Updated: Jun 25
| This is the 515th story of Our Life Logs |
Thursday, March 12, 2020.
I worked hard to stop the well of tears about to gush out of me. I bit my lip to choke down the sob threatening to escape from my throat. I told myself I had to hold it together for 20 more minutes, just until my boyfriend Charles left the apartment. Then I could fall apart. I was trying desperately to show him I was strong enough, calm enough, to be okay while he went on a trip outside of the country with his mother. It was going to be the first time I’d be alone in Paris, left to fend for myself completely.
• • •
Let me start with a little background. I’m an American girl who has been living in Paris since I graduated college in 2019. I had met Charles, a Parisian, at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. My love for him led me to begin my post-grad life in France. I was still learning French when I arrived, but I liked it. It made every day feel like a new challenge.
I had always considered myself independent but living in Paris, I reverted to a heavy reliance on Charles in my daily life—to translate for me, speak for me, guide me. As I waited for him to leave, my dependence on him hit me hard.
Earlier on the day of the trip, we had walked home from our jobs at the same management consulting firm. Life in Paris had always felt so magical and carefree, but there was a palpable tension in the streets that day. As more news broke about COVID-19 spreading, I pleaded to Charles to not go on his trip. Fear had been mounting in my heart all day, the kind of collective anxiety that is married to inevitable speculation.
“I called again today, they won’t let us reschedule or get our money back,” Charles said.
“What if I get sick?” I countered.
“You won’t get sick,” he said assuredly. “You’re young and healthy. You will be fine, I promise. And if you’re not, I will come home.”
An hour later, I stood at the door, using every ounce of self-control to not fall to my knees and beg Charles to stay. Instead, I kissed him goodbye, told him again that I would be fine, and closed the door. I turned to see our dog, Pandore, looking up at me with the same distressed eyes I recognized in myself. I buried my face in her fur and let it collect all the tears I had held back.
That night, the WHO declared we were in a global pandemic.
Saturday, March 14, 2020.
“There’s no way you’ll be able to come,” I said defeatedly to my mother on the phone. She had been planning to leave in a few days to come for a visit, one that would not happen. It was hardest to live abroad in times like these. Not only did an ocean separate us, but now a pandemic would keep us apart. I had no idea when I would see my family in the United States again.
We finished talking and I went back to preparing dinner for myself and my friend Libby who was coming over. It felt like the virus was something off in the distance, not affecting us yet. Still, when Libby arrived, we did not embrace as usual. Instead, I greeted her with a bottle of hand sanitizer.
As we ate, I suppressed a tickle in my throat that had morphed into a cough. I did not feel sick, so I did not want to make her, or myself, anxious by displaying the virus’ most obvious symptom. I didn’t think it was the virus. As we sat there chatting about anything other than the virus, both our phones buzzed with alerts. The President had officially declared France to be in confinement, or “quarantine.”
I remember we sat there in shock. I immediately felt grateful I was not receiving this news alone. The announcement was not unexpected, yet it shook me. It was another indication that the wolf was at the door, another chip into the invisible wall of denial that still existed as a small voice in the back of my head that whispered, It can’t get as bad as China, not here in France.
“Well, I guess I should probably go home,” Libby said.
I had the desire to say, “No! Sleep here! Please stay with me!” But I knew she had to return to her apartment where her boyfriend waited.
That night, I coughed myself to sleep.
Sunday, March 15, 2020.
I woke to my bedroom soaked in sun and knew I had slept in later than usual. I dressed quickly and decided to walk my dog, something still allowed. I knew it would be strange to walk the empty Champ de Mars, the park below the Eiffel Tower. I assumed there’d be only a scattering of dog walkers now that the quarantine was officially in place. What I saw instead was a sight I could not believe.
The park was full of people: children riding bikes and climbing on playground equipment, teenagers playing basketball, dog walkers congregating and picnic-ers covering the lawn. I felt horrified imagining the virus passing between these people as they all touched the same playground gates, park benches, and basketballs.
Monday, March 16, 2020.
My job moved remotely, and the transition was incredibly jarring, but I knew it was important for public safety. Then, I received alarming news. Because so little people had respected the quarantine since it was announced, the city decided to crack down with much stricter measures. Life in Paris was about to become very hard. My colleagues urged me to leave if I could, and to leave before 8PM that night. I called Charles in a panic. He agreed I needed to get out of the city. He said that the first flight he and his mother could get back was on Friday. Until then, he suggested I leave immediately for his family’s country home.
I had never driven in Paris before, because I always insisted I couldn’t ever navigate the packed streets with aggressive drivers and motorcycles rubbing against the side of the car. Now, I would have no choice. I threw myself into packing for an indefinite time period. I filled two suitcases with all the rice, pasta, and canned goods I had bought the past few days and anything that remained in the fridge. I filled another bag with my clothes. I stashed my one piece of heirloom jewelry, a string of pearls from my grandmother. A few hours later, I sat behind the wheel, the car full of everything I could take from the apartment, my dog Pandore in the back seat.
I swallowed with a dry mouth and an aching stomach. I had forgotten to eat or drink since I had made the decision to leave. My hands shook slightly as I inputted the destination address into the car’s GPS. Finally, I connected to my company’s firm-wide conference call, that would be taking place during the drive. Terrified to begin the drive but knowing I had no choice, I shifted into gear, tepidly as I couldn’t remember the last time I drove a gear-shift car. I said a quick prayer, as Pandore whimpered in the back seat. Finally, we were off.
The entire city was emptying. The streets filled with Parisians packing their cars to the brim, desperate to leave quickly. I knew then that I had made the right choice to flee the city. I struggled to focus on the road and the directions as my company’s founders announced on the call that they would be instituting pay cuts or furloughs for everyone, in order to stay afloat in the crisis. I gripped the wheel and tried not to panic.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
I arrived at the country home late the night before. I woke up late with a temperature of 104F. I knew I needed to go feed the dog but felt a heaviness in my limbs that chained me to my bed. It took me a good portion of the next hour to gather the energy to leave my bed. I walked around the yard with Pandore, feeling as if I was running a marathon underwater. Each step took a massive amount of effort, and each breath was shallow and trying.
I called my doctor and described the symptoms that I had been experiencing for several days now. He said it was likely that I had the virus, but there was no reason to go to the hospital unless I could not breathe. I dialed the “coronavirus hotline” that had been set up, where they registered my name, my address and my symptoms. I spoke to another doctor on the hotline who echoed the same diagnosis. With my family and friends in the U.S. still asleep, I returned to bed, where I slept the rest of the day.
The next few days were hazy. I remember brief moments of waking between feverish dreams. During the day, exhaustion consumed me, and the nights consisted of coughing fits in which I’d end up choking, gasping for air. I thought, Is this what they meant by being unable to breathe? I kept track of time only to know when I could take my next ibuprofen, in effort to break my fever that had now lasted for days.
The moments awake were packed with fear of battling this alone and worry over whether Charles would be allowed to join me when he arrived. One night, I sat close to the fire I had built, after several nights of unsuccessful attempts to get warm from the chills that never left me.
Still, I fought with all I had to overcome the brutal symptoms plaguing me.
Friday, March 20, 2020.
Thankfully, Charles had no problems at the airport and had arrived safely as planned. He began his descent to the country home to check on me. I spent the day sitting numbly before a cup of tea, nursing my cough with honey.
As I waited, I thought about all I had endured the past week. When you are in the moment of struggle, there is only survival. I hadn’t a moment to realize that I was capable of so much more than I thought I was until it had all passed. I had done what I thought I’d never do. I stared down the face of the virus the entire world was afraid of. I met the fear of loneliness with the courage that looks like the sole belief that I will get myself through this day. I remembered Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” It brought me comfort and reinforced my belief in myself that I had forgotten I held.
When Charles arrived, we could not embrace, given the likelihood that I was contagious. Standing six feet away from him, I felt comfort, but I did not feel like crumpling into his arms like I had expected. I had already crumpled, several times the past week, and picked myself up each time. Now I stood six feet away, more grateful than ever to see him, fortified in my own strength.
This is the COVID-19 story of Abigail Trombley
Abigail lives in Paris, France with her boyfriend and their Bernese Mountain Dog, Pandore. She moved to Paris in June 2019 after graduating from Wake Forest University in North Carolina. After getting severe symptoms of COVID-19, Abigail was forced to depend on herself to fight them, which, in the end, helped her grow as a person. She has since recovered from her symptoms. Abigail works as a management consultant and writes the blog, As She Wrote, on navigating life as a young woman living as an American expat in France. In her free time, she enjoys horseback riding and long walks with Pandore. Her go-to quarantine snack is Ben and Jerry’s “Chocolate Fudge Brownie.” After the COVID-19 situation is all over, the first person she wants to hug is her mom, and the first place she wants to go is wherever she can meet her family—if not in the U.S., the first country that is open for travel! In the meantime, she’s Netflix-binging Tiger King and Jane the Virgin.
This story first touched our hearts on March 17, 2020.
| Writer: Abby Trombley | Editor: Kristen Petronio |