I used to think I would do extremely well in a zombie apocalypse.
Okay, maybe not extremely well. But at least okay. Passing. In my mind, zombie movies were designed to champion the unlikely survivors: Columbus, the shy nerd with solid deduction skills; Lionel, the awkward mama’s boy-turned-badass; Shaun, the slacker fueled by a combination of love for his mom and a desire to fix his broken relationship. I would never be an Ash Williams or an Alice, but I could be one of them. Plus, I’ve played (one-third of the way) through The Last of Us, so I felt very prepared.
I know I’m not the first, second, or even millionth person to compare the experience of Covid to an apocalypse. But that’s truly how it felt when 2020 decided to throw out an impromptu AOE attack* that left over six million people dead and the rest of us traumatized in various levels of severity. I watched extroverted relatives become agoraphobic. I read countless posts about friends of friends who had been lost to the virus. Once-packed restaurants now sat empty. My entire office shut down and sent us home to work, where we are still working to this day.
Then, in August of 2022, I got Covid.
As a huge fan of horror movies, my instinct was to pass the time in quarantine by indulging in a few spooky flicks. Strangely enough, I found a particular sense of catharsis in zombie films. Like the characters in these movies, I had spent so much time being afraid of getting “bitten”. In my case, though, I wasn’t necessarily scared of the experience of being sick, but of how people would perceive me for getting sick. The last two years had given me the impression (through conversations, social media, and so on) that, “if you catch Covid, you aren’t being responsible”. So, when that T line appeared on a home test for the first time in my life, I immediately felt that I had failed.
When we watch zombie movies, many of us don’t stop to entertain the idea that we could be one of the folks who gets bitten. We “know” that those who fall victim to zombification -- whether by bite, inhalation, or even tiny little alien slugs -- aren’t the main characters, because main characters survive. Except now, I wasn’t the main character I’d assumed I’d be -- I was the slow runner trailing behind the rest of the group as a hoard of flesh-eaters took swipes at my back. And then I tripped. And fell.
As I consumed film after film, I found myself watching (perhaps for the first time ever) not in the shoes of the hero, but of the zombies they were running from. Did the zombies have thoughts as their bodies moved of their own accord, reaching for their closest friends and family members in an attempt to consume or drag them into the same fate? Did they feel bad about the deaths they had caused? Because in my little quarantine room, swaddled in a blanket burrito and watching Helen get stabbed to death by her daughter in Night of the Living Dead, all I could think about was how guilty I felt. I wasn’t scared for me, like I thought I would be -- like movies had made me think I would be. I was scared for them -- the people I’d been around, my family, my friends. I hadn’t been like Ben, guarded at all times, controlled (side note, this was my first time watching that ending. Rude as hell.). I had been irresponsible. Well, not “let me make the last minute decision to join my boyfriend on his mission to get supplies and cause us both to die because of my jacket” irresponsible, but I definitely could have worn my mask more. Sanitized my hands more frequently. Things like that.
To my surprise, my friends and family didn’t view the situation that way. Many of them (they reminded me) had already contracted and recovered from the virus, and all of them checked in to see how I was feeling in some way. My dad even brought me soup! To my home! As a surprise! There was no sense of “you failed”; rather, “it’s going to be okay”. As a result, I was able to really relax and enjoy my movies. I even started to find the humor in little interactions that originally made me feel awful: the way my husband and I would mime hugging each other from across the room when he left for work; the way I wielded Lysol like Cynthia wielded the blowtorch in Night of the Creeps, obliterating germs like zombified prom dates. Over the course of the week, I eventually made peace with my zombie-ness. And yes, it really did end up being okay.
I don’t know whether to call this an exercise in gratitude, per se, but this experience did allow me to do some much-needed reflecting and, ultimately, release the fear and shame I had built up over the course of the pandemic. So, if you’ve been bitten, stay calm (to the best of your ability). And do watch some zombie movies. Because it helps. Worst case scenario, Barbara is so annoying that you’ll be distracted from how shitty you feel, at least for 97 minutes. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?