Essays

Lunetta Osterhaus 


Long ago, I stopped viewing my life as a singular one. Instead, I saw it as multiple. Because, with the big events, and my responses to them, constituting both a beginning and an end, every moment of my existence could fall easily into a certain category — a “life”.


But, for me, the Pandemic became more than just that, it became a world. And it did so because of my mom. Because my life was not mine to live, but hers. It was her fear. And it was her sickness.


My mom, always paranoid about something, grew fearful long before most Americans stopped viewing coronavirus as that "Virus in China''. She told my dad and I we should stop going out to eat, limit contact with people, wash our hands frequently, and practice general "safe habits". All good tips, of course — ones that the experts not only concurred with, but suggested in the first place. But despite our best efforts, by March, my family ended up an unfortunate victim of "The First Wave".


I spent the day in my bed with a fever like I've never had, and a headache that made me want to stab an ice pick through my temple. The nausea was terrible: an urge to vomit with no results. With all the symptoms, Mom was sure it was COVID. But when she called the clinic the nurse said that was unlikely — there just weren't that many cases in Minnesota (yet); by March 11th, only 5 cases had been confirmed.


The next day she was sick too.


And while we both got better a few days later, I stayed recovered: my sickness was a three-day episode; my mom’s was that, a break, and months of misery.


She says she "pushed herself too hard" and I believe her. You see, we had been landscaping the yard for years now, but Mom decided that a pandemic was the perfect opportunity to really make change. So, rather than rest like any sane person, Mom decided she wanted to take advantage of her time off work before it was gone — before the pandemic ended, and took her free time with it. So, with her insistence, the two of us set about doing the landscaping. My dad grudgingly helped too; he had wanted to do something "fun" with his time off. Maybe we should've listened.


Because about halfway through, she sat down. Mom said she was having a hard time breathing, and that her chest and back ached. The excitement she had started out with was gone. But a few minutes later — despite that — she was back to moving the heavy logs from a fallen tree. She was always the type to go a little too far.


The next day she was back in bed. I'd never seen her so sick before. Her symptoms were similar to those that occurred the day before, but much, much worse this time. All of us, including her, were worried. For after days of bed rest, she just wasn't getting better. She lay in that bed for months. Crying and Dying.

It was only when her weeping became more extreme — when she stopped trying to hide it from me — that I knew: Mom was crying not because she felt awful, but because she thought she wouldn't get better.


Silently, I began to agree.


My parents say those months between March and July, the months when she was the most sick, were the worst days of our lives. But for me "the worst" came later — it came when I realized my life was hers. A time when my world, a world called Macondo, revolved around her, and when any choice I once could've made freely was now hers to make.


Until then, those months really were awful:


Claiming it was better for her outside, Mom would hobble out onto the patio, practically a corpse. If I asked how she was, she would always assure me she was fine. But it was painfully clear she was not, for whenever she spoke 'fine', I could see the tears forming from her lies. Eventually I stopped asking.


Eventually — and it became a daily occurrence — when we were in the yard and my dad was working upstairs outside of earshot, Mom would pull me close. She said Dad couldn't bear to hear what she had to say; he was too immature. But it was important. And I had to know.


Mom said she was certain she wasn't going to be around, and she told me she was very sorry. Sometimes she cried, sometimes she didn't. Regardless, she would begin to tell me how to live life without her. She said my dad couldn't take care of me, he would have a breakdown, so it'd be up to me to finish high school and finance my living expenses, and later college. She mentioned some things I had to do, including some financial statements and general advice. I listened. Never truly believing her, but agreeing all the same.


Those were before the days that she'd tell me “The only reason I kept on living was for you.”


We tried to find her care. But they didn't have COVID tests then, so she never got diagnosed — we all knew she had it though; her symptoms were identical to everyone else — and even if she had, the doctors couldn't have known anything about the mysterious virus. There just weren't enough hospital beds, enough staff on hand, or enough information.


We were all in limbo.


And we couldn't understand why my mom was sick for so long. It was only when "long-haul COVID" was declared a legitimate thing, that anyone could really try to do anything, but even then, it didn't help much. She was sick. For over a year she's been sick. Gradually getting better, but never "good". Not like she was, at least.


Still, I insisted Mom tell me the answers no one knew: when could I see my friends? When would I go back to school? How much longer, till "normal"?


I know I stressed her out with those questions, but I wanted answers, and somehow, I thought, as my mother, she ought to have them. Instead, the questions made her stressed. The questions made her worse.


All the while, Dad asked me the same things. And it was only through the dread of those conversations, that I realized just how awful the ones between Mom and I must've been. So I tried to stop asking her those pointless questions, but I couldn't help myself. Just like my dad, I too wanted comfort.


So, really, those months were the worst because I felt alone. Those months were the worst because I thought Mom was going to die. Those months were the worst because Dad couldn't handle things: He didn't know what to do, and instead of acting like a father, he wanted me to be "the pillar of strength" for him — to, essentially, be the adult. He came to me saying how hard everything was for him — as if I couldn’t know — and how scared he was.


Those months were the hardest because our communication just broke down.


Dad wanted me to comfort him. I just wanted him to shut up.
Neither of us knew what was going to happen next. But I thought of my future anyways: I believed that if my mom went so would my dad. I was convinced of it; he couldn't live

with the responsibility of life without her —I didn't know if it’d be suicide, a heart attack or an aneurysm caused by stress, or maybe in an accident made by grief — but I figured, no matter how much he'd want to, he just didn't have the strength to live for me; he wasn't like my mom; it took him about a year to find any strength resembling hers.


It was about that time that I hoped Mom would just die already. I was certain she would, so I thought it’d be good to end her suffering early. But more than anything, I was tired of waiting for that future. I was exhausted from seeing her dying, and listening to her tell me she wanted to be cremated.


That winter, as my parents celebrated my mom’s gradual recovery, I fell into the addiction of solitude and misery. I was happy for her, but part of me felt like it wasn't real — she'd had moments where she got better only to fall back into her horrid sickness (this, fortunately, was not one of those times).


So, I found both relief and despair in writing and literature. Specifically, 100 Years of Solitude.


Because everything was the same. Every single day.

It seemed like time had stopped, and when it restarted I was moving at a slightly different pace — isolated from everyone moving normally.


We didn't go out — Mom made sure of that. In fact, the only times we left our solitude, were for Mom's doctor's appointments, to get my driver’s permit, a trip to the orthodontist to get my wisdom teeth out, or twice, when she went to the ER. The first time she went, I didn't know about it till later; the second time I awoke to a text from my Dad, "Mom and I are at the ER". She hadn't wanted him to send it — she didn't want me to know. I didn't want to know either.


Everything that wasn’t “essential” went. Including chances to see, well... anyone.


So the addiction grew stronger.


By Spring, I had an immense urge to run away. To leave Macondo. But as you might know: you can't. Still, I'd say that over Spring break, when I didn't have to worry about school, that I'd buy a Greyhound bus ticket and just go somewhere for a week or two.


I never did.


I told myself that if I left, Mom would get so worried she’d die. So I couldn't do it.


I felt like my life was in an old home about to foreclose, so that suddenly, everything, including the furniture inside and the grass out front, became hers too.


My choices were hers. My anguish was hers.


Even my Dreams.


I knew she owned those too. And I knew they were being thrown away.


Because what is a life without dreams? Nothing. That's what — nothing. And if she owned my life, she had to own those too, or else she'd own nothing.


I wanted to get away, but there was no ticket out. I begged her to let me go, to let me see a friend, or visit a grandparent. But each time her face got serious, and Dad would say, "We're trying to protect you, Luna. This isn't just about your mom. It's about your safety too." I'd say I knew that. To which: "Anything's better than being dead."


But my mom, once so sick, knew that wasn't true.
I knew it too.

So I waited for a ticket, but summer came, and it (the ticket) didn't.

I got to visit my Grandparents. But, there was no ticket then, either. And I realized that leaving was more than I thought. Afterall: This is Macondo, I'd say. And when I die, I’ll have died with the name Colonel Aureliano Buendia.


I know now, I'm never getting out.


Not until this life ends. And a new one begins.


But with just a little momentum, a little change, a new life comes easy; I’m just waiting for death’s ticket. After

all, this life is too tired to pull any trigger — this life’s just waiting to succumb to its own addiction and humiliation.


It’s waiting to leave Macondo.


So that maybe, the next one won’t be as bad.

Macondo (A Memoir)