the lines go like this:
Life is full of heartaches and broken dreams/to live is not always as easy as it seems…*
Of course, the rest of the song is about Jesus, which is a great comfort to my dad. Not so much for me. (That’s a long story for a different day.)
Heathen though I may be, I do have comfort. I have peace, and hope, and all the necessary elements that keep a soul afloat in hard times.
Together, maybe not in person but in spirit, Marido and Filha and I have been finding the bright spots in the dark days. We’re thinking positive thoughts about negative results, and counting every moment we get to spend together as precious.
*There’s also that Robert Burns poem about the mouse and the plow:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley