Letter From The Start Of A Pandemic

Mar 16, 2020


Excuse me while I turn into an old person. 

Back in the '80s, my generation lived our late teens and early 20s simultaneously with AIDS rampant.

At one point in San Francisco, my attic was occupied by my landlord's beautiful friend José, for whom I made ridiculous sandwiches, trying to tempt him to eat as he withered away. Our favorite 'zine had a cooking column, "Get Fat, Don’t Die."

I taught a writing class in which four of nine students were positive. When my cousin Rene died, his family forbade me to make a quilt square in his memory.

Then there was our constant fear of nuclear war. No one now believes it felt so immediate or daily. But it did. We felt it in our stomachs all the time, like we'd felt the stock market crash in '87 as we brand-new workers were laid off, and laid off again.

Our dirty wars in Central America dragged on.

Our government's plan for drug users: jail or death. No response to AIDs but a cold shoulder, the hard back of a hand, more death.

I listen to my young adult patients now, and to my own kids in their 20s, dealing with pandemic panic, climate terror, economic fears — the existential questions of love and purpose, their own jolted midnights.

I understand. I feel our national lack of leadership acutely, like I’m buckled into a carseat in the back of a speeding van with no driver — and a brick on the gas pedal.

But then I take a breath. And another. And then I remember.

There are already signs that the young will find their own pleasures in the midst of the bleakness.

I heard about a bunch of erstwhile roommates who’ve planned Skype dinner together once a week, and hang out.

There are rumors of a virtual dance party of former dorm-mates set to take place any day now. 

And the academic platform universities have designated for their newly online classes, Zoom, is as I speak being re-purposed by the hormonal underground to randomly match college students no longer in the same geographical location for — of course — blind video dates.

Because when times are tough, kids, this is what you do. You get creative. We bummed cigarettes; you can bum Purell.

May you fall in love harder, dance stronger, work bigger, yell louder — and stick together. Even when you must be temporarily apart.

You are built for it. You can do it. And so much more.

Shoshana Marchand is a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Northampton, Massachusetts.