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Backstory: Best Example of Art Imitating Life

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Dan Bolles - DAN BOLLES ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Dan Bolles ©️ Seven Days
  • Dan Bolles

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2020.


I needed a thermometer. I was feeling kinda flush — or I thought I was ... maybe. And was that a tickle in my throat? Hoo boy, I thought, paranoia creeping in as I turned over bathroom cabinets like a keyed-up FBI agent with a search warrant, maybe I really do have the COVID. Then: Where the hell is that goddamn thermometer?!

And that's how I ended up gazing out upon the serene, wooded majesty of Tucker Pond from the kitchen window of my grandfather's camp in Salisbury, N.H., checking my temperature with a large and very old meat thermometer under my tongue.

I was normal — or just shy of rare.

In early October I had gone to camp to pull the dock out of the water for the season. It's a two-person job, so I invited a good friend who lives in Massachusetts with his wife and their son and daughter to come up and help. Before we met for the weekend, we discussed any potential coronavirus risks we might pose to each other. We'd both been leading fairly cloistered lives of late and were satisfied that the danger was reasonably low. So we went ahead with the plan.

We removed the dock with minimal fuss and no injuries. We grilled steaks and swapped old stories and older songs around the firepit. It was a great weekend. I left feeling refreshed, almost normal. It didn't last long.

As I cruised home on Interstate 89 that Sunday afternoon, my friend called. He'd just learned that on Friday, before he had come to New Hampshire, his youngest had been exposed to a child in his daycare who had since tested positive for the virus. Stunned, the events of the previous days tumbled into place in my mind like at the end of The Usual Suspects. In a flash, the reality of how easily and indiscriminately the virus could travel hit home: from a stranger's young child in another state to my friend's adorable son, to my friend, to me, to...

Oh, my God, I thought. How could I have been so stupid and careless?

Due to certain health conditions, my girlfriend is more vulnerable to the virus than most. We'd been hypercautious for much of the pandemic. But like many folks, we got lax as the months wore on. Complicating the immediate picture, she was due to have major surgery later that week. There was no way I could go home.

I called my girlfriend to tell her the news and ask her to pack me a bag with clothes and food and leave it by the door. I told her I'd grab the provisions and then return to camp to isolate for as long as necessary.

On my two-hour drive back to New Hampshire, the magnitude of what was happening set in. I might have COVID-19. My girlfriend would have surgery, and I couldn't be there for her. What was more, at the end of that week we were scheduled to buy our first house. The closing was going to be done remotely, but there was still a lot to do before then.

And there was the small matter of how I could still work, very remotely, from Tucker Pond.

Typically, one of the best things about camp is its isolation. There is no internet, and cell service is spotty at best. We have a landline for emergencies but no long-distance service. I chuckled as I realized what was on my work slate for the week: coordinating a cover package about stress in the pandemic. Wherever would I find the inspiration? I mused.

Inspiration wouldn't be a problem. Staying connected, however, would.

For the next week, I drove 15 minutes into nearby Warner a couple of times a day and parked/loitered at a Dunkin' by the interstate to pilfer Wi-Fi from my car. I answered emails, made phone calls and reported my pieces of the cover package. I tried to respond to the flood of text messages from friends and family that came in while I was out of service. I got updates from my friend in Massachusetts as his family members awaited results of their tests. These were mostly encouraging, except for the morning his daughter woke up with a fever.

One day, I did the final walk-through of the new house via FaceTime with our real estate agent. My girlfriend was online, too, talking from her hospital bed. The next day, we got an anticlimactic email from our bank that basically read: "Congrats. You own a house now."

Another day, I had my first full session with my new therapist on Zoom. We had a lot to talk about.

At camp, I wrote and edited what I could and otherwise found ways to pass the time and stay sane alone in the woods. I kayaked on the pond, hiked in the woods with my dog and noted the daily changing leaves. I watched movies from our super random assortment of old DVDs. I listened on the radio as Kamala Harris eviscerated Vice President Mike Pence in a debate. I waited for the landline to ring, hoping every time it would be my girlfriend as she recovered, or my friend with good news.

Most of all, I tried not to think about the virus. But whenever I felt warm or a chill or tired or ... anything, really, I wondered: Do I have it? It was, in a word, stressful.

In the end, the cover package on that subject turned out well. My girlfriend recovered, and we love our new house. Most importantly, everyone involved tested negative for the virus, including, we later learned, patient zero in Massachusetts. The kid's results had apparently been mixed up with someone else's.

But when we open camp next year, I'm gonna bring a thermometer.