Two years ago, I got sick with COVID-19.
To be honest, I acted pretty cavalier at the start of the pandemic. I never imagined it could last over two years—I thought after a couple of months, it would be over. I used to tell myself New Yorkers would never wear masks and this city could never be shut down. O sea, I was in deep denial in March of 2020.
That year, I took my last plane ride on March 11th after interviewing Kat Von D at her Victorian mansion in Los Angeles. At the time, positive cases were raging upwards in all of California. I ate at a restaurant where no one had masks on in LA. It was maybe a more innocent time or just a more selfish time. At least for me.
Back in New York City, I resisted my office’s shut down. I kept working there up until March 14th, when the city and the entire northeast began to shut down—like domino pieces, one after another, other cities followed suit. It felt like we were falling headfirst into the unknown.
Still, that first week of the pandemic was a uniquely special time for me. Like many other families, both my children, now young adults, moved back home. My daughter’s college campus closed and she had no choice but to take classes online from her childhood bedroom. My son had just returned from a stint in Rome and was back at home figuring out his next steps. For the foreseeable future, we would be living under the same roof.
Underneath all the change, I started to not feel right. I took online exercise classes with my daughter — remember when those were still novel and fun? — and I attributed all of my increasing body aches to the new movements.
I could sense that I was not well in my body. And then, tragedy struck on March 24th.
That morning I forced myself to get dressed and take out our dog, Walter, even though my body aches had become much more intense. Just before I stepped out, I picked up my phone looking for an update on someone we knew who’d just gotten Covid. Our friend and fashion designer, Jenny Polanco, had returned to the Dominican Republic from Madrid. Along with Italy, Spain was becoming a hotbed. Jenny didn’t know that she was sick with COVID-19 when she returned to her island. Days later she was in the hospital. That morning I checked the news about Jenny; she had died.
This hit me like a boulder, almost knocking me over as I read it on my phone. My knees buckled and I cried in the park. In a blur, I made it back home, hugged my husband, got into bed, and basically stayed that way for three weeks. I was devastated.
I didn’t know it, but COVID-19 had gotten to me too.
Suddenly, I was in so much pain. I couldn’t get up. The most intense task I could handle was walking to my son’s bedroom — we converted it into a temporary studio to record my voice for LatinoUSA and In The Thick– and then immeditely go back to bed.
I had no appetite, but I never lost my sense of smell or taste. I could also still breathe normally, so we assumed my illness couldn’t have been Covid. Back then, taking a test was nearly impossible and for New Yorkers– it meant standing in a long line for hours outside of a hospital, something I had no strength to do.
For three weeks, I fought a dreadful fever. It was not terribly high in temperature, but it never went away and I felt borderline delirious for days on end. At night I shivered and sweat. I became aggressive and forgetful. I stopped hugging my kids (for each of their safety), but my husband still slept in the same bed with me, a long pillow acting as a “wall” between us.
On the best days, I would muster up the energy to stand at my window and play the cowbell at 7 PM to thank all of the workers who had no choice but to keep working, many of them immigrants. On my worst days, I worried I would live in this pain forever.
Finally, after three long weeks I began to recover. But just as I regained my appetite and started to feel better, my husband began throwing up and stopped eating for three weeks. We thought it was a bad case of food poisoning.
Months later, we both took antibody tests that came back positive. I had to accept the horrible truth that I had infected my own husband, and could have caused his death.
That thought alone still terrifies me.
In 2022, I have so much to be thankful for. Primarily, I am thankful for my health and the health of my family, friends, and pets.
After surviving Covid two years ago, I try even harder to situate myself in deep gratitude on a daily basis. The anniversary of this week reminds me that the world can change in a few days or even a few seconds.
And so once again, I share with you my favorite Mexican dicho: No hay mal que por bien no venga. This pandemic forced me to be together in one place with my family for over a year. During the shutdown, I was forced to stop frantiaclly traveling around. Nowadays, I’m much more deliberate about where I’m going and why.
La verdad la verdad? This week will from here on in always be a hard one. But here’s the thing. I never want to forget all of those feelings I was struggling with back in 2020. The absolute fear but also the thankfulness for all of the people who kept on doing their jobs and kept us safe and fed.
In March of 2022, I take things one day at a time filled with abrazos and grace. I am so thankful to my ancestors that my husband and I survived. These days I look to the future with experanzas, but also a little bit more caution than before.
I’ll never forget this week. Ever.
Thanks for reading Malu & You, a weekly newsletter where I share my unfiltered and intimate ways of living life on the front lines as a journalist, mom, and compañera.