The night before coronavirus turned our lives upside down, I went to Nixon’s.
I wasn’t really in the mood to go to Nixon’s, but my boyfriend suggested we get a drink before settling in at home to watch the news all weekend. I had already spent that day glued to the news on my phone, hollering like Chicken Little, but I relented and joined him at the bar across the street from his house in Midtown.
The place was full, like normal on a Friday night. Some friends were also there. We grabbed a table in the corner and ordered some beers and picklebacks. I zoned out of the conversation, feeling guilty that I was in this loud, crowded environment when I should be social distancing and stockpiling dried beans or be back at the house, locking the windows and preparing for the end of the world.
I went to the bar to order another round. Instead of returning to the table right away, I sat there alone for a while, texting my friends. What was the mood in Boston? My friend Alex told me he wasn’t sure; he hadn’t left his apartment all week. Were people still going out in Los Angeles? My friend Boomer sent me a photo of his living room. “Of course not,” he said. “Why the hell are you at a bar right now?” He had a point.
We didn’t stay much longer. I got back to the house and curled up in a ball in front of the TV, where I fell asleep watching the news.
The next morning I called my grandpa to make sure he was OK. “Oh yeah, I’m hunkered down!” he promised me, still in fairly good spirits. I talked to my mom and my sister. They were staying inside. I called my dad, who works at an airport in Washington, D.C., but he didn’t answer. I called my stepmom and she told me he was asleep. The truth was, she said, he had been unable to get out of bed for a few days. He was fatigued and had a debilitating cough, symptoms that aligned with the novel coronavirus or COVID-19.
If I had not already been completely panicked over the global pandemic, this surely set me off.
“That’s it!” I told my boyfriend, Gabe. “No one in this household is going anywhere for 14 days. And if anyone steps foot on this property I’m forcing them into a two-week quarantine myself.”
Over the next few days, my stepmom went back and forth with their doctor, asking for medication and a COVID-19 test. She was able to get him meds and a CPAP machine to help with his breathing, but not a test. Those needed to be conserved, according to my stepmother’s account, and my dad is not in the “high risk” category for those who are most likely to die with complications from the virus.
Days began to blend together. I grew more and more concerned about my father’s health and the health and financial security of everyone else I know and don’t know. Gabe and I cooked beans and tried not to talk about the future too much. I FaceTimed and Zoomed nearly everyone in my phone, telling them I cared about them and instructing them to please stay away from restaurants and bars to help “flatten the curve.” I also encouraged them to get into cooking beans, which was oddly therapeutic.
Then, on Thursday, the orders came down to shutter dine-in restaurants and bars in Alabama. I was relieved. This is what I had wanted! This was going to save lives! But I was also horrified. This was going to crater an entire industry, one that consists of a hell of a lot of places and people. And we have no idea who’s going to make it to the other side or when the other side will even come. I wanted to go get a drink somewhere. I settled on the kitchen.
A week after we had those picklebacks at Nixon’s, I got some good news: My dad was feeling better. I was still in a 24/7 panic, but Gabe and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. This had become our new nightly routine. We’re patrolling Midtown, I liked to say, making sure everyone within a five-block radius is heeding the social distancing guidelines. We walked past Nixon’s. The lights were out. Everything was quiet.
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist and Boozie’s most unreliable Baldwin County spy. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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