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How Reading Is Helping Me Fight Through Feeling Powerless Over COVID-19

I’ve felt powerless before. It was May of 1990, and I was 17. My father and I had a tumultuous year following my mother’s death. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was my decision to forge a tardy pass for English, which resulted in a five-day suspension.

The year had been hard enough, and suspension sent my father into further despair. He didn’t have the fortitude to finish raising “a rebellious child,” not even for one more year. So, I left the summer of my senior year of high school to live with my grandparents in Covert, Michigan.

Covert was different than my hometown, Chicago. There were more trees than people. There was a one-story school that housed kindergartners through twelfth-graders; there was one fire station, one bank, one gas station and one corner store, all within feet of one another on the same stretch of highway.

My life had changed in an instant, kind of like now.

I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do about living in a remote town. There was nothing I could do about suddenly not being able to see my father. And there was nothing I could do about missing my friends, some of whom I’d known since I was 6 years old, and with whom I wouldn’t graduate.

That summer, I learned I had little control over my life. My grandmother drove me to her friend’s farm, somewhere off the highway, where I picked blueberries for hours so as “not to be idle.” As I slowly rolled each purplish-blue ball off the bush and into a small basket, I wondered what I could do to gain some semblance of power, kind of like now.

So, I reverted to what I’d done as an overprotected child, confined to the house. I read.

Stephen King novels were my favorite. Something about reading scary stories far removed from the reality of life was comforting. Reading helped me escape my circumstances.

For three months, I immersed myself into as many of King’s novels as I could. Though terrifying, “Misery,” “Firestarter,” “The Dark Half,” “The Drawing of the Three” and “Gerald’s Game” were each captivating and kept my mind on other things, kind of like now.

Though I’ve always been an avid reader, lately I’ve been reading more, just like when I was 17. I started Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” right at the beginning of our country’s serious discussion of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system, and finished it just as Florida’s restaurants mandated take-out only restrictions — about 10 days. Thirty years later, and I’d ironically selected a fantasy story about impossible events. It’s helped me ignore things I can do nothing about, such as media misinformation and empty grocery-store shelves.

Finishing “Kindred” showed me I’ve been here before, but on a smaller scale. As I write this, Florida’s governor has issued a stay-at-home order. We’re to stay in place, unless we need groceries or exercise. Slowly, my mind has shifted to a familiar feeling of powerlessness. When faced with a global pandemic, there is little to control, except one’s thoughts and limited actions.

I’ve selected another book. Presently, I’m reading Jasmine Guillory’s “The Proposal.” It’s neither scary, nor fantastical. It’s a new twist on how I’m choosing to escape: romantic comedy. Focusing on if Nik and Carlos will be a serious couple will get me through the next wave of incessant COVID-19 updates. And, in 30 days, if we’re still socially isolating and spraying ourselves with disinfectant, I’ll be ready with another set of bound pages, where I can flee to someone else’s fictional problems to avoid the current state of affairs.

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Getty image by Liderina