Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.
This morning on my 41-minute drive to work, I was a different person. Two people, actually. Bad versions of those two people, to be exact.
The year was 1992, and something big was happening for 18-year-old me. High school had just become part of my history, and college was not quite part of my present. I was free, freer than I probably ever will be. No one looked to me for anything. Not anything that truly mattered, anyway. I was a great boyfriend to my soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, a great friend to many soon-to-be former friends, a relatively good son to parents who had somehow survived my journey into adulthood and a supportive little brother to a sister who would eventually disavow my existence. But other than that, I was done. Done with classes. Done with teachers. Done with the school system that had cradled me since I took those first tentative steps through the doors of the kindergarten classroom and found some kindred spirits smashing trucks together.
I thought I knew a lot but really knew so little, having grown up in a place not exactly brimming with diversity of any sort, unless you count those who loved BMW’s as being diverse from those who loved Mercedes or those who had one housekeeper as being diverse from those who had two… or three. The one thing I did know, the one thing I still know, was that I was a fish out of water. I didn’t fit in there. I didn’t fit in anywhere, to be fair. But I certainly didn’t fit there.
And so, in my own white-bread, upper-middle class, upper-class way, I felt a weird kinship with Axl Rose.
I loved Guns N’ Roses. Still do. And I loved their crazy front man. I know this sounds very fan-boyish, but I felt like I understood Axl… and that Axl would understand me. Now, I know this is total bullshit. I had much in common with Axl as he had with sobriety. But when it came to feeling different, when it came to feeling other, Axl just made sense.
In July of that year, Guns N’ Roses set off on a world tour with my other favorite band, Metallica. It was a dream pairing. There they were, the two biggest hard rock bands of my generation, on tour together. Man, I felt that. There was no opening act and headliner. It didn’t matter who went on first. This was two separate concerts smashed into one, complete with a total set change that took more than an hour and a half. And how did I know all this information? Why, because of MTV’s Headbangers Ball, of course.
It was a much different time.
Oh. Wait. You’re thinking this is a story about how I went to the concert and my life was changed forever? No-no-no. I was a kid who didn’t go to concerts. It wasn’t a part of my upbringing. And certainly I didn’t go to concerts like what Guns and Metallica would be putting on. As my California relative, Q.F., wrote in his blog (which I host on this site), when Guns came to town, you never knew if you’d wake up the next morning with everything in ashes. Add Metallica to the equation and I’m surprised we didn’t pack up and leave town when they came within a hundred miles of our home.
There was not even a thought in my mind to ask my parents if I could go to the concert. It just wasn’t a thing. Forget the fact that I was on the verge of turning 18. I was still living in their home. I wasn’t resentful or sad. I wasn’t anything. When you don’t know bacon exists, you don’t pine for bacon.
And so the summer of Guns and Metallica came and went. I read about it in my heavy metal magazines (remember them?).
And I duplicated their concerts on my totally boss six-disc CD player/amplifier setup that was my pride and joy. I would turn up the volume, lie in my bed and just feel.
The raw emotion.
So much has changed since then, but my love for Guns and Metallica have not.
I’m feeling… good?
Knowing all that, you’ll understand why my voice is a little hoarse right now. My drive to work today replicated the concert I never went to. The first half was an abbreviated Guns set, sung horribly in the Key of Axl. High-pitched. Nasally. Angry.
Then came Metallica and its front man, James Hetfield. Gravely. Low. Angry.
And here’s the thing… I completed both sets and felt… good?
Yes, good. Different from nearly month ago when I had my last in-car concert of one. I wasn’t winded. I wasn’t exhausted. I didn’t have to pause numerous times to simply catch my breath. I simply pulled into work, parked the car, walked inside and went about my day.
And I realized… this is how things are now… not all the time but at least the majority of three or four days a week. Physical exertion, by which I mean singing or walking up a flight of stairs, doesn’t lead to breathlessness. I no longer must take several breaks a day to rest my body and, more pertinently, my brain. I think for long stretches of time without losing my place and without my brain openly rebelling by causing multiple system shut-downs that spill from this day into that day. I spend far less time alone in my bedroom away from all sensory input.
Several days… dare I even say, a majority of days (?!?!?), I’m … good?
Now, let’s be straight. “Good” can mean a variety of things to a variety of people. I have learned this through this Longhaul hell that the definition changes greatly depending on your circumstances. “Good” to a Longhauler in the midst of the deepest shit is having a few hours of clarity or being able to taste food. It’s not the carefree “good” I gave as an almost-18-year-old with no responsibility. Tell that kid that three out of every seven days would be, to some degree, a struggle and that on all seven days his mouth is going to feel like a gnome crawled in and took a dump in it; I’m quite sure that head-banging punk wouldn’t use the word “good.”
As Longhaulers know, there’s a danger to letting the world know that we’re doing… good? And yes, that’s a new word. It’s not “good.” It’s “good?” Because it’s a good? that can not be trusted. The first time I had good? days, I had two in a row. Holy Mary Mother of God! It’s over! I’m good!
No. I was good? Because good? is good that you can’t trust. Good? is fleeting. Good? disappears at inopportune times… like just before that interview or when you are tasked with taking care of a 4-year-old by yourself for a few hours. Why can’t good? disappear when I’m, say, in a meeting that requires nothing of me but my virtual presence?
Alas, that’s not how it works. Good? comes and good? goes.
But what is left in between is something called hope. And hope isn’t hope? Good? might be fleeting, but the hope that is born from it has not gone away. All of a sudden, I know that good? exists. And that’s a far cry from where I was in December.
I say all this with the utmost sensitivity to those who have no good? and who have had this Longhaul crap for so long they are quite sure it doesn’t even exist. I feel you. I do. I can’t imagine but I can empathize with a reality that has been so crappy for a year or more. The fact that I have good? sometimes now does not mean I am not 100 percent committed to supporting those who do not. I will not be one of those who fade away because you’ve been sick too long to be convenient. And I will not take your admission of a few hours of good? as a reason for me to start spouting off about how glad I am that you’re “feeling better.” One of the most annoying things that has been said of me during my Longhaul journey is, “You’re writing is great! You must be feeling better!” No, I am blessed and extremely humbled by and appreciative of the fact that my genuine emotions can pour out through my fingers even if I am struggling to stay sane and in the game called life. Nothing you are able to do while you are part of the Longhaul team means that things are good. They’re just good?
Some thoughts on what’s next
I honestly don’t know if the doctors will ever figure this out. A part of me believes they will because… well… because they’re doctors and that’s their goddamn job. But another part of me wonders if this thing is just the beginning, that not only will COVID keep mutating and being a royal pain in the ass but that there are other things coming that will expose just how little we as a country have learned. I continue to be angered by callous “loved ones” who deny the very real affects of COVID when someone is sitting across the table from them who has been knocked on his ass by it. My lip is a mass of bloody flesh from all the times I have bit it in the presence of those who bitch about masks or who spout party-line bullshit. My heart has grown cold to those who can be confronted with the death of 500,000 countrymen and women and still deny or shrug their shoulders. What happens when something new crops up that has a death rate of, oh, say, 50 percent instead of 5 or whatever COVID’s is these days? Think of all the people you know now who have had COVID. Now kill off half of them. What does your life look like now? What does the country look like now? Our economy? Are we still so concerned about filling stadiums and playing tournaments? Is our health care infrastructure any more prepared to handle that?
I would put forward that many if not most of us haven’t learned jack shit. We have survived in spite of our national, state and local leadership, in spite of the indifference of our supposed loved ones, in spite of an ill-prepared health care system. This country doesn’t really learn from its history. Foreign enemies can slam planes into buildings and we’ll be back bitching at each other in a few months. That’s the American way.
Hold your water
So yeah, back to the difference between good? and good.
If you’re lucky enough to have even an hour of good?, embrace it. Loosely. It’s like water. Hold it too tightly and it’ll squish through your fingers. But add some tender care to it, treat it gently, honor it before it evaporates and you might find some meaning, some hope, a reason to keep going.
Until the next time.