Luckily, I’m okay on the health-insurance front until September 1, and so won’t have to shell out more than $2,000 in extra COBRA fees every month until then, because I protected myself this time. (It’s one of the greatest cosmic ironies of the American health-care system, this sudden necessity to pay out an extra month’s rent in insurance premiums just at the moment you’ve lost your source of income.) I’ve lived through enough upheavals at this point in my career that I’m like a Depression-era hoarder, not of sugar packets and buffet muffins, but of jobs. Last year, during a nearly sleepless three-month period, I simultaneously held down three other gigs on top of my full-time job, one of which was as a staff writer on a new TV show. Meaning I was suddenly eligible for Writers Guild health insurance, that holy grail of health protection that’s both affordable and good. In fact, the WGA insurance was so much better and more affordable than the one offered by my Silicon Valley job, I’d already switched over to it when I could last September.
Thank God, because it got me through a month of fighting off my own COVID-19 infection without paying a dime. But of course, had I needed an ambulance ride during that month of gasping for air like a fish on shore––which one night, I almost did—I might have called UberPool again, just as I did back in 2017, when I nearly died after a botched surgery. I’d read too many horror stories of four-figure surprise ambulance bills. Is it any wonder why more poor, brown, and black people are dying of COVID-19 than rich and white? It’s the economic inequality, stupid. And endemic racism. And our absurd health-care system.
But maybe this virus will be the kick in the pants our tumbleweed society needs to stop tying health-care access to full-time employment. To finally admit that being able to call an ambulance in an emergency, without worrying about how much that ambulance will cost, is just as crucial to our social fabric as being able to summon a firefighter when your house is aflame.
An hour after I was fired, my partner caught me staring off into space. I’d just found out that a classmate from college, a mother of five, had taken her own life. It seemed wrong for me to worry about how I will pay for food and my half of the rent when her widower’s and children’s burdens were so much greater. But no, I thought to myself. No more hyper-empathy for others as a Band-Aid to cover my own pain. I was just fired over Zoom during an economic-extinction event. It hurt. I’m scared. I’m worried about my future, my children’s future, Earth’s future. I am allowed to sink into the bathtub of my own feelings.
“I have an idea, but it’s really more of an order,” my partner said. “We’re going on a bike ride.”
“Okay,” I said, grateful.
We put on our masks and rode our bikes out to the end of Red Hook, searching for a place to watch the sunset behind the Statue of Liberty. Each road we turned down led to one toxic-waste dump or another. Finally, one street led to a pier overlooking New York Harbor. Better yet, it had a pie shop. I love pie. So does my partner. While he stood in a socially distant line to buy one, I stared out at Lady Liberty. Thick gray clouds floated above her head, dwarfing her. But for now, she was still standing.
My partner returned with a pie box. But how to keep it steady during the long and bumpy ride home? “Aha!” I said, pulling out one of my extra hand-sewn masks from my bag. If I could get fired over Zoom, surely we could use a homemade face mask as a bungee cord to steady a pie. It was one small victory, on an otherwise painful day. With dark clouds overhead and our jerry-rigged pie secure, we rode back home, hoping it wouldn’t rain.
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