I'm engrossed in a novel that I would not have ever read--"Patient Zero" by Jonathan Maberry--if it had not been for the strong recommendation of a writerly friend back when we hung out together in New Jersey. He's been gone for a couple of years now. He died suddenly (at 54, I believe) but, in a sense, not unexpectedly, because his lifespan was not going to be long despite his many medical procedures and drugs. He and his wife moved to Florida a few years ago, and he had asked me more than once to come see him (he rarely traveled great distances due to his health). I carry profound regret that I did not go see him when I could. As is often the case with me , when I think of him, I feel I did not appreciate him nearly enough when he was still around, cracking wise and eating french fries, one of his food passions.
(Glenn and Maberry were friends, BTW. Glenn knew an amazing assortment of people.)
Now we are in the midst of a pandemic--STILL--and travel for a lot of us has ground to a halt. But at this time, "Patient Zero" feels oddly appropriate to read. Not necessarily because it concerns a deadly pathogen--a lab-manufactured designer pathogen that, if unleashed, will kill all mammals because it infects in seconds. Yes, seconds. It turns people into what appear to be zombies, although they are not in reality. They are filled with mindless rage, bite everyone they can to infect others, and are damned near impossible to kill. (Maberry's science is surprisingly valid, well-researched, quite inventive--and frightening.)
Sometimes I feel a bit like a zombie, moving through the sameness of my days, and I wonder what the hell happened.
The other major cultural shocks in my life--and perhaps in yours--have been sudden: 9/11. The crash of 2008. For some of us, the assassinations of the Sixties: JFK RFK, MLK Jr. But this pandemic sort of snuck up on us. It's not like the other, sudden events that change lives. (Even if you knew no one affected directly by 9/11, and lived far from NYC, the ripples of that have affected all of us in one way or another via governmental changes.) Like it or not, we live in a post-9/11 world, and its effects have been exacerbated by the increasing acceleration of technology.
The book is set in the post-9/11 world (copyright 2009) and this fact saturates the story. Thinking about it made me ponder what a post-pandemic world might be like.
(Honestly, this all hung together better when I was musing after a much-needed nap.)
Will some of us continue to wear masks for years--maybe the rest of our lives--even after a vaccination becomes available? Assuming a vaccination eventually becomes available? What will our future look like--our stores, our schools, our gathering places? How will we use public transportation safely? How will we sing in choirs? How will we relax in a nice restaurant for, say, 90 minutes, to celebrate a milestone? How will we relax at all?
I have no answers. But the feelings I get reading "Patient Zero" and reading news and opinion pieces about COVID-19 are remarkably similar. Not because of the disease factor, but because of the zeitgeist, for lack of a better word, that suffuses the story.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I fully realized what a tsunami is like. It's not usually a 20 or 40 foot wall of water, but instead a relentless incoming of ocean that builds and builds and builds until buildings, trees, etc., are covered many feet deep.
That's what this pandemic feels like to me--not a sudden shock with far-reaching effects, but a relentless tsunami with insidious waves that eventually cover you.
I'm waiting for them to recede.