Day 1. Nine a.m.
I’m two hours late for morning crew practice. Sunlight shrugs through the southeast window. The Venetian blinds that used to block the glare lie broken on the floor. The air smells like falafel — a rich, oil-and-tahini scent that marches five feet from the neighboring Middle Eastern restaurant into my off-campus bedroom. The house is quiet. I have a fever of 100 degrees. Yale University Health Services has just informed me over the phone that I must stay quaran¬tined in this room for the next 96 hours.
Day 1. Three p.m.
A room changes when you can’t leave it. It’s much too bright. The insolently naked window — it hasn’t even made an effort at modesty since the blinds fell down last week — lets in the Indian-summer afternoon. I don’t have a real bed. The sheet-encased rug I’ve been lying on for the past sixteen hours is growing less comfortable. My lower back hurts, and my left shoulder, the one I like to sleep on, isn’t faring well either.
The room grows bigger and divides into two realms: The Room Within Reach and The Room Beyond Reach. The Room Within Reach extends for my three-foot wingspan and consists of: pillows; blan¬kets; a computer charger (useless, because the computer is somewhere in The Room Beyond Reach); Burt’s Bees lip balm; a beige, broken, Chinese-lantern bedside light that I salvaged from a yard sale; Walgreen’s hand sanitizer (little good that did); polka-dot eyebrow tweezers; and a circular silver clock that always reads 10:12 and “Milton Wrestling Pride Lasts Forever.” Many things are in The Room Beyond Reach.
Day 1. The middle of the night..
A giant rat falls from the ceiling, scraping and tearing at the white paint on the wall, his tail nearly the length of my forearm, his yellow eyes yellow and radioactive. I am scared, but the rat is in The Room Beyond Reach. I hope he stays there.
Day 2. Early morning?
The room is colder than usual.
Day 2. Morning.
The room is still very cold. I stand, inciting a wave of dizziness, and venture into The Room Beyond Reach. I return to bed with a strip of one-time-use thermom¬eters. 102.4 degrees. I can hear the drone of ambulances and revved engines com¬ing from the direction of the New Haven Green. My nose is stuffed, so there is no tahini this morning.
Day 2. Mid-afternoon.
New things have joined The Room Within Reach! Books: Random Family, and Promises I Can Keep, and Latina Childbearing in East L.A. Medicine: Emergen-C, and Tylenol, and Halls cough drops. A box of tissues and many, many used tissues. I read the books. The tissues feel soft against the sunken skin beneath my eyes.
Day 2. Nighttime.
A little girl is crying somewhere in my room. I open my eyes. Hundreds of little girls skip around my room: big girls with hard, round stomachs and belly buttons, soft girls with cheeks and dimples and thick black braids tied neatly by silk pinks bows, gangster girls with drugs and do-rags and brass knuckles and oh! So many terrible, wonderful, alive, alive, (really alive?) girls! My black desk has turned into a jungle gym, and a water slide is where the chair used to be. The girls are playing hide-and-seek in the cardboard boxes in the corner. Peek-a-boo, I cry. I see you! I want to play too, but I’m pregnant.
Day 2. Three a.m.
I wake up because I hear my two room¬mates whispering in the next room. The little girls are gone. I take my temperature: 103.6 degrees. I worry that such a high temperature might be bad for my baby. Then I remember that I’m not pregnant.
Day 4. Breakfast time.
The trashcan — an old cardboard box that advertises “CORONA: la cerveza mas fina” — is overflowing. I have already eaten all of my chocolate PURE PROTEIN bars, so I have a breakfast of cherry cough drops. They taste red.
Day 4. Almost nighttime.
I am on an expedition to the closet to retrieve my down comforter. The closet door is four forward steps and one side step away from the bed. Along the way there are obstacles: an electrical cord, a Yale-issued flu kit, a tan rug with the corner flipped up. When I pull the comforter down from the top shelf, an avalanche of bedding and bathing suits rumbles and jumbles down all over me. It’s very exciting, until I realize I have to pick all this shit up.
Day 5. 6:30 am.
It’s barely light yet. No little girls came last night, and it wasn’t cold, and now the whole room is within reach. The thermometer reads 99.0 degrees. I put on scratchy clothes that are not my pajamas, and my feet tingle as I navigate the leg holes of blue jeans. I walk outside. Howe Street is a bustle: rusty sedans, police cruis¬ers, ambulances, and SUVs with spinning wheels. The speed limit is whatever your car will hit if you floor it for the fifteen-foot intervals of open road between the red lights. Two blocks to the left, past Chapel Street, I can SELL YOUR GOLD NOW or loiter at the gas station or at the YMCA. Two blocks to the right, past where Elm Street turns into Broadway, I can work out at the nine-story Payne Whitney gymnasium — although maybe not today. More than the commotion, I’m struck by the surprising amount of air and the sudden vastness of the world. The cold is teething on my bare legs, and it all feels very new.