It’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep because the music is too loud and I’m mad at them.
My neighbors are having a party and the music is blaring outdoors. This is the third time this month. The first was a small gathering on Memorial Day and I was shocked as the cars pulled up and guests spilled out, carrying foil pans of food. My husband and I had looked at each other, wondering if we hadn’t gotten the memo that the pandemic was suddenly over. The last was two weeks ago, seemed like a child’s birthday party (the huge “8” balloon and unicorn bouncy house gave it away), and now, tonight, they’re eating and dancing and laughing on the front lawn like all is well in the world. Don’t they know that even though it’s Saturday, I have to go to work tomorrow? Don’t they know that I have an autistic preschooler who can awaken at the drop of a hat (or a ray of sunlight) and that his lack of sleep can ruin his entire day? Don’t they freaking know that we are in the middle of a freaking pandemic?
I’m so mad at them.
How can they be so selfish?
Let’s get real: it’s not really about the music. Yes, it’s true, I’d rather not spend my night playing a game of chicken with a subwoofer. But really, it’s about COVID. How can they be so nonchalant when in our country alone, over 100,000 people have died from COVID, most without family by their side? When MIS-C is emerging as an enigmatic and frightening disease? Call me a pessimist (or a pediatrician), but I see every kid on that lawn as a potential MIS-C patient. (I also wonder, as a pediatrician, why the children are still awake at this hour.) In pediatrics, we don’t typically care for patients with diseases brought on by poor choices such as lifelong smoking. But now I may be caring for children who are stricken with COVID or MIS-C because their parents wanted to party. I wonder if there’s anything more selfish than that.
If I’m being even more honest, I realize that I’m angry, but not exclusively at them. When I come home from the hospital, I have a decontamination ritual: I head straight for the shower, stow my work shoes and work bag out of the way, wipe down my glasses and cell phone, and wash my hands until they’re raw. The only indoor places I have been since March are the hospital and my house. So why do colleagues of mine stop at the grocery store in their dirty scrubs, on the way home from work? My children are distance-learning and distance-socializing, and my autistic preschooler is regressing without his essential services. So why have friends of mine been allowing their kids to have in-person playdates all along, half-heartedly doling out the ol’ mental health excuse, topped off with a shrug emoji? My own baby brother, a twenty something single in the city, has decided that after weeks of social distancing, he’s done. He’s jumping back in to socialization head-first and doesn’t care what anybody has to say about it. How can they be so selfish?
The New York Times published an article about how social distancing represents a giant marshmallow test and we are failing miserably. I’m not talking about families steeped in poverty, making painful decisions to go to work so they can literally put food on the table, or about cancer patients weighing the risks and benefits to go in for their chemo sessions. I’m talking about people who are more or less financially comfortable just deciding that they have had enough. Why do people think that just because they’re bored, or lonely, that the pandemic is over? How can they be so selfish that they’re willing to expose not just themselves, but countless other people?
Here’s what I want to say to them, my neighbors, and everyone else who is flippant about the pandemic: This is hard. Disease is hard, the economic reality is hard, loneliness is hard. But please. If you just do your part, we will be closer to going back to normal. Yes, the country is opening up a bit. In my state, at least, you can go to a restaurant and sit outdoors, buy a car, or have a small outdoor religious gathering. You want to start relaxing the rules even further? I’m not going to stop you. But please, don’t have a party like the one you’re having, an indoor-outdoor affair where the fifty of you are dancing together and the handful of you that are wearing masks have them hanging down at your chins. I see white-haired people at your party, and that one man in a wheelchair. Please, I beg you, just consider if it’s really worth the risk.
And please, for the love of God, turn off the music and put your kids to bed.