I was there when they released my grandfather from jail, a place he’d been for forty years, a place where many told me he belonged, and that he should die there for what he’d done. But I never agreed with them. I knew full well what he’d done, and I always wondered, if more had done the same, would the pandemic have ended the same way, or would our world be a different, a better place.
My parents told me of the pandemic, a time we don’t speak of these days. We call it, “That time.” We don’t study it in history. We don’t explain all the mass graveyards. We don’t explain the power of the corporations. We don’t explain anything that happened during that time.
But, my grandfather knew, and he’d told me in his letters. It was why I was there to pick him up the day they let him out. It was why I went against my parents wishes, against the wishes of my church family, against the wishes of my company. My grandfather knew what happened during that time.
As I waited for him to come through the gates, into the free world, my mind read the story once again, of how he was arrested, and how he was charged with murder, along with too many of his peers.
It was the time of COVID-19, in the year 2020 of the calendar. My grandfather was a young man, happily married to my grandmother, with a daughter, who would one day become my mother. Grandfather was a doctor, at the hospital in town.
At first, everything made some sort of sense, he explained. The states had ordered people to stay at home, businesses to shut down, to slow the spread of COVID-19. His words resonated with me, “They waited too long. It was already here.”
New York City, he wrote, is where it caught fire, where it struck down thousands. Seeing the virus strike New York, our state did the sensible thing, and locked down. Grandfather told me of the grocery stores running out of so many things, paper products especially, but also pork, and milk, and yeast, and anything that could be used as a cleaning agent.
He wrote of social distancing, with people having to stand in line to get into stores, and having to stand apart, separated by six feet or more. Of people having to wear face masks, so their breathing didn’t spread the virus as far as it could have.
Then, he spoke of the price everyone paid. The loss of employment. The businesses that failed. That had to fire everyone, and would never be able to reopen. Of people, staying in their homes, until they lost their minds, and their ability to reason.
Until they started gathering in large groups of hundreds, and thousands, and marching through towns, and cities, and demanding they be allowed to return to work, to keep their businesses, and their employees, and to make money so they could keep their homes, their cars, their possessions. The worst of them, Grandfather wrote, were the ones who believed it was a government plot to enslave all of us. To take away our freedoms, and rights. As a doctor, he knew those people had spread the virus like they were pouring syrup on toast.
Turned out my Grandfather was right. Less than a month after the protests had started, the virus went off like a firebomb in one neighborhood after another, all over the country. Tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands got ill, all at the same time. The hospitals couldn’t cope. They rapidly turned into places people went to die.
That’s how my grandfather was arrested, and charged with murder.
One of the leaders of the protests in his city came to the hospital one day. A man, of course, made famous from leading protesters to reopen the town, so everyone could have their freedoms back. A man whose words were well known, and found on a plaque at the police station. “We’re taking back our freedom! This is a war, and in wars, people die! People will die, but that’s the price of war! We’re taking back our freedom!”
That man showed up at the hospital with COVID-19. He wasn’t asymptomatic. He was having trouble breathing, his lips were turning blue, he was not going to make it. My grandfather knew this the instant he saw him. The man was going to die. Grandfather had seen dozens of people die from COVID-19. He knew. He knew what the symptoms were. He knew when it was hopeless.
And that’s how my grandfather got arrested.
The court records tell the story too. So do the video records from the hospital. I have seen them hundreds of times. My parents don’t know I’ve seen them. Those video records have been banned, locked away. But it is the age of information, isn’t it. And if you dig hard enough, in the right places, you find things. Like the video of that man, in the emergency room, screaming about being sick, and demanding to be taken care of.
He screamed, and choked, and coughed, and got in everyone’s way. Until my grandfather intervened, and confronted him.
In that video the man pointed his finger at grandfather, “You! You’re a doctor! I’m sick! Fix me!”
My grandfather’s answer was calm, almost quiet. I can hear his words, “You’re the one who caused all this.” He’d waved his hands around the room. “You’re the one who pushed everyone back to work. Who ignored the truth, in the name of money.”
The man wouldn’t hear it. He screamed at my grandfather, “Fix me! I’m sick! You’re a doctor! It’s your job!”
“My job is to save lives.” Grandfather looked around the emergency room in the video, then looked at that man. “I can save countless lives, if I let you die.”
Grandfather had walked away. The rest of the hospital staff ignored the entire event for hours, until the man collapsed on the floor, gasping for breath. Then, they gathered him up like just another victim of the disease.
And that’s how my Grandfather wound up in jail, convicted of murder. No one speaks of it. No one knows how many people died because of the actions of that one man my grandfather let the virus consume. No one speaks of how the world is a better place because of how many like that man died when the virus burned through their population.
The only thing you can find in the history books these days is that in 2020, and for a couple of years after that, it was a dark time, that changed everything. A dark time when millions died. Other than that, no one mentions what happened. No one speaks of the pandemic that changed everything.
I remembered how my Grandfather was arrested, and jailed, for doing the right thing. For saving countless lives, by letting one person die.
I guess that makes me as guilty of murder as my grandfather, doesn’t it.
Sunday, 26 April 2020