It happens every morning, just about 4:00. It starts with a sudden jolt, as if I’m being awakened from that dream where I’m falling and just about to hit the ground, or the one where I’m running away from something sinister, but I’m running through deep sand and can’t seem to get anywhere. Once I become aware that I’m alive and that I’m awake and out of whatever hellish fate was about to consume me, I feel it. It starts as the tiniest bit of a scratchy throat – the kind you’d just push to the back of your mind as completely insignificant. Before I have time to do that, though, my hand flies upward, and I’m feeling my forehead for a fever and testing to see if I can still breathe in and breathe out. Even though my heart has started to race. I turn my head to the side, just to make sure Dan is still asleep, and who am I kidding, still alive, and then I start it, just as I did last night and the night before.
It’s not the rosary or the Apostle’s Creed or the Our Father I repeat like a mantra. It’s not the Serenity Prayer or the lyrics of a favorite song. I would prefer that. Instead, it goes like this:
I, Wendy Dwyer, being of sound mind and body (okay, even in my final hours, I’m not going to admit to anyone that I’m the latest statistic of COVID-19, this virus that has changed everyone’s lives forever), do hereby set forth my last will and testament.
And this is where it begins every night. Suddenly aware that I have succumbed to the dreaded corona virus – was it while I was teaching students or picking up groceries for my parents? – I can’t help but reflect just a little on what a good run it’s been. I always thought I’d die before I turned 40, so I had nearly two extra decades as a bonus. Geeze, I hope I don’t become a burden, and I pray that Dan is one of those lucky people who doesn’t show any symptoms, even if he does test positive after I’m gone. I’ve never been a hypochondriac, but this thing is so mysterious and terrifying that I think we’ve all become a little paranoid that it’s going to catch up with us.
I’ve never been really afraid of death before, not like so many other people I know, including my own parents. I mean, sure, I worry about whether I should burn all my journals before I go instead of leaving them for my niece in the hope that one day she’ll be able to make a small profit writing about her screwed up aunt and turn my dysfunctional history into a miniseries about mental illness and the poor, long-suffering niece who had to go visit her crazy aunt in the looney bin before she died. And I worry about the animals and how they’ll do when I’m not there to cuddle them and throw their trailer trash dog toys to them every day. I should worry about Dan, but I know he’ll be okay; someone will snap him up so quickly that the only selfish worry I have is that he’ll forget me too soon after I’m out of the picture. But the dying part isn’t the scary part. Thinking that there is so much left undone, so many kindnesses I could have shared, so many books left unwritten – these are the regrets I have running through my mind at warp speed by 4:13 a.m., when I’m sure I’m going to be needing a ventilator or at the very least one of those souped-up sleep apnea machines before nightfall.
So I try to put myself to sleep by ticking off the material items I’d like to see end up with loved ones, only to find that I start wondering, “What if my loved ones don’t want my raggedy old possessions, anyway? Why would my nephew want my stupid guitars or the rocking chair I fondly remember my grandpa sitting in on the back porch at 73 Lincoln Ave all those years ago? And how fast will Dan’s son sell the RV I bequeath him because it’s kind of a pain in the ass to maintain, and isn’t it easier just to rent one for that family vacation? And who is ever going to bother to go through all those hard drives with writing and notebooks with writing, and boxes with writing and clips? Do I think too much of myself by ever even having considered that someone actually would have wanted any of my stuff? Will there be a giant estate sale where all of my best writing goes to the highest bidder, and someone, somewhere, will carry my entire life story out the door for $23, and get an old rocking chair tossed in as the real bonus?
Before I know it, it’s nearly 6 a.m., and I’m still no farther than I was at 4, except that now I’m thinking maybe I don’t have a fever after all, and since I have to go to the bathroom anyway, maybe I’ll take a sip of cool water and the throat tickle that started this whole process will suddenly pass, and I’ll carry on for one more day. I know it will all come back tomorrow, just about the same time, and maybe then I’ll have something real to worry about instead of my anxiety-driven COVID-induced hypochondria. In the meantime, maybe I will take a few minutes after classes this morning to start really writing that last will and testament…but first I have to look up whether or not I really do have to include that part about sound mind because, frankly, since this corona virus has burst onto the scene, I’m not so sure I can say that with one hundred percent conviction.