Love in the Time of the Pandemic

We talk about it incessantly. We can’t see it, can’t feel it, and yet we are threatened by it. Paralyzed.

It’s all over the place: on TV, on social media and in the newspapers. It’s on people’s minds. There is no denying it, because if you do, you get crushed by others under the waves of anxiety they create. Everything closes: borders, schools, late night comics, social gatherings and athletic events. If the children stay home, some parents have to stay home as well. Whatever they used to produce, will stop. If they work from home, on line, the servers will get overwhelmed and crash. The presidential elections are affected. International flights are cancelled or severely reduced. What stays open goes down: think of the stock market and what it does to our retirement portfolios; nothing will remain the same.

I have always thought that danger has an overwhelming physical element to it and comes to you in an obvious way: a hurricane, an earthquake, aerial bombing. I thought one experiences fear when one is threatened and mugged in the street.

This is different. Insidious. It almost seems an idea, an abstract concept. COVID 19. Coronavirus. I wonder if we should capitalize the word.

In fact, if you come in contact with this invisible foe, you get infected, become a transmitter and most likely get sick. In some cases, you die. They say it starts with flu like symptoms that eventually move to the lungs. You develop pneumonia, a bad strain. You need specialized care, oxygen and an ICU bed.

It’s everywhere: in China, Iran, Italy. In France and in Spain. In the United States. The number of cases rises exponentially. It grows every day. Tom Hanks has coronavirus. So does his wife, and the wife of Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, and that guy who met with Trump, from the government in Brazil.

They talk about it being unprecedented. That much I understand. There are references to the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 that killed fifty million people worldwide. I am a grandparent now. In 1918 my grandparents were in love and getting married.

They talk about hygiene: wash hands for twenty seconds, in between fingers and thumbs, use Purell and alcohol wipes. How often does one do this? Where? When?

On the rare occasions we greet people, we don’t hug or shake hands.

We learn new concepts and terms: drive-through testing, high-risk categories and patients with underlying conditions, social distancing, containment, flattening of the curve. Each time a reporter poses a targeted question, like how long will this last, the answers from the officials are vague. That is because they don’t know. Like the gurus who predict economical booms and busts, they speculate.

And then some of them lie: we are the best in the world, this will miraculously disappear with the warm weather, it is an imported virus, in several months we will have a vaccine, there is testing for everyone along with a Google program to register those in need. Those who lie shake hands on TV. Why do they do it? I guess they can’t help it — that’s why.

I heard that the two people infected with coronavirus who attended the AIPAC conference were sent there by the democrats. Really? This is BAD.

I gave up playing tennis. It was a hard decision for me. Imagine two people forty to sixty feet away from each other hitting a yellow ball. With a racquet. How could this be conducive to the disease? Well, it’s the ball itself, and the court surface, and the times one comes to the net. Yes, it is important to exercise and feel rejuvenated by the sport, but one has to be prudent as well. There are many other ways of exercising. I can use the treadmill in the basement or the stationary bike. It’s spring. The magnolia in my front yard is blooming, as is the wild cherry across the street. I can go on very long walks.

A fellow author in my novel workshop is writing a futuristic novel about life and love in America after a devastating pandemic, during which almost half of the population died and the tyrannical government implemented internment camps that resemble Stalin’s gulags. Has the present caught up to my friend’s narrative?

Our children who live in different parts of the country call us every day. They worry for their parents’ health and want to be proactive and nice. I wonder, will they continue if this pandemic lasts? How about if it lasts seven months? A year or two?

Since I can remember, my wife always dreamt of a day when she would have nothing to do. A day to lay in bed, eat chocolates and read. Now we’ve cancelled everything — friends, restaurants, movies, the cleaning lady and the guys who were supposed to seal our HVAC ducts. She could read now, but she doesn’t. It’s the nerves. We spend our days silently passing each other from room to room, like ships in the mist. After almost fifty years together, there is little to say.

Wait now! The doorbell just rang. It’s the Instacard shopper. We send a list. They shop and bring the groceries to the door. Now I disinfect the door handle, empty the bags and thoroughly wash my hands, counting 20 seconds.

Back to my earlier task: as I do many times when thoughts assault me, I put them on paper, higgledy-piggledy,and feel better about myself. Yet, I have one more comment to make. The title of this blog is a variation on the 1985 novel Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. In the book, love miraculously triumphs when the protagonists, Florentino and Fermina are in their seventies, after decades of a complicated and suppressed courtship. Ironically, Fermina’s husband, Dr. Juvinal Urbino, who dies before this happy ending becomes possible, works his entire life to eradicate cholera. He is a rational man. One can be anything but rational with regards to coronavirus. Will it be eradicated, or will it kill us in the end? And with us, our love.

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Alex Duvan

Under the pen name Tudor Alexander I have written and published five novels and one collection of short stories. Please visit