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  • Alice Wyatt

Catching Covid in a Foreign Land

I traveled halfway around the world to catch COVID. 5,945 miles, to be exact. That is not even close to halfway around the world, of course, but I have never been much good at math, and it makes for a catchy first sentence.

Michael and I are in Hungary visiting my sister and her husband; they are teachers at a school two hours southwest of Budapest. While the US has been tearing itself apart politically and socially over COVID issues, Europe has been pretty consistent. Nobody in, nobody out, do what the hell you are told, or suffer the consequences. Because of this, my sister and her husband have not seen any family for two years. So, when things opened up a bit, we jumped at the chance to visit and take in some European sites. Foolish? Maybe, but Michael and I have avoided even a COVID-related sniffle, despite leading active social lives, holding down jobs in the community, and traveling extensively in the US. We have our shots plus one booster, plus lots of self-isolating beforehand, plus conscientious mask-wearing, plus planning mostly outside group activities… Ha!

Catching COVID (or did it catch me?) in a foreign land could have been AWFUL. I could be in a hotel room depending on fast food deliveries for sustenance. We could have obligations at home withering on the vine due to our absence. Even worse, we could have had children left in the care of relatives now burdened with an extra ten days of babysitting. I think about all this as I am snug in my sister's comfortable home, coffee in hand as an unexpected snow flurry begins to blanket the ground. I am reading replies to emails sent to my house sitter, T or C Story Lab partner, and family, "We got this, don't you guys worry. Stay safe. See you when you get home." Oh, how grateful I am for my community.

I only have to gaze north to the border with Ukraine to see how easily circumstances beyond our control can send life into chaos. All the best-laid plans, sensible preparation, and careful crafting of a well-ordered life can go POOF! What you have left is who you are and the decisions you make when it all goes wrong.

Thursday, just five long days ago, is tense. We take two trains into Budapest to get the COVID PCR tests required for flying back home Saturday morning. This is stressful for several reasons. We miss two visiting days because of @%#!*$& bureaucratic paperwork. We have to navigate tight train schedules without reading or speaking Hungarian, and the actual testing, swabs down the throat and way up the nose, leave us shelling out $120 while sneezing, and hacking, with tears streaming down our faces.

We rally for a lovely day of site-seeing, but when Michael checks his email later on, I hear a FUCK ME!!!" Plans of admiring the lights of Budapest disappear into a black hole of blame, bitterness, self-doubt, and rapidly escalating tension. Ah - we have played this game before, and it isn't pretty. I disappear into the bathroom to my place of respite, naked skin under a stream of hot water, while he goes to his, damage control, planning, logical processing from A to Z.

Up to this point, COVID has been good to me, something I do not say flippantly, knowing how much heartache the world has experienced due to this nasty little virus, and the decisions made because of it. While death, economic devastation, division, ugliness, and mental health struggles have ravaged our entire world, I have been mostly immune. (that is a terrible pun considering my current circumstances)

Two years ago, Michael and I were a month from signing divorce papers. D-Day was April 8, 2020, the day of no turning back. While we were dreading its actuality, at least it would bring closure to this painful chapter of our life. Then… well, you know what happened. One often wishes the world would JUST STOP! so you can have a minute to collect your thoughts. A lot of us got that wish in March 2020.

Michael and I began spending time together with no pressure to be anything other than Alice and Michael. The next three months we spent cooking, taking hikes, floating the river, bonding with our kids who escaped the craziness of the city to hang with us in rural New Mexico. We began using tools we had gathered during our break-up, having erroneously thought we would use them in our next romantic relationship. We talked about really tough issues with the knowledge we didn't have to find an answer right then, or in the next few weeks, or ever. We realized disagreeing without being angry was possible. We realized processing life on opposite spectrums often brings balance if we don't become defensive or controlling. We began to put our needs first, finally understanding that operating as a healthy ME is the only way to build a healthy US.

COVID saved my marriage and I will be eternally grateful, but now? Two years later? My heart is not so appreciative. I am angry so much planning and preparation is suddenly turned upside down. I am ashamed people might have the opportunity to call us selfish and irresponsible. I am frustrated by a system of rules and regulations that feels burdensome and rigid. I am ashamed I need to ask people for help when they have so much on their plates. Mostly, I am discouraged Michael and I have fallen into our old patterns of anger and blame.

I finally step out of the shower, dry off, open the door. Michael looks up. We take a deep breath and smile at each other. To tell the truth, showing up naked always makes Michael smile, so that was a good move on my part. (;

We start again. What can we control? What do we need to release? What lie do we believe about ourselves, the situation? Where is ego raising its ugly head? What needs action now? What can be put off for when we are less emotional? Michael gets on the phone with the airlines, and I head out, double-masked, to get some food.

Later, sitting cross-legged on the bed with an amazing spread of Thai food, we begin to talk about the next ten days. The comfort of heading back to Jennifer and Jason, access to texts and email, faithful friends and co-workers taking up the slack at home, are all gifts waiting for us when we had the wisdom to see them.

Mostly we are grateful to be together, having each other's back, not spiraling into hopeless ugliness like we used to. We had not anticipated COVID would again give us a gift, but it has. We have been asked to put into practice all we learned the past two years. It took a few minutes, but we have come through it stronger than before. So raise a toast to us and declare, in true Hungarian tradition, Egészségedre!





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