Four Years Finally Caught Up

Dee Richards
5 min readDec 30, 2023

In the first days of January 2020, my partner got sick. I was just about to start my second full courseload semester at my community college in San Diego. They were coughing, sneezing, and having trouble breathing. We thought it was a particularly nasty cold and sinus infection since, at that point, we hadn’t heard of COVID-19. There were times where my partner was in incredible pain, but neither of us took it particularly seriously because we were both 37 and (mostly) healthy. It didn’t seem likely to be a flu, so we had concluded it was your run-of-the-mill cold/sinus infection.

Over the course of 2020, we transformed our entire lives. Grocery shopping was a death-race. One cough from another person picking through half rotten onions, and I knew my card was punched. The images of respirators and a quick death inundated my anxious mind. The wasteland of television did little to alleviate the confusion and stress. My partner and I did what seemed that a lot of people did during that time, drink more. We knew it might weaken our immune system, which was a concern that demanded attention, but the trade-off was temporary reprieve from the waking nightmare of living before the vaccine. My partner was working remote, I was completing my courseload remotely, and our two kids (at the time, 4 and 8) were home full time. I can’t say I remember a lot about that time since I think I was half-insane most of it. I got my first vaccine shot in Anaheim, a 90-minute drive, despite living in San Diego because it was the first available appointment I could get. In 2021, my second vaccine shot took place at the same location in Anaheim. That time, it only took about 15 minutes to drive to.

On New Year’s Day 2022, we had been living in Irvine for about nine months. It was going to be the worst year of my life, but there was no way I would know that as we drove to Newport Beach with my friend of 33 years. We watched the ocean and strolled the boardwalk, as all San Diegans do at least twice a year. My daughter told me that her stomach hurt, and I said to take it easy. Before the day was out, she had an awful fever. A test at the urgent care the next day confirmed COVID. We worried, as parents do, but the doctor said since she’d had her vaccinations, everything would be fine. Over the next few days, my partner and both of our kids had COVID. I felt bad for about a day, but it came and went so fast, I figured it wasn’t COVID. We agreed the best course of action with a 6- and 10-year old was for me to quarantine in my room while the family had the rest of the house. It was a grueling 10 days of maddening loneliness that culminated in the biggest disaster of my life: divorce.

As much as it might seem odd that quarantining might lead to divorce, that is a story for another time. I had moved out of our shared home into temporary housing by the end of that January. A spike of COVID cases at UCI led to another term largely online. I juggled school, COVID concerns, and everything I had built for my life over 12 years evaporating. My partner and I talked through our problems until April, when we decided to give it another shot. We moved back in together in June, and my daughter got COVID again in her last week of 3rd grade. My kids both got COVID again in October. In November, I got sick. I took 3 tests, which all confirmed it wasn’t COVID. By week 5 of being ill, and Christmas looming, I went to the urgent care. They told me that I tested positive for the flu and I kicked myself for neglecting to get my flu vaccine that year. Granted, it was the worst year of my life, but I said to myself: “I’ll never skip the flu vaccine again!”

I got my flu vaccine this year in September. I was in Anaheim, despite having moved out of Orange County in July. My daughter had an appointment that we made while I was still in school. After graduation, our lease was up and we had to move. Rental prices from March 2021 to June 2023 had climbed so high that we could no longer afford to live in Orange County, and moved inland. We’ve spent the latter part of this year getting used to an area which is neither familiar, nor friendly. California’s Inland Empire has a reputation around here, one of which many seem proud: violent conservatism. Being a rainbow family of many gender-different and queer people, not to mention San Diego liberals, moving here felt like joining a deadly game of red-light-green-light. As long as no one can see us, we’re okay. We return to Orange County about every month because being here feels so claustrophobic.

We all had our flu shots, and my partner and our son got COVID vaccines in October. My daughter and I decided to wait so that everyone wasn’t sick all at once. We haven’t gotten COVID at all this year. No one has had to stay home and isolate for days. No one has missed school or important events. My partner and I have just gotten re-engaged. Today, my brother and his kids are planning their first visit since we’ve moved. We have wonderful New Year’s Eve plans for tomorrow: a fancy dinner and awesome lightshow. New Year’s Day follows with a BBQ with my father-in-law, kids having an overnight with him, and a family trip to the California Botanical Garden when they come back. My newest friend and I have tentative plans to hang out on the third, and my friend of (now) 34 years is coming for a visit on the 4th through the 7th. I forgot to get my COVID vaccine.

Just before bed last night, I realized I wasn’t feeling well. I couldn’t place it, because it just felt like a stuffy nose that ached. My energy was falling fast. I don’t know if I just forgot, or thought I was impervious. I mean, I have made it through January 2020, all of 2020 in fact, and at least 3 bouts of COVID in my family while finishing school and having relationship issues. I have never had COVID — until now. My first positive test showed up at 9:10 pm last night. Which means no fancy dinner, no BBQ, no visits. What the fuck. It has been just days shy of four years since my family first experienced COVID, and here I sit alone and quarantining. Flashbacks of my horrific quarantine in 2022 fill my mind. Sorrow for the missed fun I could’ve had, and I’m kicking myself in my metaphorical ass for not being smarter and just getting my vaccine. I am awaiting grad school application decisions. Since I’m a little superstitious, I wonder if this signals the next worst year of my life. I feel as though the biggest problem I have is not paying attention to the warnings life gives. In the first days of 2024, I will be sick. Maybe there is nothing more to it than that; maybe there is. But I do know that COVID isn’t going away. I’m not immune.

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Dee Richards

Dee has a BA in English with honors from UC Irvine; 3 awards in CNF; 8 fiction and CNF pubs to date; writer for The Key Reporter Mag; getting a Masters in CNF.