And then THAT call came.

I wrote this a couple days ago. Didn't publish, because I sent it to the Boston Globe instead. Who knows if they will run it. If they do, don't tell them you read it here first. :)

David, November. 
In the first dark blue moments of waking this morning, eyes still shut but mind scratching its sleepy eyes, my stomach took over. That feeling you get the day after you've said something really stupid and hurt someone's feelings really badly.

Except I didn't think I had. My mind flipped through yesterday like a Rolodex of grainy Polaroids. Sunrise; positive. Wrote about hope. Cheery texts with a friend. Waking husband, kitchen chat over tea. Hugs from the child. Raking leaves and picking up sticks in the yard. Flowers from my niece. A Coke with lunch. Telling the daughter, yes of course, go ahead and bake cookies. Play music in the basement. Finish making a video for school. Dinner of steak and eggs. A movie. A normal pandemic isolation day. Nothing wrong had happened.

As a generally just-fine day wound down, my daughter and I lay on opposite couches in the living room, scrolling through our phones as we waited for the male family members to finish whatever the hell they were doing in their respective areas of the house. I found an article in the Boston Globe about long-term care facilities during this pandemic. Sixty percent of all deaths nationwide are people living in those facilities. They didn't say elderly. They said long-term care. I took note. People at home are just waiting in fear for the call, the article said. Also noted. I've got two to wait for.

Maybe that's what set me up for this morning's feeling of dread. Or maybe we really do have a sixth sense and the humming frequency of the universe connects us to those who matter to us most. I don't believe in anything but music, but maybe that strange collection of too-odd-to-be-just-coincidences is the true music of the planets. I got its transmission today, and the song was not good. I felt it. With this sense of foreboding, I wake, I climb out of the sleep hole. Check my phone. 

A message from my niece. It's that call. Proving that it's probably not a good idea to look at the phone as soon as you open your eyes. 

I won't listen to this til I get a cup of coffee, I told myself. Not at all, because I was going to read the voice mail transcription immediately instead. "No emergency," it began, "But Dad's at the ER with a fever." This is a girl whose Dad has been in care for a long time, as she's using the universal start-of-conversation from all nursing facilities in all hospitals and all assisted living and memory care facilities ever. I've learned all about this in my last year of hell. They know that families live in fear of "that call," even before this pandemic. "No emergency..."  "No emergency, but her meds are running low." No emergency, but we need to have a nurse come look at that wound on her knee." "No emergency, but he had a headache but so we gave him Tylenol." It is a conversation starter that  I have come to appreciate deeply. 

No emergency, but my brother may have COVID-19. No emergency, but you may lose yet another family member, the third in just over year. No emergency. 

Yes, I cried. Yes, I made coffee. Then I called the ER, and yes I talked to him. He's feeling alright, he said. He doesn't feel fevered; just a little bit of chest pain. He sounded the same as he always sounds since his massive stroke last fall: nervous, cooped up, desperately, horrifically, eternally lonely. And now he's scared. 

Yeah, me too. 

There is no emergency, because we're already living in a state of emergency. I needn't worry about alarming you, because this is a pandemic and hopefully you're already alarmed.  And if you're not, this is a good time to wake up. 

Two days later, the call came again. Confirmed. My big brother has COVID-19. Prayers he'll be one of the lucky ones who doesn't get too impacted.