By Teresa Mishler
PART ONE: DENIAL
It was the week of February 17. My first official week in New York. I just started a job next to the United Nations. I was feeling pretty good. My boss was a jerk but I was happy to finally be in the city I had waited to be in for nine months. Life was getting into a nice routine. I went to work in the morning, left around five or six at night, and commuted home, sometimes stopping at the local bar for some socializing. During the week, normally on the social media sites, I saw the news about this virus that was hitting China pretty bad. I didn’t think anything of it. My experience with past viruses was that when they hit, our government had a task force that looked into it immediately and prevented the spread. Also, I wasn’t hearing much about it on the news. It seemed localized to only China. I thought that over time it would die out and everything would go back to normal. I went on with my week as if nothing was happening. The following week was much of the same. I heard about Coronavirus a bit more and saw that it had spread beyond China and hit other Asian and European countries. I also heard that the US had cases too. I wasn’t paying attention to the number of cases or any other details because I didn’t take it seriously. I had never seen the effects of a pandemic in my lifetime, not in my own backyard. I even convinced myself that my instincts were telling me that this virus was not a big deal and that it would pass.
In the meantime, I was living my life as a single young widow in New York. I felt like the world was my oyster. I finally moved to the city I always wanted to live in. I was here! My energy was through the roof and I wanted to live as much as possible. In the middle of my first week in the city, I attended my first dance lesson at my new studio. I had been in New York for a total of four days, but I couldn’t let anything get in the way of me continuing my dancing. Over the next few weeks, I went to dance lessons twice a week, and the other nights I either stayed home and cooked or went to the local bar. On the weekends, I had my city adventures. Fridays usually consisted of staying up late at the bar, drinking too much, and having a hangover the next day. Every time I had a hangover, I never regretted it because the night before was so worth it. People in New York were different than people in Los Angeles. I could go to a local bar, not know anyone, and have a great time drinking and talking to strangers. Saturdays I went to the local breakfast spot and had brunch. Either Saturday or Sunday, I ventured to the city and made a day of it. I went to an art show, a local restaurant, and visited spots that I love, like Hudson Yards and Chelsea Piers. I marveled at the beauty of the city and walked around it as much as possible.
I remember when my outlook toward the Coronavirus changed. It was the week of March 2. I had just come off of a successful dance show the previous Saturday and was feeling great. Then I came into work on Monday morning and the mood changed. That week, a huge event at work was canceled because of the virus. This was an annual event that took place at the UN and included people from all over the world. At the last minute, the plans were pulled because the organizers were concerned about people traveling while the virus was spreading. My boss was concerned and asked me to clean the office with disinfectant. I began to get a little concerned, but I still thought that people were overreacting. I even had a conversation with my co-worker about how we both agreed that the media was over-hyped and exaggerating the virus. Then on Friday, March 6, I stopped at a bar near my workplace. I called my friend and former roommate, and we talked about the public rush for soap and hand sanitizer. We were laughing about how people were being so paranoid. I was still not completely taking it seriously, and having fun talking to her. Then I got off the phone and thought about our conversation. I also thought about the events of the week. I started to get concerned. The virus was spreading in the US and numbers were increasing. It also seemed like the Federal Government was slow to respond. I thought that maybe this is something that I should start taking seriously and be more careful about. That weekend, I started washing my hands thoroughly and for 20 seconds or more. However, I didn’t change any other behaviors. I participated in my normal weekend routine, and even had an experience that weekend worthy of an episode of “Sex and The City!” I continued to have a ball and enjoy every minute. Besides, I had already been through hell in the past, losing the love of my life at 39. How could this possibly be worse? I had so much living to do, and a future to prepare for. This was my time, and I wasn’t going to let any virus stop me. I continued on with my weekend, having many adventures, and ignoring any news about a virus, hoping that it would go away.