Covid Editorials: Essays in the Age of Corona; Absentee


S T O R I E S   I N   T H E   T I M E  O F   A   P A N D E M I C

in  D I S S E N T I E N T




N I N A   S Z A R K A

Assistant Editor


My days are collections of moments. In a loop, NPR telling me the latest in COVID updates. My elderly mother, telling me she went to somebody’s home to pick something up. That she went inside. Went inside, and somebody’s husband was coughing. My days are the tightness in my chest as I scold her. I say, “You are not foolish, why would you go inside? What were you thinking? Who would let you inside?” I imagine myself calling her friend, whoever Somebody is. I imagine myself yelling. I imagine myself saying horrible things about the abject carelessness of inviting my mother inside. Why would you invite my mother inside? In this, the Era of COVID? What if you’ve killed my mother? The rage in me is ugly. Seven days ago, the surface began to crack.

I requested an absentee ballot. It has been seven days since it was too late for it to arrive. It has not yet arrived. The Wisconsin Primary Election feels like it was a very long time ago. Yesterday was a very long time ago. If I looked at a map of today, I would not be able to tell you how I made it from this morning to this afternoon. I wake up in a cold sweat. It is not the virus, it is just fear. 

Every week, the instructions are different. Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask unless you’re sick. Wear gloves. Don’t wear gloves, just wash your hands. I think about the bloodborne/ airborne pathogen training I have. I have been using gloves my entire adult life. In the environment where I learned use them, you could still breathe.

My breath gets very quick very suddenly at random points throughout the day. I braid my hair and unbraid it. I miss my cousins. I want to ride my bike and stand outside my one cousin’s shitty apartment building and sing. My bike tire is flat. I could go get a new tube. I could do it today. I won’t.

There were 1.3 million absentee ballots requested in my state, I have read. There were roughly 235,000 absentee ballots that were not returned. Seven days ago, upon the order of the members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the inhabitants of my city were instructed to vote at one of 5 polling places in the entire city. I say the numbers to myself aloud. None of them seem real. I cannot picture what 1.3 million of anything looks like. 1.3 million small, precious pieces of paper were supposed to be carried to us in the hands of a dying Postal Service. There are 1,960 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in my county. There are 603,000 people in my city. I say the numbers to myself. 

I think of the United States Postal Service. Is that a confirmed case? Will the United States Postal Service die, too, of COVID-19?

I say the numbers to myself. And then the names of the people who ordered this. The ones who all voted absentee. The ones who sent us to the polls when they would not go. On the internet, where everything lives now, we are congratulated for our Democratic win: Judge Jill Karofsky’s defeat of Justice Daniel Kelly. We should be so proud of ourselves, we are told. 

Well done, impoverished and desperate citizens, for risking your lives and the lives of others to do the exact opposite of what you have been instructed to do for your safety. Look, you have yourselves a win, at what cost, you will not know for weeks. Your mother. My mother. Your spouse. Yourself. Thank you, frightened and traumatized citizens, for behaving so gracefully while backed into an impossible corner. We assure you it is worth your mother. The lives of those working the polls. Your sister’s neighbor. Your sister. Yourself. 

I watch a commercial in which Amazon lauds its workers as heroes. Amazon, who just fired a man for daring to speak about his unsafe work conditions. Amazon, whose workers have told the media they are terrified to go to work. Amazon, whose reputation for its treatment of its workers has been a media attraction for years. Amazon, whose warehouses in France, after a court ruling following one of its workers falling ill, has been issued a temporary closure order. The worker is in intensive care. I wonder what the worker’s name is. The closure is intended to facilitate a deep clean of its warehouse and staff facilities to ensure proper protection. Amazon will be appealing this court ruling in France.

Amazon thanks its frontline heroes, while refusing to pay them hero wages or protect their bodies.

Well done. We assure you it is worth your mother .

I want to get out of the city. I want to stay in the bath. I am losing weight and I don’t know why. My body is hot and cold at the same time. I am shivering, but it isn’t the virus. It’s the desperation to jump out of my skin. I want to live at the bottom of Lake Michigan. I want to live in a shipwreck. I want to shapeshift until something fits. Nothing fits here. I think that yesterday might have been Tuesday. I am not sure anymore. I think that I can see my age catching up to me when I look in the mirror. It is the look of a woman holding an earthquake as still as she can. 

In the evenings, I drink. Sometimes I perch on pieces of furniture, sometimes I curl myself up and put my arms around my knees.

Every surface is hot lava.

They assure me it is worth my mother . . .




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