This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Being young was hard enough. We had student loans, crushingly high rent, and the near-impossible task of finding a job without at least five years of relevant experience. Then 2020 came around and gave us an entirely new problem to deal with: the everyday fear of killing your own family with COVID-19.
Nobody wants to be responsible for putting their parents in hospital, so I avoided going home to visit my folks as much as possible this year. But two months ago, after staying with them for a few days, I was promptly forced into a three week-long quarantine. Ironically, my mum had contracted the virus through her job in healthcare, and infected the rest of us. Thankfully, none of us got super sick.
But not everybody is that lucky. For the past year, people have unknowingly passed the virus on to lovers, family and friends, sometimes with dire consequences. I spoke to three people about what it’s like to infect someone you know and how it has affected their lives.
We were out of town for the weekend and my friend suddenly got a stuffy nose. She’s a bit of a hypochondriac, and from that moment on she didn’t want to be near me unless she was wearing a mask. I remember thinking it was an exaggerated response. Looking back, her instinct proved right. We got tested and were both positive.
I immediately assumed my boyfriend was positive, but I was less sure about my dad and step-mum. I saw my dad the day before I started to have symptoms, because he was about to go into bypass surgery. It’s an intense procedure and he really wanted to see me beforehand. Just as he was coming out of surgery, I got my test results. My step-mum immediately informed the hospital and he was put into isolation and tested right away. That’s when I really freaked out. My dad is 60-years-old, overweight and was recovering from surgery. I truly thought I had killed him. Somehow, he tested negative, but my step-mum fell ill the next weekend, and spent two months in hospital.
My dad and step-mum haven’t spoken to me properly since. They were really mad. They felt I’d been reckless, but all I’d done was play card games in a cottage in the country. It’s tough when people think you’ve deliberately put yourself, and others, in danger. The media doesn’t help. They make it sound like you can only get infected when you break the rules, but that’s not how it works. My dad and I have managed to talk it out, but we’re not spending the holidays together this year.
For months, I followed all the rules without fail. But when summer came, some restrictions were lifted and I felt like partying. Me and a few friends went to an illegal party on a boat. A few days later, one of them called me and said he had a sore throat; he was going to get tested. Aside from my hangover, I didn’t feel any different.
A few days after the party, my muscles started to ache. I thought my renewed commitment to working out was to blame. As the weekend got closer, I started to feel worse, but I was off work and drinking every day, so I blamed my hangovers. Looking back on it now, the symptoms were clearly there, but I thought I was talking myself into being sick. When more friends developed symptoms, I got tested.
I told my boyfriend, who was at work in a restaurant at the time. They sent him home right away and he got tested the next day. When I couldn’t taste my soup that night, I knew for sure I was infected. We both ended up testing positive. He was really understanding but I felt absolutely awful. The restaurant where he worked had to close for two weeks, and the pandemic was already hitting them so hard. Then my dad ended up in the hospital – for reasons unrelated to COVID-19 – but my isolation meant I couldn’t be there for him.
I really felt the consequences of my actions. Going to that party was a bad decision, but I never imagined it would get so out of hand. A month later, they were throwing the same party again and a friend asked me: “Are you coming this time?” Ah, no.
My girlfriend sampled a new perfume while she was out shopping with her mum, and realised she couldn’t smell anything. At first, she thought she was imagining things, but when I came down with a sore throat and a fever a few days later, we knew what was going on.
A few days after I got sick, I found out that one of my co-workers also had symptoms. I was the first person in my office with it, so he must have contracted it from me. Then his wife and three-year-old daughter also got infected. It was spiralling, and I was mentally prepared myself for it to reach his parents – his daughter’s grandparents – but it didn’t spread any further. His family are doing fine now.
My boss doesn’t want me to go back to work yet, because I’m still coughing a lot. Safety is of course the most important thing, but it’s a bummer. Last week, I celebrated my birthday with my girlfriend and nobody else. We put up some streamers, but skipped the cake and sushi. I can’t taste them anyway.
*Names have been changed.