Saturday, July 25, 2020

Texas Notes: Shadow of death

     If you think this crisis is hard to endure, consider this: you could be in Texas, like our Austin Bureau Chief, Caren Jeskey. Her report:

     A lot has changed since Wednesday March 11. On that day we heard whispers about a strange and deadly virus that was rapidly spreading. I immediately canceled a bulk of my contract work that would have put others and myself at risk. My therapy clients at that time were all over 65 and/or medically fragile. I had been teaching classes at a destination spa. I became close to unemployed that week (save a few clients who were up for telehealth).
     Today Texas is positively rampant with COVID-19. This week we learned that 85 babies in Nueces County have tested positive since March— 60 of them in the month of July. Over 4,000 Texans have died.
     The first phase of virus life for me was to shelter in place, other than shopping for essentials and exercising outdoors. The streets and sidewalks were all but deserted. I forgot about the world and got lost in hours-long, rambling walkabouts. I automatically beelined away from the small number of folks who passed me by, unless they yielded first. It was easy. Then businesses started opening again, first to 25% capacity and then increasing to 50% or even more, which gave people a false sense of security. Restless, bored Texans decided they were done with the rules and started living as though the virus was over. Once calming and peaceful walks in the early virus ghost town days turned into minefields where it was impossible to get away from obstinate people who have vetoed the idea of playing it safe. 

     While I was on a walk earlier this week most neighbors in my eclectic, trendy, middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhood were not masked or making any effort to distance. Within five minutes of leaving my house these pod people had descended into my safety zone. I peered at them from the top of my masked face and their bald faces stared back. I threw my arms in the air and called out to a neighbor I know “no one is distancing!” and then I heard myself growl. A young woman ran by, and I felt her breeze as she passed within a foot or two of me. I called out “can you please distance or at least wear a mask?” She flipped me the bird and yelled back “you were in my way.” We were on a pedestrian/bike path. My blood boiled and I also felt sad. I could feel tears well up as I processed this assault.
     I realized I had to get away and turned off the path onto a side street towards a sleepier neighborhood with huge houses and wide roads where I knew I’d be safer. On my way there an unmasked man rode up to me on his bicycle, sneezed in my face, and cackled. I held my phone up, pretending to film him (I was too shocked to think clearly enough to hit record) and he biked away, still laughing.
     On July 4th a group of people gathered at the State Capitol for what they christened a “Shed the Mask, Don the Flag” rally. Since all of this can wear a sane person down, I have officially decided to stop fighting and instead I will yield.     

     Along with the increasing challenges and frustrations of life with COVID, many things have changed for the better. I was allowed to spend time as the solo guest in the Elisabet Ney museum, which I discovered on an early walkabout and wrote about in an EGD post Badass Women. I shared the blog post with the docent there and as a result was invited in. Up until that day I’d only been able to see the faces of a striking stone woman (Lady MacBeth) and the chiseled profile of a bearded man (Prometheus) through a window. Once inside I silently walked up the narrow wooden staircase Elisabet had once walked. I felt her power. I visited with her immense stone and marble creations and basked in the presence of a woman who created magic during her life.
     I’ve worn holes into the soles of my Birkenstocks. The pounds are slipping away according to the scale I am no longer afraid to stand on each morning.
     As I write this I feel grateful. Even as the shadow of death is all around us, thus far I am safe. I am not a front line worker. I do not have to take buses to and from work. I do not have to stand at a counter and serve customers who refuse to wear masks. The fact that all of this might change in a blink of an eye, or in the spray of a sneeze is not lost on me. 


  1. The true unbelievers -- didn't believe they could be so mean.


  2. I think of the testosterone fueled challenge of the young male feeling a warped sense of gallantry as he masklessly faces down the virus. Internally pounding his chest and screaming "Let's get it on," in his youthful impatience.

    1. Yes, it does seem like some of these folks have not evolved beyond adolescent mindsets and behaviors.

  3. "Restless, bored Texans decided they were done with the rules and started living as though the virus was over."

    Couldn't live without their now they're paying the ultimate price.

    Florida, Texas, Arizona, California...see the pattern here? All warm-weather states where too many people spend a helluva lot of time partying. Trouble is, they don't seem to know how or when to stop. Not even for a few weeks or months. Not even for a deadly plague. It's that casual, laid-back Sun Belt lifestyle, doncha know. Gotta fight for your right to par-tay...even if it kills you.

    So they pack the beaches and bars and patios and honky-tonks, and breathe into maskless faces, and scream and yell and sing...and die. But first they go home to parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, spouses and siblings. Who also sicken and die.

    I'm not exactly saying that there aren't any people up North who don't have the same party-hearty and don't-give-a-damn attitudes as the folks in the South and the West. Just a lot fewer of them. Up here, we seem to have been a wee bit more sensible and intelligent and restrained about the plague. Took it more seriously. Not nearly as many anti-maskers and anti-distancers, or those don't-tread-on-me "free-dumb" types. No cowboy culture up here. You don't see any "Don't mess-with-Ahia" bumper stickers. It's usually more like: "Put on a mask and stop being another jerk who's trying to kill me."

    So while major urban centers like Chicago and Detroit have had high death counts, most Midwestern states have not suffered the way the most populated Sun Belt states are suffering now. Maybe our colder climate just made it a lot easier to stay home this past spring. Or were we just more willing to follow the guidelines and to not be as willfully and as stubbornly ignorant?

    1. My Chicago friends and family all took the masking and distancing very seriously, not so for many of my TX pals. The laid back “I’ll get to that later” just won’t work in this situation folks.

  4. Bald faces. What a great phrase. Your writing is always spot on and insightful. Thank you. Your story is nothing to sneeze at

    1. Ha! Indeed it is not. Thank you for stopping by.

  5. I attended a gathering with a small group of old Friends last night and was surprised to find that more of them were wearing masks than the last time. The first time we gathered I was the only one wearing a mask. The next time another person wore a mask that I provided to them. but this time three other people were wearing masks when they first arrived. but this meant that a minority of people were wearing a mask. Before too long one of the mask wearers had given up on it.
    Even though it seemed to be universally agreed through the casual conversation around the table that wearing a mask helped to protect you and prevent the spread of the virus.
    Some people cited studies or mentioned articles they had read in prestigious magazines touting the health benefits of face coverings. They still weren't wearing masks.
    Some people speculated that it was stupid uneducated people that didn't wear masks but they weren't wearing a mask.
    Some people agreed that wearing a mask protected others more than it protected them even though that's not quite true it protects them too you're just being a good citizen by wearing a mask if you're not worried about contracting the virus The mask protects you from contracting it as well as transmitting it Anyway that person wasn't wearing a mask to protect his longtime friends.

    One person acknowledged that their spouse was immunocompromised and that they were very concerned for that person's health but they weren't wearing a mask.

    everybody agreed that the surge that we were going through right now is very troubling and concerning but they joked about it even so far as to pretend to sneeze on one of the mask wearers because somehow they wanted to denigrate them.

    we very rarely talk politics at these gatherings and last night was no exception either everybody seems to agree with one another or everybody respects the opinion that one another holds and has no interest in trying to change that person's opinion.

    At the same time everyone acknowledged that the mask wearing was politicized but that their reason for wearing or not wearing a mask had nothing to do with their politics.

    There was some misinformation during the discussions. And there seemed to be some ignorance. But no malice. Just an odd hypocrisy. A sort of certainty that others should be wearing masks but they didn't need to if they didn't want to.

    In the midst of all this I realized that I too was exhibiting hypocrisy and that there was no reason for me to be there it was just kind of a selfish Stab at normalcy. And a desire to not spend another evening home alone with my wife.

    I guess I figure if have to go to work and swim in the sewer all day I could also do something I want to do. Not inherently sensible. My friends are being exposed to the virus I may be carrying because of All the interaction with others I have in my work life that jeopardize my health are possibly being shared with them, and theirs with me. And they're not even wearing a mask? What am I doing there? How "safe am I being?

    I realize I just need to stay home

    1. Yes- I also mostly stay home and limit my distancing hangs to real distancers. Good luck!

  6. Talk about a modern-era horror story. So glad I live far away from Texas!

    1. There are so many interesting and valuable aspects to being here, but the big ones- like values and sensibility- are often missing. It's rough. Yes, I may be coming back!

  7. As Civil War General Phillip Sheridan, who ran the place for a while, famously put it: "If I owned Texas and Hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell."


  8. These southern states people might just kill each other off. Very Darwinian and works in the interest of transition this November. But in the meantime you need to protect yourself.

  9. Hi Caren! Thank you so much for the lovely tribute to Elisabet and our site once again! It was a pleasure showing you around amidst this unfortunate time. I do hope you don't leave. We need more nice people. And you are an excellent writer! Take care, O


Thank you for your comment, which will be published at the discretion of the proprietors.