So I’m sitting here in my parents’ home — my home, where I grew up — feeling grateful. It’s the day after Diwali, probably every Indian’s favorite holiday, and I’m happy that we could get together in a year that has been plagued by plagues.
Political, economic, emotional, viral – plagues of every kind.
The blog I WANTED to sit down and write, just weeks after the most contentious presidential election of my adult life, was a soliloquy about unity. A sonnet dedicated to re-binding the ties we last felt at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was on the same page.
I wanted to reach across the theological aisle and talk about how the most gracious thing we can do for each other now is to move forward – to put every action to the test of, “Will this help, or will this hurt?”
I wanted to be zen as hell (#ironic), float down on a dazzling cloud of empathy, and whisk everyone away into the land of possibility and healing, delegitimizing the fury coming out of the White House.
That’s the blog I wanted to write.
But I can’t.
Because it would be disingenuous.
Because it would be dishonest.
Because it would deny transparency – three things I cannot stand.
The truth is, I WAS feeling all those things I mentioned above. I was high on a president-elect speech devoid of “I did it,” of a BLACK AND INDIAN WOMAN GOING TO THE WHITE HOUSE!, on a resounding “landslide” electoral college victory of 306 votes, and most of all, on A LEADER WHO WOULD TAKE THIS PANDEMIC SERIOUSLY — FINALLY.
And then I went to the Alexandria Starbucks.
The first stand-alone Starbucks in my hometown’s history.
And, by the end of my excursion, I did indeed feel like I was standing alone.
My favorite ‘bucks in Shreveport had already closed down due to workers coming down with COVID. (WOE. IS THERE NOTHING COVID WON’T THREATEN TO TAKE FROM US?!)
I had planned on picking up my mobile order through the drive-thru, sensing (and observing) that we are on the brink of a truly terrible three months. With both my parents being high-risk, Jacob and I had resolved to locking it down back to #datPhase1Life and ceasing all indoor activities.
But in the usual shitstorm of Alexandria planning (and this is coming from someone who loves her hometown), the chosen location for this Starbucks is somehow in front of one of the most dangerous intersections in town, and now the drive-through line back-up traffic makes it even more sinister. I had no choice but to park, go in, and grab my coffee lest my 2004 Camry’s ass continued to stick out into traffic like she had daddy issues and was asking for a fatal attraction.
I was so frustrated by this piss-poor planning that when a black monster truck came and rolled into the flower beds to park, I thought, “HELL YEAH DUDE what else are we supposed to do?” and cheered them inside my heart. A lovely family of four popped out, and I remember being jealous of the mom’s hair and makeup (flawless).
However, when I went in to pick up my order, I noticed that I could still see their gorgeous faces en masse because they were indeed unmasked. They waited in line, placed their order with the barista, and sat and waited inside for their order, all without masks.
Cue meme of me being dumbfounded. RUH ROH SHAGGY
I then watched a teenage-ish looking girl sit down, play on her phone, and TAKE OFF HER MASK while she waited, sitting not 5 feet from me.
ESCUSE ME? LUCY? Y’ALL GOT SOME ‘SPLAININ TO DO.
I SEETHED as I waited for my order. Deep breaths, I told myself. But then I thought, ew David!, this air isn’t safe. Keep ‘em shallow, sister.
I watched as the baristas ignored me. Anger level went from 3 to 7. I then had to ask one of them if the order sitting there for several minutes was mine. “Oh, are you Jaya?” GRRR. YES I’VE BEEN STANDING HERE INHALING YOUR COVID AIR WAITING FOR YOU TO CALL MY NAME. Anger level 8.
No cold foam OR caramel on my salted caramel cold foam cold brew. Anger level 9.
PMSing. Add another point.
Coffee tastes like dirty water. Anger level ALL CAPS TWEET MAXED OUT!
Finally I resigned, whatever it’s a new Starbucks and these young’uns are clearly overwhelmed, but I can’t forgive the mask thing. This is the moment where my walk has to match my talk!
I discreetly ask the barista, “May I speak to your manager?”
“Yes ma’am?” replies the young woman with the manager headset.
“Are masks mandatory here?”
“Yes they are.”[awkward silence as I wait for her to address the fact that there are five people not wearing masks about ten feet away from us.]
I realize it isn’t going to happen.
“Okay, well, there are people in here without masks on.”
All of a sudden her voice ramps up into football stadium announcer mode.
“YES MA’AM WE HAVE A RULE THAT PEOPLE HAVE TO WEAR MASKS UNLESS THEY ARE EATING OR DRINKING AND THEN THEY CAN TAKE THEIR MASKS OFF.”
The blood rushes to my face. She just outed my complaint to the entire Starbucks.
All eyes are on me, including the maskless family of four (WHO ARE NOT EATING OR DRINKING EXCEPT MAYBE ONE OF THE KIDS) and the teenage-ish looking girl on her phone.
I’m humiliated but continue. A younger would have run out and left her coffees.
I continue, “Yes but…they’re not eating or drinking.”
“YES MA’AM. THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THIS TO MY ATTENTION.”
I wait for her to say something to them. Ari turns another year older while I wait.
“….ok, you understand this is just to protect everyone?”
The teenage-ish looking girl makes no motion to put her mask back on. The dad of the family of four looks like he might burn a mask-shaped cross in my yard later. (Pause to contemplate what a mask-shaped cross would look like. No idea. Moving on.) Maybe he is looking at me with sympathy. I honestly don’t know because I can’t meet his gaze.
“…well, I’ve seen lots of people die from this disease, and it’s not pretty.”
I take my coffees and go. Hot tears sting my face. I feel like I just showed up naked to the 6th grade science fair. I sit in my car in disbelief. Actually I drive away in case someone is coming outside to beat my ass.
(Are you still with me, dear reader? I promise I’m about to bring this back full circle.)
I park at Sutherland’s. I make a video. I don’t say what I really could say, which is, THIS IS WHERE WE ARE FOR SO MANY REASONS.
We are here because we have a (current) President who belittled people for wearing masks, who violated the protocols himself, who muzzled the CDC and minimized the doctors and scientists trying to help us and keep us updated.
We are here because the LEADER OF OUR COUNTRY touted an unproven drug as a miracle cure, causing patients to come in and accuse US, the exhausted frontline providers, of holding back on them (like why?!), and THEN WHEN HE GOT SICK HE DID NOT USE THE VERY DRUG HE PUBLICIZED. He used what we had actually been recommending all along!
We are here because rather than do what’s best for the country, this man continues to rail on about a “fraudulent” election to further divide the country and doesn’t address what’s going on. (Again I ask: Does this help or does this hurt?)
As I type this, we have TRIPLED OUR HIGHEST DAY OF CORONAVIRUS CASES DIAGNOSED, and more than doubled our hospitalizations.
My colleagues across the country and I are watching as ENTIRE FLOORS get converted into COVID units when we started out with a wing. We are watching as people are coming in sicker and sicker and realizing that the reprieve we had during the summer may have had nothing to do with us or our treatments.
THE PANDEMIC IS HERE AND IT’S WORSE, WE ARE IN A CRISIS, AND DONALD TRUMP IS TALKING ABOUT THE F*CKING ELECTION. NO EVIDENCE, JUST BASELESS ALLEGATIONS WHILE HOSPITALS START TO DROWN AGAIN.
We are here because WORDS MATTER, and one loudmouth brown girl in Shreveport can’t undo an entire misinformation machine that is more concerned with power than the sanctity of human life.
(Make that two loudmouth girls – shoutout to my hospitalist counterpart, Dr. Jenny Prime, at Willis-Knighton, who is a damn COVID shero.)
We are here because people have placed a tweet in higher regard than their own critical thinking skills.
So, no, dear readers, I don’t have the Dalai Lama-sized heart to sit here and be #ZenAsHell about this.
What I do have at the end of this missive is a directive: protect yourselves. Worry about yourself and your family.
Don’t waste your energy on trying to educate the willfully uneducated. Don’t assume people will do the right thing. They aren’t. Good people are doing the wrong thing, the unChristlike thing, and it’s due to a tangled web of political selfishness and power-hoarding that no amount of Facebook discussion will undo.
(Is your high school cheer captain bragging on Facebook about how she doesn’t wear a mask because it weakens her immune system and that she doesn’t take the flu shot because it increases your chances of getting COVID? Bless it and move on. And maybe cross her off the future playdate list. #byeEmily)
Protect yourselves. Assume the worst. Assume that the Starbucks you’re about to go into has just been sprayed with a tank-sized …uh, tank of coronavirus. Forget the low-fat cottage cheese that your Instacart got wrong. Don’t run into Kroger to just “grab something real quick.” Hunker down. Find your pod squad. Commit to seeing the same ten people or less for the next 2-3 months – people that you trust, people that get it. Don’t wait for the government mandate. Don’t wait for the next administration.
At this rate, not all of us will make it to January 20th.
I’m trying to end this with something happy, something uplifting. I know it’s disheartening. I would love for all of us to come together and be on the same objective, scientific side on this. But it’s not reality right now.
Control what you can control, hold tight until we have a distributable vaccine or effective treatment, and then we’ll venture out into the sunlight together. I promise. Hang with me. Get a phototherapy light. Get outside as long as the weather will let you. Get creative for the holidays. My sister will be at Thanksgiving dinner on an iPad. (heart break emoji with sad eyes and a bittersweet, lopsided smile.)
Let’s be thankful we have the technology to stay in touch when we can’t be physically together.
We do this because we love life and understand that this pandemic is temporary. We do this because we want to be here next Thanksgiving. We do this because we understand no time is guaranteed, but we can be smart and not go out when a viral blitzkrieg is in our backyards.
Vaccines and treatments are right around the calendar corner. Spring will be better.
Control what you can control, hold tight until we have help in hand, and then we’ll venture out into the sunlight together.
P.S. And let’s maybe make coffee at home. Dalgona, anyone?!
This blog post originally appeared in the November edition of Dr. McSharma’s newsletter, “XOXO, Dr. Jaya.” To sign up, please visit jayamcsharma.com and scroll down to the bottom to enter your e-mail.
The views and opinions expressed above, although supes accurate, belong to Dr. McSharma only and do not reflect any institution or organization as a whole.