Intimacy is the Leading Cause of Death

Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for...

Yesterday a pigeon shat on me. I hope its whole pigeon family dies—but not of H7N9, because then I’d die, too. While the World Health Organization claims the latest bird flu is under control, a new coronavirus has infected 43 and killed 21, and a mysterious illness recently infected seven in Alabama, causing two deaths (though the whole thing may just be a coincidence). Should you be concerned? Probably not just yet. But I am. I get concerned if a guy coughs at the back of the streetcar. Before I started typing this sentence, I sanitized my hands.

What I’m saying is that I’m prepared. I’ve been prepared for a global pandemic since I learned what a global pandemic was, because in my mind, the global pandemic starts every time I get my drinking glass mixed up with someone else’s at a party. And while saying as much basically guarantees that I’ll be the first to go when the pandemic happens, and even though no amount of preparation can save you from the krakenlike tentacles of apocalypse--you should still heed a hypochondriac’s tips for staying alive during global death flu.

The pandemic could come at any time, from any place. It will not stuff magenta flyers through your mail slot beforehand, like the loud, cumbersome film crew outside my apartment building did; even with proper notice, the pandemic would still make it difficult for you to do your laundry and write your column. Therefore, suspect every twitch and cough from everyone you encounter. One day a baby sneezes at you from over its mother’s shoulder; the next, you’re lying on a human pile in the gutter, clawing at your purpling neck for sweet breath.

One reason I love working from home is not having to ride a germ hurricane to work every morning, nor dodge the coughs of co-workers all day like Mario sidestepping falling boulders. If you’re not so fortunate, I recommend shallow breathing and sweaters with collars roomy enough to accommodate your face and nose, as well as infection charts to trace the movements of sick colleagues. If a viral wave is heading your way, either take a preemptive sick day or just bite the bullet and don surgical mask. Fuck it. This is your life.

In the privacy of your home, even the most disgusting substances are relatively benign. The slime at the bottom of a neglected crisper is less pathogenic than the sparkling keys of an ATM. Clean your crisper, but more importantly, assume that every public surface is slathered in death. Buy Purell in bulk and make note of which fingers of which hand touched which thingy. Don’t be afraid to sanitize your face, should you need to: if you fall down on the sidewalk, and your cheek makes contact with the dirty ground, you will be haunted by ghost loogies.

Intimacy runs the gamut from sharing cigarettes to unprotected sex in a thornbush. Without intimacy, we’re all in dire straits; unfortunately, intimacy is a leading cause of death. Before you get intimate, consider the consequences. Sharing joints and beverages may solidify peer bonds, but if one peer comes down with a death flu the next day, nobody’s gonna be feeling too friendly. (If you decide not to share, do what I do and enact an across-the-board no sharing policy, so that everyone knows it’s nothing personal.) Sex is riskier, but if we’re all going to die, we might as well go out balling.

Since love offers no immunity from your dying partner/best friend/mother, pandemics force a choice between barest survival and some abstract notion of the human soul. One’s imperative, the other’s a gamble. Of course, if we don’t stick together, what’s the point? In the event of a pandemic, I hope not to let my character die before I do. But I might die early.

Minutiae runs every Thursday.

Find Hazlitt on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for the Globe and Mail. Her writing has appeared in The Cut, The Believer, The New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine.