I Go to the Eye Doctor

M.P. Armstrong

May 13

I go to the eye doctor.

I wake up on a Thursday with my sclera stained red, lids swollen nearly shut, and a pool of tears on my pillowcase, likely teeming with germs. I assume I have pinkeye. I wonder how I picked up pinkeye without leaving the house. I have not left the house since March 15. I schedule an appointment.

March 15

I am in an airport. I am dropping off a friend for a flight. Our university has promised that I will see them again on April 6.

I am in a grocery store. I am filling a cart with canned green beans and boxed pasta. I can hear the governor talking about restrictions with deadlines of May 1.

I am in a bubble tea shop, with the ghosts of laughter, drinking almond milk tea, slurping boba, placing Scrabble tiles with a clack; I am in my dorm room, inhabited last year by strangers, this year by my best friend and I, next year by another friend and I, while this year’s roommate moved abroad; I am in my childhood bedroom, high school echoing in my ears, furniture drifting into a more college-like arrangement.

May 13

I go to the eye doctor.

I will no longer go back to my university on April 6. My roommate will no longer move to Italy in the fall, and I will no longer move into our old room. My state is somewhat open, which is why I am able to go to the eye doctor.

There are other cars in the lot, parked at all angles like the plastic pieces in Battleship, all their drivers are players who could sink me. I stare out the windshield, my phone clock ticking towards my move, collecting courage in my hand like the game’s little pegs–red for hit, white for miss–until I have to enter the office.

A paper in the front window promises bold protections: masks. Thermometers. Six feet apart. The secretary at the check-in desk disinfects my credit card when I use it to cover the $20 copay and asks me a series of questions.

Are you displaying any symptoms of COVID-19?

Are you an essential worker with regular contact with the public?

Have you been in contact with any known infected person, left the country, or left the state in the past two weeks?

She looks up from the computer where she has been recording my responses and clarifies, as if used to patients who have watched the passage of time and their awareness of clocks and calendars evaporate into nothingness, “that was April 29.”

April 29

I wake up at ten in the morning for a virtual work shift at eleven. I was up until four last night; I am exhausted, and I do this every day anyway because my friends live in other time zones. Europe–we watch live piano streams together. The West Coast–we talk about books with apocalypses as the main characters. The Midwest–we fail to fulfill our usual hourlong goodbyes. And the East Coast–we just do not sleep.

I spend most of my work shifts reading or studying. No students need resume critiques. Every student needs career advice. I am not qualified to advise, only to screenshare and narrate how to schedule an appointment with an actual career advisor with a degree and a veneer of confidence. This particular shift is no different. It is the last one because next week is finals week. It is still no different.

Occasionally, I think about the EMT from Seattle who called in while on his break. He had been working towards a PhD in epidemiology. He had dark circles under his eyes and a look of fear spiraling in them. I think his name was James. I told him that I could not officially help, which he acknowledged, but he continued talking. He told me that he didn’t think he could do it anymore–whether “it” was his job or his major, he didn’t specify, but he said that he needed to change paths before the pandemic devoured him.

I want to know what he talked about in the appointment that I helped him schedule, what his life looks like now, what his eyes look like now. By then, the semester will be over. I am not rehired for the summer. I will never know.

I stay up until four in the morning with a friend in Detroit, and we talk about movies and school projects and not the EMT. My shift is over.

May 13

I go to the eye doctor.

I walk into the waiting room, where tape marks which seats I am allowed to choose. A mother and her young child, who has eyedrop-enlarged pupils, join me and begin to chat with each other about the child’s recent surgery.

My lungs push a cough into my throat.

The mother and her child are joking about whether her father is mowing the lawn like he promised, and I want to suppress the sound because I cannot explain where it comes from, but I also cannot stop it. It blooms, wet and resonant, across the room like an infected bomb, and I am the detonator. I go to the eye doctor, into the examination room, and she shines a pointed light at me, and I am afraid that she will notice, buried beneath the layers of bacteria, that I am somehow at fault. A danger in her lobby. In my lungs.

May 13

I leave the eye doctor.

I was right that I have pinkeye, easily treatable with medicated drops. She tells me that it should begin to heal soon, unless it is an indicator of COVID-19, in which case, I am supposed to call back. I tell exactly one other person, switching into Italian (devo prendere la mia temperatura ogni giorno e tornare al dottoressa se ho un febbre) because while I am not scared–I have not left the house since March 15–I am afraid of putting it in black and white, in English.

She does not tell me how much longer it will take for the rest of the symptoms–the simple existence, the waiting room, the life–are supposed to last.

I do not ask.

MP Armstrong is a disabled queer writer from Ohio, studying English and history at Kent State University. Their work appears or is forthcoming in Perhappened, Prismatica Magazine, and Hominum Journal, among others, and their debut chapbook, who lives like this for such a cheap price?, is published by Flower Press (2021). Find them online @mpawrites and at mpawrites.wixsite.com/website.