A Few Notes on COVID and Cats
I worry that I’m boring my cat.
Iggy is an American shorthair and not yet three; he will, before long, reach the age in which he will be likely sleeping fourteen hours a day. At present, though, he thinks there is nothing more enjoyable in life than chasing a small cloth ball around our apartment. The instinct to create little routines and stick to them must live deep in the mammalian brain because Iggy sticks to a schedule: he has a set time in which he must eat- only the first few bites though before he stops, grooms himself thoroughly, purrs, and then cuddles with me. After twenty minutes of cuddling, he returns to finish the food and then he wants to play. If I play with Iggy for as long he wants, he will keep going until he’s panting, and keep chasing the ball long past that point. I think it’s when he is at his happiest and it supersedes all his routines.
The problem is I’m the one sleeping fourteen hours a day now because I have been sharing space with the COVID-19 virus for the last few weeks. I prefer this to saying I am “battling” or “fighting” the virus; the martial metaphors are absurd, and especially so when the last thing anyone feels like doing is striding onto the battlefield. It feels more like an unwelcome housemate than an enemy, someone quartered with me, although the space we’re crammed into is my body, a spot that feels increasingly alien as the days pass.
I feel all sorts of guilt about having COVID; guilt is apparently another thing produced by the body as a basic byproduct of survival. I feel guilty about not playing more with my fiercely loyal cat. I feel guilty because I went to work when this was only a runny nose and a headache, in spite of the fact that my coworkers have all subsequently tested negative. I feel guilty for catching it after a year of this pandemic and having no idea how I did so. I feel guilty that my landlord seems to be having it worse than I am; one of us probably gave it to the other. And he has spent the last week “high as a kite,” an option I have not exercised, although I ate a THC gummy and slept a full 22 hours. And I feel the most guilt because I am generally managing life with this illness, while my friend Gene (who, I hasten to add guiltily, I haven’t seen in a year) is in the hospital with COVID-19 and pneumonia and a ventilator tube down his throat.
It’s a peculiar disease and I find myself (somewhat guiltily) fascinated and impressed by COVID-19. I would compare having it to wading into a bog where you can’t see what might be lurking beneath the water — imagine the trash compactor in Star Wars. I have experienced many of the best-known symptoms, such as the headache, dizziness, and general exhaustion; I have gratefully avoided the horrible breathing difficulties, and I have had some symptoms, such as heat blisters, psoriatic scales, and numb legs and fingers, that were totally unexpected. It feels like the disease is a cartoon octopus throwing everything it can grab at me.
Naturally, friends and family are also coming at me from all corners. Around midday, I start receiving calls. My union calls to let me know they want to get a collection together to help me since the university will not give sick leave to part-timers. I can’t take their money; I was simply raised not to.
Public Health calls to let me know they’ve closed my file; although I feel no better, they believe I am no longer infectious, or they no longer want the burden of my name. It feels heavy on me as well.
My 75-year-old mother calls to tell me she believes the Chinese government invented COVID in a lab as a means of bio-warfare. All I hope to hear from my mother is reassurance that I am loved and will heal soon; instead, she constantly relates these stories about the backstage machinations that she believes make up the secret circumstance of our lives. I tell her I can’t see what difference it makes where COVID originated, and then I instantly regret it. This is a story about herself after all. Conspiracy theories are always autobiographical; they’re always about how the teller has some sacred knowledge that they experience as a blessing and a burden. So, I am learning to listen as my mother conveys her experience of reality. She is old now and I need to hear her stories while I can, as my own stories already fall apart in my mouth.
Everyone else is telling me they hope to see me return to my work routine soon; my boss has scheduled me for next week. It’s hard to think of anything I want to do less than return to work. My job has always been pleasantly objectless: I enter buildings that are dirty and make them clean. It’s a sort of Zen exercise, like rearranging the stones on a streambed. I’m destroying nothing and doing no harm. With the campus barely in use, however, the futility of the work stands out in starker relief. Each day, we are recleaning empty buildings. We work to justify our line on the budget, now more than ever.
Which is its own conspiracy. My typical response to conspiracy theories is to wonder how many people could commit to a lie and build up silence around it. But then I wonder how many of us are going through empty routines every day in complete and total bad faith. None of us actually think we’re working, yet we have all committed to come in every day and pretend to do work in order to serve an abstraction. The Government of Canada has a COVID ad which begins “Healthy people are the foundation of a healthy economy.” I feel like there should be some higher function to my life than serving an “economy”. I feel disengaged from something to which I cannot reengage.
I’m also aware of how many moments of my life have fallen into the soil beneath my toes. When everything is whittled down to a present moment in a room with a cat, the future and past really do fade to a blur. I maintain stability by focusing on that moment and that cat and I find, strangely enough, that I might need to play with that fabric ball more often than he does.
Author’s note: This is Iggy with his fabric ball: