Sept. 29 – Oct. 12, 2020

New York City: 7,699 cases

Indiana: 1,572 cases and rising

Come September, the worldwide doom was still upon us. For months, Indiana seemed far removed from the hot spots of Texas, Arizona, New York, California, and Florida. Watching the news as I did every morning before getting my head around working at a potential spreader school, my home state seemed to stay a steady faded red. In the last week, my co-workers were speaking of rising cases in Madison County, north of Indianapolis.

I was being instructed by our school vice-principal to spray student desks every night along with all my other duties, only protected by a pair of nitrile blue gloves and a mask I had to pay for myself online. My new best friend was a spray pump filled with a special solution that came up to my knees. Some days, it made my eight-hour shift a breeze, and other evenings, I had to pump until my right arm might cramp up and fall off. This vacuum spray pump was much like my single existence this six months since what I called the “Monster Virus” hit this country, coast to coast.

My age group was labeled high-risk. I read scathing Tweets from those with no soul saying “put these 60+ Baby Boomers in a lockdown situation and let the rest of us go about our daily lives.” I found that statement a direct hit on the older generation with horrible thoughts of waking up one morning to two men in white coats taking me away to Area 51.

I had a consolation my oldest son kept referring to: “Mom, realize you are a frontline worker, part of the solution, and not sitting home petrified this thing will come for you.” That thought kept me halfway sane.

After six months of self-isolating, I was getting used to not seeing my grown sons as often as I wanted to. I kept up with my grandchildren on Facebook. What was getting increasingly difficult was possessing a social life. A gentleman close to my age who I actually liked being with had stopped texting and calling in July. There were mounting weekends where I sat wrapped in a heavy cloak of loneliness.

Going through the isolation of a divorce could have brought about long, lonely nights and a building of bitter despondency. My social register stayed very steady in the last 20 years. Occasionally, one guy would rock my world. My independent spirit and radar for clingy men brought me to a point where I said, “Bye, bye; it’s not you. It’s me.” Yes, I was one of those ladies.

One night after flipping around all the movie channels, nothing of any interest for me to invest my time for two hours of viewing, I picked up my latest book, Killers of the Flower Moon. Finding my place in the middle of the book, my phone made a gentle beep. It was a DM from Facebook. I opened it; a message from Ben Reynolds. “Hey, Ava, I sent you a video blast from the past: Lee Michaels. Enjoy, and text me later.” He gave me his phone number.

I had been casually communicating with Ben for about two weeks on this direct messaging, more private than Facebook website posts. I knew him years ago when my best friend Carol used to date him. He was dreamy-looking and his personality infectious. I sent him a text with a selfie I took in the winter of 2019. Immediately, he called me.

Ben had a voice that oozed with confidence, raspy in all the right parts of being defined as sexy rough. We stayed away from the elephant in the room; the virus. He asked me what I was doing for a living and vice versa on his end. It took 45 minutes for me to agree to have him come over next Saturday night.

Saturday night came all too soon. All day before I was to expect Ben, I cleaned my kitchen and living room like it was a summer clean-up at the school, deep cleaning everything I set my eyes on. Then, there came me; my honey blonde hair had been in rollers for the last two hours; I flossed and brushed my teeth and carefully put enough eye makeup on to look alluring and cover up my slight darker circles under each eye.

With a loud knock, I saw Ben smiling. He looked older, gray hair receding, noticeable dentures. His eyes, those aquamarine eyes wide and penetrating as they did 49 years ago, got my arousal motor running. He said, “Ava Preston, you’re a knockout. I didn’t remember you being such a looker.”

“I’m Ava Booth now. Booth is my married name; well, I’m divorced. I kept the married name.” I knew I was rambling.

We walked into the kitchen. He took out a six pack of Corona, a bag of chips, and a container of salsa from his favorite Mexican restaurant. “Ava, you don’t have to be nervous. I’m no stranger.”

I went over to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of Pinot Grigio. “I know, but as it is, I am nervous. I wasn’t sure about this pandemic thing; if you would be wearing a mask or if I should. I got so busy getting ready, I forgot to bring my mask in from my car.”

Ben stopped what he was doing. He took my hand and led me over to the kitchen sink. He touched my face and brought me close to him. He smelled of Polo, a man’s fragrance I loved. He smiled, his eyebrows forming a decisive point reminding me of Jack Nicholson.

“Ava, I’m not sick. You aren’t sick. You’re safe at your school, working evenings. I have a lawn business which keeps me away from people. Let’s relax and get to know each other.” With that, he kissed me. The kiss was if I had not been kissed in my adult life. His lips were soft. The sensation on my mouth made me want more.

We were leaned up against my stainless steel sinks like two teenagers filled with exploding hormones. I forgot about the fear I have lived with for the last six months. His kisses and the way he held on to my body made me feel young again.

We ate the chips and salsa. I drank my wine; in turn, he had two beers. We watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I was so taken with spending the evening with Ben, Leo and Brad’s Hollywood appeal escaped my fancy.

Ben was a morning person. Sunday was his day for preparing for his Monday night miniature racing night in his pole barn. We folded into each other’s arms while the credits from the movie went on. We kissed until he did the honorable move and got up from the couch.

“Ava, I don’t want to go. I know all this will lead to something I’m not sure about yet,” Ben said, walking to the front door.

Ben went home. I crawled into bed. Reality set in; I broke two very imperative rules. While around Ben, I failed to wear my mask. Social distancing went out when I kissed him for the first time. How could I be so reckless in a time when my mortality had been defined by being over 60 and having high blood pressure? I was constantly petrified of this monster that had swelled to seven million cases in the United States alone. Basically, I risked my life for a kiss.

Three weeks went by with me serving up dinners on Saturday and Sunday nights. At work, my steps were light and my mind thought of Ben. This time, he invited me to his home. It was in the middle of a wooded area south of the small town of Middletown. I got to visit his latest hobby of an impressive track for miniature race cars upstairs in his pole barn, behind his home. The space surrounding the center remote-control track housed almost 30 to 40 people, spectators and those who participated in the races.

He took me around the room. Now, the entire time I was being shown around, I was wearing a mask. Ben was not. I asked, “Do you require those that come to wear masks?”

He stopped, then lit a cigarette. “Ava, right now, I only have maybe 20 people up here, and we social distance.” I shot back a challenging question. “Don’t you think you are taking a huge risk by not requiring masks?”

“Sweetie, I won’t wear a mask, period!” His answer was plain enough. If I pursued further, we would be sparring politically over the recent, highly erratic leader of the free world. I suggested we go down into the house.

The chemistry came back larger than life as I enjoyed his enormous big screen television, a movie, and snuggling on his spacious silver-gray sectional; all the comforts of home with an added maneuver of the throwing off our clothes around the spacious living room carpet. Moving into his bed close by, he knew where to touch me. I knew where to touch him. Through a mutual ebb of undulating body movements, surprising release for the both of us was achieved.

I kissed him goodnight with a promise to join his friends for a bonfire the next night. The entire time I was having fun with Ben, any thoughts of the pandemic seemed to fade away. I found his friends very friendly and warm. I was puzzled by their total ignorance of new cases showing up all around Indiana. I held my distance by getting closer to the fire. My mind was so wrapped up in Ben these days I forgot to bring my mask. I had let my guard down, way down.

I woke up Monday morning early, catching my breath by incessant dry coughs. My mind immediately went over the symptoms of COVID. I took my temperature. It was slightly over 100. I called off work to see if I would get worse. This was where the journey transpired into a full-fledged terror of what I tried to stay away from. My hands shook. I was really scared. All afternoon into the evening, I nursed the newfound symptoms of more dry coughing, a headache, sore throat, then my temperature rising to 102.

I took some cold and fever medicine. To no avail, I was getting worse instead of better. The coughing got to the place I experienced shortness of breath. There was a thickening in my throat I tried to remedy by making hot water with lemon.

It was seven a.m. I left my oldest son a text: “Sweetie, I think I have this thing. At nine, I’m calling Dr. Sheldon. I will let you know later.”

I knew Ben was up and probably on his way to work. Surprised I got him; there was that great voice I liked so much. “Hey, babe, what’s up? This isn’t like you to call me so early.” It was hard for me to speak and tell him what had been going on.

“I’ve got some bad news. I think I have it. As soon as my doctor’s office opens, I’m calling. Ben, the symptoms are all there and I have a temp of 102.”

He huffed over the connection. “Don’t move too quickly, honey. Maybe you got smoke inhalation from standing so close to the fire. Last night, it was really getting cold.”

He showed more annoyance in me being an alarmist than demonstrating any kind of concern for my wellbeing. “When I know more. I will text you.” I got off very quickly due to the fact I was getting angry at his cavalier attitude.

Dr. Marjorie Sheldon had been my healthcare provider and doctor for the last seven years. I called her Dr. Margie. Most of our visits were laced with her listening to me go on about my writing. After going over my symptoms, her nurse got Dr. Sheldon to the phone.

“Ava, give me the symptoms and tell me how long you’ve had them.”

I gave her the play-by-play details over the last 48 hours. She asked, not hesitating. “Do you think you can drive?”

“Yes, I can.”

“Meet me in the emergency room at St. Vincent’s. I assume it’s not too far from your house. We will get you tested first thing. Don’t panic.”

I parked my car in the far parking area from the ER entrance. After the preliminaries of checking in with my mask in place, I was taken to an examination room. It wasn’t too long before Dr. Sheldon opened the door with a nurse. Both ladies were dressed in their proper PPE: face shield, surgical mask, gloves, yellow isolation gown, head bonnet, and shoe covers. The test was quick but burned as the swab was lowered deep into my left nostril.

What I thought was more excruciating than the test was the wait time. I used whatever sanity I had left to call my son Joel. I got his voicemail. “Don’t get too upset, Joel. I’m at the ER in St. Vincent’s. I got the test. If I have to stay, let Jamie know about this. I know you don’t believe in prayer, but you and Jamie say a prayer for me. It’s important to me.”

Breathing was becoming difficult; I hung up with a lump in my throat. Dr. Sheldon came in. “Ava, you tested positive. We are getting you a room in CCU. Fortunately, there were ten patients sent home yesterday. You will get one of the private rooms. Hang in there, sweetie. I know first-hand you are one healthy woman.”

What I feared most came to call at five p.m. A machine was rolled in with a monitor screen, various tubes hanging on the right and left side, and a metal pole where I knew IVs were hung. What filled me with the highest amount of fear was the larger tube I assumed was to be placed down my throat to help me keep breathing. I wanted to be calm, but I was filled with so much fear I fought the two nurses on either side of me.

The last thing I heard was from a heavy-set nurse administering the tube. “Ava, sweetie, the harder you fight, the more danger your breathing will become. Think of something great you’ve recently experienced.”

I concentrated and saw Ben’s smiling face after we had made love. I was able to relax my throat. Laying there for the next three days, I was fed intravenously. All I knew next was the heavy-set nurse talking to me behind her face shield. “Well, Missy, it’s wonderful to see your eyes open. There is someone I want you to see at the door. Let’s get you up.”

I felt incredibly weak but so glad to be conscious without the tube. I looked to the left of the bed. The ventilator I feared so much was gone. The nurse pointed to the open door. She yelled out. “Your mother is awake.”

The nurse moved out of the room. I saw Joel. He was smiling with his eyes filling up with tears. The most monstrous thing about this virus was no touching. We exchanged waves and looks of joy towards each other from a distance of over twelve feet. I raised my voice as much as I could.

“Joel, I’m going to be fine. I love you, son.”

He raised his voice. “Jamie wanted to be here, but his boss wouldn’t give him the day off.  I love you too, Mom. When you get home, call us immediately. I will make sure Jamie is with me when you call. The doctor told me you will probably be released in a few days.”


Precisely one week from when I saw Joel in the hallway, I was getting ready to be released. The clothes I had come with were carefully washed by the EVS staff, and my purse was sanitized. I was dressed and went up to the nurses’ station. It felt great to be walking only a few feet, then getting back into a wheelchair.

I asked the secretary at the CCU desk, “Was there anyone else to see me during my stay here?”

“You know, come to think of it, while you were on the ventilator, an older gentleman who gave me the business about wearing a mask came in. He did comply after I told him I was going to get security. I told him your condition, and he said nothing. He didn’t give me a message to see your doctor. His face looked so disturbed, then he left.”

“Thank you, and again, I appreciate everything all of you have done for me.” I pulled my purse over my shoulder and laid back down in the wheelchair. I knew that was Ben. I understood why he said no more to the secretary.

The entire time I was home busy cleaning the inside of my car and the inside of my house, I wanted to hear Ben’s voice. I had been calling him for the last four days. No answer; I texted him incessantly and got nothing.

Dr. Sheldon told me I might still be contagious. As a precaution for work and getting out to get essentials, I was to quarantine for two more weeks. Joel and Jamie were very diligent in getting me what I needed to eat and drink, leaving the groceries on my front porch. The evenings were so lonely, being anxious to be close to Ben.

I had a week to go on the quarantine order. Friday morning, I got up and headed to Ben’s place. I drove down Water Street off of Highway 230 to the last house on the left side of the dead-end street. His white truck was parked in the driveway. Strange; parked in the yard was his black truck and the long black trailer with his lawn equipment.

I parked my car behind his white truck and got out. Two of his calico cats came running up and curled their sleek bodies around my ankles. I bent down and stroked their heads. “Well, ladies, where’s your daddy?”

I rang the front door four times. There was no answer. I strained to hear a radio, his stereo, or his television; all was unnervingly silent. I walked towards the pole barn. The door to the upstairs was opened. I walked upstairs; no Ben around. I walked to the large lawn area where Ben would practice shooting four large round targets.

I noticed a man lying prostrate with his head in the grass in front of the last target. I shouted over the noise of the interstate traffic below the steep hill. “Ben, what happened to you?”

My heart raced. My cheeks felt raging heat, the very same as when I was in the clutches of the COVID monster. Ben wasn’t moving. I kicked his left boot. “Come on, babe. Did you miss me so much? You tied one on last night.”

I walked around to the left side of his head. I almost tripped over a hard object down into the thick of the grass and fallen leaves. I bent down; there laid a handgun. I looked around his body down to his hands. His left hand was covered in blood splatters. Closer, I saw the left side of his ear covered in dried blood and brown mud.

I had to know the worst. I came to his head. I knew if I turned him over, I would know the full picture. My eyes filled with tears, and under my mask, I sniffed fighting back the buildup of moisture. I turned him over. What I saw defied the imagination. His handsome golden face was unrecognizable. His facial features splintered, mingled with broken skin and tissue hanging.

I ran over to the side of the barn, where there sat an old tattered billboard. I screamed and went down to my knees. “Why couldn’t you have waited? I survived. You didn’t have to do this!”

I walked over to Ben and dialed 911. “Yes, I need an ambulance at 5911 Water Street, off of Highway 230. From what I see here, my friend has shot himself.” I nodded, still keeping as calm as I could. “I will wait here at his side for you. Yes, there’s a possibility this is connected to COVID.”

I sat next to Ben. If he had started to show any signs of decay, I didn’t notice due to my extreme grief and shock over his suicide. The ambulance got there in record time; soon, I saw two EMTs approach me while there was another one pulling the gurney. They got Ben into the gurney. I saw a state police officer pass the EMTs. He asked me some routine questions. I was surprised I didn’t break down in front of him.

Inside, I had become numb. Like a robot, I moved carefully into his house. I thought about Ben’s cats. I rummaged around his kitchen looking for cat food. I was enough of myself to notice this old country kitchen resembled the inside of a Cracker Barrel.

Water was already in one of the cat bowls on the porch. Both cats ran to my feet as I poured the dry food into a bowl. I stood on his porch, taking in the lovely landscape and various homes he had lived around.

My mind thought about the tragedy this property possessed. His wife, who had died of cancer ten months earlier, still lingered with Ben when I was with him. Standing there knowing I was hooked up to a ventilator must have filled him with such gripping hopelessness and the overwhelming knowledge of giving me the virus.

I looked up at the blue sky; not a cloud in sight. The sunlight giving the turning cluster of leaves in most of the sycamore and elm trees a sheen of bright orange. I thought about my surviving, what held me in its clutches for ten days. My body survived. Will I really survive? Will I ever forget? Ben Reynolds, a man who I could have possibly loved. He was to be defined for me as another of the 215,000 who died from this monster.