As deaths in the US surges over 100,000, and as the season turns from spring to summer, it seems as if this is the new normal: socially-distanced walks in the park, Zoom happy-hour sessions, your college experience brought right to your doorstep. For most, life has not been the same, despite continuous reopening schemes across the country. As states continue to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, the lives lost are no longer extraordinary, the images of overrun hospitals and empty streets no longer emblazon newspaper headlines. It seems as though the initial panic has been forgotten between the lines of fine print, as we attempt to accept the spread of the pandemic as a normality. Sometimes I forget, as well. I worry about the future; I worry about the present. And sometimes, when I lie in bed at night, I worry about the past. I think about what 100,00 means to me.
When deaths in the US hit 100,000, the New York Times displayed a thousand names on the front cover. For a few minutes, I scanned the page, looking for a name. Looking for Uncle Al’s name. Then I realized, with only 1,000 names, the chance of his name appearing was less than a mere one percent, which is lower than the mortality rate of Covid-19 in the US. The probability of Uncle Al being alive is higher than the probability of me finding his name on the list. I didn’t make it far down the list before thinking about how many people were like me, scanning the page to see if their loved ones had made the front cover as well.
Sometimes I wonder how scary it must have been, alone in the nursing home. My head likes to play games with me; the scene of an empty corridor appears briefly in my imagination. What is it like to harbor each breath, waiting for help? What is it like to long for your loved ones, but be left to suffer in silence? What is like to stare blankly at the ceiling, praying for tomorrow?
Sometimes I wonder if a nurse had been there for his last moments. I wonder if a nurse had been there to hold his hand until the end. I wonder if he could feel the warmth of the human touch through the layers of protective clothing. But as my head continues to play games with me, I think about the coldness settling in despite the sweltering heat. I think about the constant wailing of sirens through the night. I think about thousands upon thousands of people passing alone, with unsaid words upon their lips and unsaid goodbyes on the tip of their tongue.
I wonder how he contracted the illness. Was it an unassuming nursing home worker? Was it another patient? And where did they get it from? A family member? A friend? Perhaps it was a son or a daughter, a grandson or a granddaughter. Were they my parents’ ages or were they like me? It very well could’ve been someone like me, a young person in their twenties. It could’ve been someone else. We always think, someone else. Someone else passes the disease. Someone else will get it. Someone else will die. But what happens when you are that someone else? Who will you blame next?
And lastly, I wonder if my peers think about the same things I think about at night. Do they also look for a family member on that New York Times cover? Do they also imagine the loneliness of thousands of people dying alone every day? Do they also have unspoken words for their departed loved ones? Does 100,000 mean the same thing to them as it does to me?
When they go out, do they think about the nameless people they don’t know, who may end up succumbing to the illness? When they go to parties, do they think about those living with extended family members at home? When they sleep at night, do they see the same images I see when I close my eyes?
This is what 100,000 means to me. But I am far from being alone. Millions of people share my story. We all share the same narrative across the US, as this story continues to be told day after day, month after month. I hope that my story will mark a grim reminder that while I am not alone, over 100,000 have passed in silence.