I sat in my office, my head slightly spinning, as I pushed through page after page of COVID testing sites, anxiously hoping to find an opening within the next few days. The words “filled” and “unavailable” had seared themselves into my retinas at that point, and I could seem to blink away their after images. I felt fine, other than the usual lethargy that comes after a vacation, but as always I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t risking anyone’s life. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a positive test come back, but I also couldn’t sit around and pretend I hadn’t been risky with my own physical safety during my time away for winter break.
I kept turning my head to look at the little drawer in the back of my office, and considered solving my anxiety-filled query right then and there, but I kept telling myself I had to wait. As someone working in a mental health office, it was protocol to keep COVID-19 tests for those who may need them, and my freshly used one sat just inside that drawer, curating for its determined 15 minutes. I was lucky, I know, that I had the convenience of a rapid test right at my finger tips, and I swore to myself that I would only use it when absolutely necessary; today felt like one of those days. As more and more pages, filled with “unavailable,” and “ filled,” and “closed,” crossed my screen, I couldn’t help but find myself staring longer and longer at the drawer behind me.
“I’m fine,” I bargained to myself. “Sure, there’s a tickle in my throat, and my head is a bit out of it, but that always happens after I come home from vacation. I’m fine.” And yet, my eyes were glued to the drawer, and my heart was beating fast, and my mind began to race through scenarios where those little test strips came back positive. It was playing games with me, and I knew it, but I couldn’t stop it; “but what if you aren’t fine.”
I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a positive, and to determine everything I had done in the recent days that I might need to solve. I felt like I was running behind myself, trying to pick up the pieces of my life that I had so freely thrown around without a care in the world. How could I have been so reckless with myself? How could I have been so unabashed with the possibilities of the future. I had pretended we weren’t in pandemic times, and finally had let the worries of sickness off my shoulders for a few days, and now I could possibly end up paying the price. My inaction, my desire to let go for a few days could have ruined lives, could ruin lives still, and I could do nothing to fix it other than sit in my little office, alone, and wait for my test.
It was a long 15 minutes, as my brain battled itself, and my heart raged against my ribcage. My mind was torn between the importance of a mental break and the responsibility of a pandemic. I just wanted a break, and that was okay. But you can’t take a break during a pandemic. You can’t just pretend it all doesn’t exist. I couldn’t help constantly refreshing the CVS website for PCR test openings, and looking back at the little drawer in my office. The minutes sat like lead on the back of my tongue, heavy and metallic, like I was swallowing blood.
I jumped when the alarm on my phone went off, and bolted to the drawer, ripping the pink booklet out from inside. My little lollipop of a test was done, and my eyes scanned it over and over and over again. The lead was gone from my tongue, now lodged in the lowest part of my throat. My arms shook, and my eyes quivered. I had just needed a break, but everything has consequences. You can’t take a break sometimes, regardless of what the therapists and mental health advocates tell you. Some things, you just can’t let off your shoulders. This one should have been mine.
Staring back at me were two little purple lines, one line more than I was praying for. It was positive, proof of my misgivings and that the guilt I felt was rightly placed. This was my burden to bear.
Looking back now, cleared and ready to reenter society, my battle is still one I find problem deciphering. How can one person be so entirely alone in guilt like that, when an entire world has the same exact issue to shoulder? How can you manage the shame of slacking responsibility when everyone is telling you that it is okay to take a break? This pandemic has been difficult for many reasons, and it’s crazy that this mental conundrum is a part of that. I don’t think I should have done what I did, slacking, but I don’t know if I could have avoided the outcome. Should I carry this guilt with me? Or shrug it off? Where should I stand now, afterwards, a survivor of their own burden? I struggle to comprehend my situation, as the world pulls me two separate ways. I pray, like I did then, for an answer, but I doubt mine will be as clear as two purple lines.