She was a social creature. You couldn’t walk with her through town without stopping to stand awkwardly as she engaged in theatrics with any number of folks, people you had never seen before despite being around for many moons. In her quieter moments, she confessed to feeling acutely alone, that her butterfly status was a cover for deep insecurity. This would consistently amaze you; others would never even believe her. But you ultimately understood, because you occasionally caught glimpses of the solitary soul, afraid to be without a cadre. And now she was isolated, despondent, jobless, hopeless.
The sniffles she could attribute to the change in weather; a warming always triggered lapses in her immune system. The cough was a bit more concerning, but she chalked it up to the joints that she was smoking to ease her anxiety. The thermometer’s reading was inexplicable in any rational fashion, but she was unwilling to believe that she would succumb. She feared the stigma, she feared the stillness, she feared losing her income. So, she persisted.
As others were stocking their fridges and pantries, she was out and about, having afternoon espressos and late-night shots. Elbow bumps were for cowards; she was a hugger through and through. Even as the crowds began to dwindle, she put it out of her mind. The tourists were just being paranoid, another symptom of their solipsistic worldview. Their loss was her gain as she had that much more room to spread her wings. And her virus.
The world shifted by the minute. The previously unthinkable became reality so quickly that it had the effect of a fever dream, coincident with the nightmares that tossed her across the roiling sea of her sheets. Waking in a cold sweat, she continued to deny that which was inevitable. The statistics closed in on her, echoing the now-locked door of her place of employment. Finally, she went out for sundries, sufficiently weakened that she could barely greet the solitary, masked, and gloved cashier. She returned home with the runts of the grocery litter, the cans of cream of mushroom soup already causing her stomach to churn.
Her roommates, tired of fighting her obvious stubbornness, had absquatulated to other accommodations. She listened to the hum of the radiator, to the click of the refrigerator coils, and wept. There was no point in even burdening the doctors; she had known for some time that this was the end to which she would come. Self-pity, guilt, and remorse mixed in her brain and gut in equal measure. She had stood against the tide and the tsunami had yet engulfed her. Mortality was not a concern; she was still young and resilient. As she drifted in and out of lucidity, she pictured the grandmothers whose lives she put in peril and clenched her comforter with white knuckles.
Yet there you stood outside of her door, cognizant of the self-torture unfolding on the other side of the threshold. It was a barrier that you dared not cross, but your care was still there, in the form of acetaminophen, throat lozenges, and the well-wishes of those whose lives she had touched, including yours. One day, even perhaps today, she will forgive herself, will allow herself to share her joy with others again.
Life exists to humble her, just as it does you and everyone you know. Microscopic biology, coupled with the laughable hubris of humanity, dictates more than we are willing to comprehend. We cannot escape our fates, cannot circumvent the consequences of our actions and omissions. We can only learn and do better the next time.