What happens when Coronavirus stops being a number and becomes the name of someone we love. Mine is Stevie, a friend from Hong Kong currently in intensive therapy in New York. Here’s what happened and how I’m dealing with it.
As of 48 hours ago, Coronavirus has stopped being a number (that of confirmed cases, dead and recovered) and has become a name. Stevie. Every time I read an article about Covid-19 I think of his face, intubated laying down in intensive therapy in a New York hospital. I know what position he would be placed in having asked a nurse friend of mine to explain step by step what the treatment involves, and I can’t erase that mental image from my head every waking moment of my day. And if I’m being honest, sleeping has turned into a tears-filled break from reality.He’s the first loved one I know to fall victim to the virus and risk death. I discovered it from a Facebook post by a colleague, as all of us are entertainment reporters. She reached out to his brother in Hong Kong, who soon after set up a private group on social media, counting 500 of us within a span of a few hours. The name of the group features the word “support” as well as heart emojis, and a profile picture of Stevie a this mother’s house surrounded by his nephews, all smiling.
After the initial moment of panic, the group sprung into action. But what can anybody do from the other side of the world? Stevie’s brother says the inevitable word of mouth about his condition would have made his sibling uncomfortable, since he’s a low-profile kind of guy.Sure, a public figure on red carpets and interviews, but reserved when it come to health issues, especially if delicate such as this one. The sense of impotence and frustration led him to decide that the end justified the means, so R channelled all the tumultous feelings of the past days into a concrete action, creating a space to convey all the thoughts and prayers for his brother. He got in touch with the medical team and updates the facebook group every 12 hours with progress of Stevie’s conditions. But, perhaps as importantly, is asking friends, colleagues and family members to post pictures and words about Stevie.And we’re not talking your usual ready-made sentences of sympathy and solidarity, but silly shots of his brother pretending to be blown away by a gust of wind whilst holding on to a lamp post or biting into a prepostorously big hamburger. The most recourring word in these posts is “giggle”, because with Stevie one could always find the funny side of life. But even using this verb in the past tense seemed like a punch in the gut, so gradually all of the group members started using memories as a powerful weapon of hope, talking about the future, when we’ll go back to hugging him.
I met him the Big Apple eleven years ago. I was feeling jetlagged after a red-eye flight from Los Angeles and was next to him during an interview with Kiefer Sutherland. We immediately started joking about the intense security measured they had adopted in the hotel’s corridor, as it seemed they were following CIA protocols, much to our amusement. It only took a handful of minutes for me to turn from stranger to friend. Stevie proceeded to escort me and a handful of European journalists to the weirdest diner in the middle of the night, as we had finished working very late. After that he invited us to his home, and I’ll never forget the pile of sneakers behind the door.Last year I was in Macao for work and I went over to see him in Hong Kong, where he had gone back to for the holidays. I dragged him to a market as I was looking for a specific type of travel bag, and he haggled in Chinese with the vendors on my behalf, but not before telling them about me, about my personality and my taste. That’s what Stevie does, he is able to turn the most commonplace situation into an extraordinary adventure. To celebrate the occasion we tries taking a selfie, but with me being completely incapable of taking them, what I am left with is about 20 pictures where you can barely make out our shapes, but I treasure every single one of them.Today I am posting said pictures on R’s group, whilst reading many similar stories to mine, seeing other pictures just as blurry as mine and I’m smiling. One click after the next I’m seeing what risks being taken away from us due to the Coronavirus, and for the first time in this whole month, I’m scared.
Not that I was in denial before, rest assured: I took every appropriate precaution and I’m staying inside without even setting foot on my doorstep. I follow every direction given by Prime Minister Conte and print every new exit permission slip diligently. Only now however am I grasping the magnitude of these numbers and I keep telling myself that in tragedy Stevie was somewhat lucky, having had health insurance and being able to secure a place in intensive therapy in New York, as hospitals in the United States are still so far coping with the strain of the pandemic. From the other side of the world we keep on trading information, memories, hopes.
Angela, one of his friends, has organised a collective moment together: “It’s not an online event – she writes – just 20 minutes for us to stop and send our thoughts for recovery”. She calls it “healing energy”, not to hurt anybody’s sensitivity, religious or not. She highlighted several time zones so that everyone knows when to participate. The group counts many friends from far away countries, from China to the U.S., a hanfdful of European countries (Italy, Greece, the U.K, Belgium, among others), Latin America and Asia.
Several times a day I look at the album with all the pictures people have uploaded, from karaoke nights to meals at a restaurant or just walking about, like that time in Toronto when I was looking a little worn out and Stevie grabbed us an Uber to show me an ice-cream place he knew on the other side of town.As of two days ago this virus has a name for me.
And today I finally stopped listing all of the things I am not able to do for him (pay him a visit at the hospital, send him a message, phone him), and started thinking about what I still can do, like writing about him, share a photo, stop for those 20 minutes and send him positive thoughts. I don’t feel useless, GOOD never is and wins over distance, even though it’s not quite the magic spell we often hope it would be.
In the studio apartment where I like there’s not even a red fish in a bowl besides me, but I no longer feel alone because I know Stevie isn’t.
Here you find attached the article, published on Vanity Fair Italy online, on March 30th 2020. (Luca Murphy has kindly translated the article for me)
Qui le precedenti “puntate” della mia vita in lockdown:
- Coronavirus, una storia di gentilezza (stra)ordinaria
- Coronavirus, il giorno in cui ha smesso di essere un numero ed è diventato il nome di un mio amico (articolo pubblicato da Vanity Vair in italiano e qui tradotto in inglese)
- 1 anno di virgolette: tanti auguri, Air Quotes!
- Coronavirus, quando un terremoto non fa più paura
- Coronavirus, perdere un amico e non potergli dire addio
- Coronavirus, la prima Messa dopo il lockdown
- Coronavirus, il ritorno in posta
- Coronavirus, aggiungo un posto a tavola dopo il lockdown
- Coronavirus, il giorno in cui mi hanno oscurato il sole
- Coronavirus, la giostra delle “prime volte”: la colazione al bar, lo shopping e il McDonald’s
- Coronavirus, il primo giretto da IKEA
- Coronavirus, la prima cena al ristorante (con sorpresa)
- Coronavirus, il primo bacio
- Coronavirus e quei piaceri proibiti
- Le interviste (folli) ai tempi del lockdown
- Finalmente il vaccino (da volontaria)