After testing negative for the COVID virus, I went to my Mom’s and moved into a pop-up camper that my brother from Anaheim had set up in her backyard.  Unfortunately, I’d been having panic attacks for about six weeks, ever since being forced to evacuate from Vietnam, and had barely slept the whole time, even though I’d consumed enough alcohol to subdue a legion of angry elephants.  My nerves were shot and my mind was full of fear.

After my Dad passed away in 2015, my Mom has continued living in the beach cottage they bought in Huntington Beach over twenty years ago.  Even with the relatively low property values at the time, it was a miracle that a Lutheran pastor and Special Education teacher managed to buy a place only five blocks from the beach.  These days it would be impossible.  Most of the humble cottages in the area have been replaced by million-dollar mansions.  Only a few of her old neighbors remain. 

My Dad was always interested in shopping for deals, and over the years not less than four used recreational vehicles had sat for various lengths of time in their backyard.  I was the only one who ever occupied them, sometimes staying for months while searching for a job or waiting on travel documents.  My siblings had just coordinated towing off his last gem, a dilapidated Toyota Dolphin that I’d lived in for over a year after his unexpected death, and my Mom had started enjoying the open space and set up some patio furniture.  Suddenly, along came the coronavirus, and just like that, she had another camper on her lot, and her oldest son back on her hands.

Most of the time I was too paranoid to leave the backyard.  I was hiding from the neighbors, worried that they’d consider the fact that I’d recently been in Asia a threat. It was impossible to focus on anything.  I just sat there for endless hours, peeking out the windows of the camper, listening to the crows.  Around dinner time, I’d dash into the house and watch Magnum P.I. with my Mom while poking at a plate of food.  The Hallmark Channel showed four episodes of Magnum in a row.  That became our thing.

As soon as I got to my Mom’s I quit drinking cold turkey, knowing I’d been going at it way too hard.  This resulted in severe withdrawal symptoms.  I’d lie down before it even got dark, and just lay there shaking and fretting.  The first night my skin grew clammy.  The second night my blankets were soaked with cold sweat.  I’ve detoxed myself more than once, and hoped I was close to breaking through.

Late in the afternoon on the third day, I was watching Magnum with my Mom and she started to cough.  She frequently coughs, but on this occasion, it seemed to be more aggressive than usual.  I got so worried that she might have COVID that I couldn’t stay seated, and had to hurry back to the camper to lie down, even though the sun was still high in the sky.  I lay on my back with my eyes wide open, staring out the window.

Eventually, it got dark outside.  There’s an orange tree about fifteen feet from the camper, and as I lay there, I thought I saw the silhouette of some animal, climbing up into the branches.  It took a long time for my eyes to focus, and what I saw was a bobcat, crouching in the shadows.  I’d recently read an article about how the lockdowns had led to an influx of wild animals moving into the cities, so it did make sense.  Still, I wandered, was it really a bobcat?  More likely, it was a racoon.  There were a few of those in the neighborhood.  No.  I could clearly see the feline face and bobbed tail. 

I wanted to take a picture of it, but my phone was sitting a few feet away on the table.  It took me about ten minutes to reach over for it.  Then it took about ten more minutes to inch my way towards the screen door, and another two to lift the phone into position.  The screen was getting in the way of the shot, so I counted to three, threw the door open, and leapt out, firing away. 

When I got up to the tree, I saw the truth.  The bobcat was just a cluster of leaves being stirred by the breeze.

Just then, I heard my Mom coughing so hard I got scared, and ran in the house to check on her.  When I barged into her room she sat up, startled.  No, she told me, when she finally understood why I was standing there.  She wasn’t sick.  Didn’t I know she always had a dry cough?  I did know, but everything was different now with the virus.  I just wanted to be sure.

Then I asked about the neighbors.   Wouldn’t they be upset if they knew I was squatting in the backyard?   They’d probably think I’d brought back a case of the Chinese flu and was going to infect them all.  She didn’t understand my question.  What was I talking about?  The neighbors all knew I was back.  They were glad I was safe and had done the right thing by quarantining myself and testing negative for COVID.

When I heard that I was relieved, for the first time in a long time.  I went back to the camper, but instead of lying down, got out my laptop and started writing a story about my adventures since I’d left Vietnam.  I wrote from midnight until daybreak, and just as the birds were beginning to sing, posted my story on facebook, and made a pot of coffee.  Things were going to get better now.  I could sense that I was over the hump. 

A few hours later I lay down, and was about to fall sleep.  Just then the phone rang and it was my sister.  As we were talking, it sounded like I was speaking underwater.  My voice was being drowned out by a loud outboard motor.  Only later did I find out why this was happening.  I was in the middle of having a seizure.

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