COVID-19 by Chloe Riggs

I once stabbed a guy in the leg with a plastic spoon. It was merely self-defense, nothing serious. Really he was the one who caused the debatably necessary act with the crude remarks he whispered in my ear. I was fifteen at the time, in that awkward age between middle schooler and high schooler. He was the son of one of my mother’s friends, and two years older than my stubborn self. 

We were attending my cousin’s wedding; a wedding thrown by an innovative, extreme couponer. There were paper plates instead of ceramic dishes. Plastic utensils instead of metal silverware. The decorations, my favorite part of the event, were napkins in various shapes and colors hanging from the ceiling. I remember spending a couple afternoons folding the napkins into pleasant looking flowers with the bridal party of the wedding. If an accidental crease was created, it had to either be covered with the rest of the folds or be hung in the darkest corner. While my aunt strived for the cheapest and best deals, she was still a perfectionist. 

Despite all of those unique attributes of the event, the most painful was the dressing for the wedding. While every girl in the room was fawning over my cousin’s wedding dress, I was sitting on the floor massaging my scalp to loosen the tight french braid. My mother scolded me for my actions every now and then, telling me “a lady must always look her best.” I gave her the stank eye, egging her on until my cousin drew me out of my pout and waved me towards her. 

“What do you think, Carmen?” she asked me. 

I took this time to actually study Gracie’s dress. It was white and fluffy, laced with the fabric on a blanket that resembles the fur of a wolf. With the top strapless and the bottom flowing out, it was hideous. Honestly, the dress looked like one someone would see on a mannequin and make fun of how unlikely it is for them to actually wear. It was completely horrendous by itself, but with Gracie wearing it, it looked stunning. Even if she wasn’t wearing makeup, her beautiful features would have still made the dress look like every bride’s dream. 

I envied her and wished I would have at least a quarter of her beauty on my wedding day. I wished I had her shiny blonde hair, instead of my jet black curls. I wished I had her hazel green eyes, instead of my dull brown ones. All of those jealousies were what made me know she was truly breathtaking. 

“It looks beautiful,” I complimented her. 

She smiled in return, “Before you know it, this will be you.” She gestured in the mirror at us, with one of her arms draped over my shoulders. 

At that moment, I laughed as a blush crept up my neck. Most girls dreamed of their wedding, and in a way, I did too. If dreaming of your wedding meant dreaming of the life it will entail, then I do. 

The ceremony was beautiful and completely cliche with the “hand-written” vows that resembled the vows in a pathetic romance movie. Everyone cooed, awed, and a few teared up when the bride and groom kissed. I sat on the bench, in between my mother and father, bored at the sight. 

When the time came for us to eat, I felt my stomach grumble in anticipation. The best part of every wedding is when they bring out the food, or at least it should be. Not this wedding, though. No, I was drooling as the food was being brought out, but when salmon was laid on the plate in front of me, I couldn’t help but frown. My mom knew I hated seafood, but she still sat there looking as innocent as ever. Luckily someone dragged her attention away from me, allowing my dad to sneak some of his mashed potatoes onto my plate. 

I thanked him with a grin before I dove into the food as he chuckled at my eagerness. It stayed like that for a while; my mom pretending to miss a lot of our family members while my dad entertained me with our favorite game. We would make up the conversations some people were having; like when you watch something in another language and there are subtitles that pop up. We were those subtitles. 

“What about them?” my dad subtly pointed out a man and woman I didn’t recognize. The woman was laughing hysterically, grazing the guy’s chest with her palm as he loosley took sips of his drink, darting his eyes in places that didn’t contain her. 

“She is practicing her terrible flirting skills, thinking it’s working.” I answered, watching the scene play out, “and he is trying to be polite, but is secretly planning an escape route in his head.” 

My dad chuckled, making me smile with pride. “Someone should really help him out.”

I scoured the room for a new group, noticing some bridesmaids in the corner. “What about them?” 

He followed my line of sight and opened his mouth to suggest something, before my mother interrupted. “Richard, have you seen Charlie?”

“I haven’t, Emily.” he responded, “why?”

“We need him for the best man speech. Get up and help me look,” she moved her hands in a rising motion. 

“We were playing a game, Mom.” I butted in.

“Carmen-” 

“I will be back,” my dad interrupted her. He stood out of the plastic seat, leaving me alone at the deserted table. 

I fiddled with the hem of my dress as I watched the people in the room. It wasn’t as much fun alone. Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone for as long as I expected. “I like the dress,” an annoying voice echoed in my ears.

Sighing, I turn my unamused gaze towards the culprit. “Wish I could say the same…” I scan his plain, dark hair, combed into a flat style. I analyze the way his black suit fits him a little too well, trailing my unpleased gaze back to his dark brown eyes, “…but that suit isn’t a pleasing sight when you’re the one in it.” 

He holds a hand to his heart, faking to be wounded, “Ouch, way to really insult a guy.”

I smirked at my previous comment, turning my attention back to the other people in the room. 

“I forgive you, though.” I freeze, feeling his breath fanning my ear. “I know how much you’d rather see me without it.” 

My face heated from the suggestion. My hands balled into fists at the chuckle that followed his remark. Without thinking, I grabbed the plastic spoon from the table and aimed for his thigh. Instead of dipping into his flesh, it snaps in half. It was a bad move, and it felt like the entire room went quiet when I committed it, but I didn’t regret it.

Instead, I calmly left the broken spoon on his lap and stood up. Meeting his confused eyes, I hesitantly nodded before heading to the bathroom. I needed a minute alone. A minute to assess my actions. I wasn’t a violent person, but there was something about him that just made me want to snap his neck in half. Something that made me want to just wipe that stupid grin off his face. 

When I finally calmed myself down, my mother made her appearance. She scolded me for my actions, informing me of how I embarrassed her in front of her friend. I tried to explain my side of the story, I told her the words he whispered in my ear, but she only called me silly. She said that’s how boys act when they like a girl. They “tease” and “make fun.” I didn’t believe her, but when we went back to the table, he was seated next to my dad.

My dad was laughing so hard, his head was thrown back. It made me smile from how contagious his laugh was. “What’s so funny, Dad?” I asked, plopping down in the seat on the other side of him. 

Sobering up, he answered my question, “Oh, Carmen, it was the funniest thing. I just heard you tried to stab Logan, over here.” 

I glanced towards Logan, noticing the scowl on his face. Clearly he was unamused by the humor my father found in my actions. Satisfied, I smiled. “He was being rude, Dad.”

“You actually did it?” my dad asked, surprised.

I didn’t know what to say, so I decided to just nod, my smile falling. 

“That’s my girl.” He held his hand out for me to high five, which I did so smugly. 

“Richard!” my mother scolded him, slapping his shoulder. 

“What? How could you not be proud of that?” he held his arms out defensively. 

She glared at him, sending him a silent signal that she wasn’t pleased. Logan waved it off, the scowl no longer on his face. He managed to calm my mother with his words, making me angry from the scene. My mother insisted on me apologizing, but Logan dismissed the thought. Instead, he suggested I repay him with a dance. 

I sat in my seat, dumbfounded. I, Carmen Jacobs, was not going to dance with Logan Breeds. Even if the world was spinning out of control and the only way to calm it was with a dance between Logan and I, I would close my eyes and let the dizziness overtake me. Yet, I danced with him. I bit my tongue when his hand dropped lower than it should have on my back. I didn’t let it happen without repercussions, though. No, instead I purposely stepped on his feet occasionally, making him growl in pain. Heels can be a real devil sometimes. 

It was okay that I danced with him. It was okay because I was never going to see his stupid face again. No, I would move on with my life and follow the career I always dreamed of. He will be long forgotten. Someone I will laugh about when I tell the tale of my childhood. Maybe someone I turn into a character for one of my novels; a character the readers find as an antagonist. At least, that was my fifteen-year-old-self’s plan. 

Now, ten years later, I lay on my stomach, watching the black screen of my phone. I’m waiting for a message from him. A message from that stupid boy. My ribs are starting to hurt and my neck is feeling strained, but I don’t want to move. If I move, I might miss his message. The message I am sure will pop up any second. 

I should be writing. My laptop should be open in front of me, words should be being typed on a page. I should be taking advantage of the time I have from this lockdown. The lockdown the entire country was put under for this virus. A virus that has spread uncontrollably, forcing every unnecessary place to be closed. 

By unnecessary I mean public places that aren’t grocery stores or garages. We still have drive-thrus, but who would want to trust fast food while a virus is being spread? Logan, that’s who. The boy who is supposed to text me any minute now. 

It is 2:50, twenty minutes past the time he usually texts me. By usually I mean yesterday he texted me at 2:30. Like any normal girl, I planned for his 2:30 text today. Even though I hate him, he’s like a drug; he can kill me, but I’m still addicted to his effects. 

He’s probably busy. I tell myself. He does have a life outside of me. 

I unlock my phone and find myself on snapchat, watching my friends’ stories. Most of them consisted of them complaining about this lockdown, which I understand. With the lockdown most of us aren’t working. While that sounds like the best thing, to not have to work, it also means we aren’t making money. I can’t complain though, since a grant to pay the people who aren’t working is being passed. Plus, I have a separate source of income; writing various things for money is the other source, which is something I should be doing right now.

My new project is to write of my experience during this lockdown. Actually, it’s to write about the experience of the girl who hired me to write his college essay. I know, it’s not much of a professional writing job, but everyone has to start somewhere. The problem, though, is that I don’t know how to write about something I’m not really experiencing. I’m basically just going through the motions of staying in my apartment everyday. An apartment that feels smaller every time the sun rises. 

I continue being nosy, checking what my friends are up to, when I come upon a very unique one. It’s Gracie’s story, with a strip of words saying “taking this time to watch home movies.” I watch as her son and daughter stare at the tv screen in front of them. A familiar scene plays out on the screen; it’s Gracie’s wedding. Her kids voice their disgust when Gracie and Isaac kiss during their ceremony, making me smile. 

That snap is what makes me roll off the low bed and slide a pair of boots on. It causes me to leave my apartment and hop into my car. I drive to the familiar two-story house, pulling into the gravel driveway. Before I get out of the car, my dad steps outside onto the porch with a soft smile on his face. 

“Hey, Dad,” I greet him with a smile as I shut the car door. 

“Carmen,” he holds his arms out for a hug.

I embrace him, wrapping my arms around him as he does the same to me. I breathe in his minty scent. Mom always says mint was for old men, but I strongly disagree. “Who is it, Richard?” Mom’s voice calls out.

Dad pulls away from me, holding the door open for me to come inside. “It’s Carmen, dear.”

“What do you mean ‘it’s Carmen’? She should be home, away from all of these germs.” Her concerned voice gradually grows louder as she steps into view from out of the kitchen. I study her formal dress, one she wears to her work meetings, and the apron tied around her waist and neck. “Carmen, you shouldn’t be out and about.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Mom.” I greet her, walking towards her to give her a hug. 

When we pull away, she scans my face as if searching for any sign of pain or discomfort. “How are you feeling? Is your throat sore? Is your head hurting? Do you feel sick in any way?” She brings her wrist to my forehead, checking my temperature. “You feel warm. Sit down and I’ll get you a cold drink.”

“Emily, leave the girl alone.” Dad butts in from behind me. “Now, what are you here for, Carmen?”

After witnessing Mom’s concerned look turn into one of annoyance, I glance at my curious father. “I was wondering if I could borrow some of the home movies.”

“Why do you want those?” 

“I just thought it would be a good way to pass the time.”

“I suppose it is a good way to reminisce.” Mom jumps in. “Is there any particular video you want?” She passes Dad and I in the hall, heading into the living room. 

I analyze the familiar room, memories flooding back about certain nick nacks on the shelves that we bought at antique shops Mom always loved to visit when we were at the beach. I remember sitting in the chair by the window and watching the couple in the house across from us; they would always argue in dramatic ways, which included her throwing his clothes across the lawn and breaking out the lawn mower. I remember sitting on the floor in front of the dusty couch, in between my mom and dad who sat on the sinking furniture. Mom would knit a blanket, while dad cursed at the football games on tv. 

“Do you have any from when I was kid?” I break myself out of my thoughts, standing next to Mom.

“Most of them are from when you were a kid, but not all of them are on DVD.” 

“That’s okay. I’ll just take the ones that are.”

She grabs a handful off the shelf, then heads towards the kitchen. When she returns. She holds three plastic bags, all stuffed into one another, containing the movies she previously grabbed. “Here’s your movies. Make sure you are careful with them. We can’t just go to the store and buy more.”

Rolling my eyes, I grab the bag. “I’ll be sure to hit a few potholes on the way home.”

She gives me an unamused expression, waiting for me to crack. I do. “Mom,” I chuckle, “I was just kidding.”

“I don’t know. Your father is the one who taught you to drive.”

“And who taught you, Emily?” Dad pipes in from the seat he took on the couch. “If I remember correctly, you were quite the speedster. You nearly killed us twice.”

“Richard!”

I fight back a smile, knowing it would only make Mom madder. “I will keep them safe, Mom.” I draw her attention back to me. “No Nascar driving tonight.”

“These better come back in one piece,” she hugs me goodbye.

“I promise.” I break the embrace and hug Dad with one arm. 

“Drive safe, Carmen,” he pats my back. 

I peel away from him and head towards the door, Mom on my heels. “Don’t talk to strangers.” She begins her list of motherly demands. “Wash your hands every time you touch something. Don’t chew your fingernails. No fast food. Heaven knows what kind of germs that food contains.”

“Mom,” I snap her out of her rant. “I always wash my hands. I broke the finger nail habit. And I don’t eat fast food.” 

She wraps her arms around herself as I head towards my car. I slide inside and hear her point out that I forgot the strangers portion of her list. I ignore her and shut the door, waving as I back out of the bumpy driveway. 

It only takes a half hour to get home, half the time it normally takes. I immediately rush inside, avoiding any form of contact that I’m sure wouldn’t happen anyway. When I get inside, I slide a disc inside the DVD player and press play. Sitting on my ruffled comforter, I grab a small pillow to prop my head up with, while I watch the scene on the tv.

We were at the beach. I was around eight or nine and I was going through my Veggie Tales phase. I was clad in a bathing suit with Bob and Larry sewn into it. My mother was laying on a blanket on the sand, her big beach hat shading her face from the sun. Dad’s voice sounded out from behind the camera, joking about something that made Mom laugh. She had a look of adoration in her eyes and a wide grin on her lips as she stared at my father; something I don’t remember. 

I dumped a bucket of sand on her back, making my Dad chuckle. Mom got up from her position and playfully threatened me as I ran towards the ocean giggling. When she caught up to me, she wrapped her arms around my waist and lifted me up. Dad must have set the camera up because he started to come into view, running down the beach towards us. I watch as they each held one of my hands and lifted me every time a wave came towards us. 

I don’t realize I’ve been smiling until I feel my cheeks starting to hurt. Luckily, the video has changed to another event. This one is my thirteenth birthday party. I had braces in my mouth, a pink poofy dress wrapped around my chubby figure, and my hair was pulled back into another french braid. I wince at the sight, knowing how painful they were.

I was kneeling in front of the coffee table, my friends and cousins surrounding me as I prepared to blow out the candles. Everyone started singing Happy Birthday, making me blush from the attention. When the singing halted, I closed my eyes, and Logan snuck up behind me. As I blew out the candles, Logan dropped a plastic spider on my cake, forcing me to accidentally flip the cake over as I jumped up. 

I grip my pillow, not remembering this, as I watch the scene unfold. 

I ran into the kitchen, holding my face as I appeared to be crying. Everyone laughed at Logan’s actions, brushing it off as a silly prank. My father came into view of the camera, rushing after me. Mom was ordering someone to turn off the camera. Then the screen goes black.

I don’t remember this happening. If I was thirteen, it couldn’t have been that long ago. Yet, I don’t remember. In fact, I remember that birthday as the year Mom and Dad didn’t get me a cake. They swear to this day that that’s what happened. At least, that’s what I remember. 

I watch as a new scene unfolds. This one contains a shaky image, the person who held the camera must have had a shaky hand. They climbed the stairs and a young female voice sounded through the tv. “Mom,” they called. Or, more specifically, a younger version of myself called. 

The screen opened up to a clean, tan bedroom, my mother sat on the bed in the middle of the room. She was fiddling on her phone, a wrinkle pressed in between her eyebrows. 

“Mom,” I tried again, “smile for the camera.”

She finally looked up, glancing at the camera with a distracted expression. “Carmen, put that away.”

“Can’t. We’re taking my graduation photos, remember?” 

She dropped her gaze back to her dinging phone. 

“Mom?” I edged closer, a playful tone in my voice.

“Can’t you see I’m busy, Carmen?” She voiced, frustrated. 

I remember this scene. I know what happens next, but I still watch. I feel my eyes start to prickle with tears as I grip my shirt tighter. My heart starts to pound, but it feels like it’s skipping a beat. My breath catches in my throat. 

“Mom,” I pushed. “You’re on your phone. How busy could you be?” 

“Carmen!” My mother screamed, as the camera seemed to jump. “I told you I’m busy. Now get out of my room and go do something with yourself.” 

The scene stopped, the screen going black once more. I felt tears running down my cheeks. Instinctively, I pulled my sleeve over my thumb and wiped them away. I remember this. I didn’t know it then, but my mother was cheating on my dad. That text she received was from the man she was sneaking around with. The man who seemed to be worth her time more than my dad and I. 

Of course, my parents eventually worked things out when the truth was spilled. I don’t exactly remember what happened, but I know it did. It all went so quick; my mom cheating, my dad forgiving her. I almost forgot from how little occured; it was like it never happened at all.

I flinch when I feel my phone vibrating next to me. I look down at the glowing screen, noticing the text that popped up on my phone. The text I have been waiting for. The text I scheduled into my scheduleless day. I pick the device up, before staring back at the blank screen. 

That man my mom was sleeping with, he was her drug. Because of her addiction, he killed her relationship with her teen daughter. He killed the person she used to be. Now, I’m the one addicted. I’m the one who’s drowning in the endless bottles of affection. I’m so addicted that I allowed myself to be the woman Logan cheats on his wife with. I allowed myself to fall into his trap of compliments and broken promises.

I unlock my phone, go onto Logan’s contact and send him a short and simple message. 

Me: I can’t do this anymore.

I quickly hit the block button, before he had a chance to respond. Next, I go onto my social media and delete him from my accounts. I get rid of the pictures I posted to gain his attention. Finally, I stand up from the bed and pull his clothes out of my closet, his grooming products out of my bathroom, his favorite cereal out of my kitchen, and his blanket off my couch. Taking a breath, I open the window and channel the crazy of my parent’s neighbors. I throw everything I have of his out the window and onto the sidewalk. 

When everything is gone, I rub my hands together, ridding myself of any left over dirt. I turn the radio on, Michael Buble’s voice reverberating off the walls. Logan always made fun of me for listening to Michael’s music. I caved into his effects and made sure to hide any music of Michael’s that I had.

I grab my laptop and sit in the bay window, leaning over the screen. A blank page stares at me, something I was previously scared of. Now, I stare at it with excitement. A million thoughts bouncing around, begging to be picked. A thousand make it to the front. A hundred stay standing, but only one calls out in the chaos. 

My fingers run across the keyboard, typing my unique experience in this lockdown. It doesn’t matter how specific I am because this story is for me. I start from the beginning, telling of the wedding. Then I move on to the revelation I had today. Lastly, I end it with the simple fact that this virus isn’t a curse or the end of the world. No, this virus is an opportunity to straighten our lives out. This lockdown is the second chance we have all been begging for. 

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