Summer of Rage
An unexplained 102.1 fever, diagnosed as a possible psychosomatic response to current events.
Like many women on Friday, I cried when I heard the Supreme Court had overturned Roe. Not that it was surprising news—all of us paying attention knew this was coming—but it still felt shocking. A full force body blow. I had no words left to speak in defense of Roe, because what was there to say that hadn’t already been said, by me (see below in The Atlantic, from 2018, still holds) or by anyone?
My friend Rebecca Traister did write a wonderful story about having hope, but Friday morning, I had none.
What I did have was a plan to meet a good friend at Sloan Kettering for her pre-lumpectomy exam, so I left my home in tears and did that. Her husband was supposed to have been her plus one, but he came down with Covid, because our country is still shitty at testing for and controlling Covid, and we have dropped mask and vaccine mandates, so nearly everyone I know has Covid right now or is getting over it. In any case, I was happy to have the distraction of being an extra set of eyes and ears during a stressful moment for an old friend. I’d been through the exact same pre-op meeting nine years earlier, but I did it alone, having just left a marriage, without a friend to hold my hand or even health insurance. I regret the doing-it-alone part. One of the most important lessons of this past decade for me has been learning how and when to ask for help. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting better at it.
This is the part where I ask you to support this publication if you enjoy the fruits of my labor. Today’s missive is free, but I consider this my job now, and I would like to keep doing it. Particularly as the voices of women my age are being increasingly shut out of public discourse. Single/solo mothers? If you can’t afford the $5 a month or $50 a year, email me at email@example.com, and I will comp you, no questions asked.
I also regret the having no health insurance part, but that’s not my fault. Again, it’s our immobilized government’s, run by people who’ve never met a filibuster they didn’t love and are themselves provided with excellent access to inexpensive government health insurance, so they have no idea what it’s like to be a recently separated mother with no support, a diagnosis of DCIS, and no health insurance. And yet they want to force women to have unwanted babies in our country under such patently absurd circumstances, never mind that we offer no paid leave, no affordable childcare, and we just struck down a law that would protect a new mother’s right to pump milk at work during a national formula crisis. (I’m looking forward to reading New York Times reporter Jessica Grose’s upcoming book, Screaming on the Inside, about all the ways in which our country fails its mothers. Something I’ve been screaming on the outside for two decades. Not that anyone’s been listening.)
Anyway, sitting there with my friend in the cancer hospital, being reminded of my own time there nine years prior, I got angry all over again thinking about how we still don’t have universal healthcare and how this, too, affects women more than men, Black women worst of all, and how it kills mothers in the U.S. at rates that far outpace other developed countries. I mean just look at these damning charts from the CDC.
Later, as I was driving back to Brooklyn—I either drive a car or ride my bike these days because I was already afraid of getting shot on the subway before SCOTUS overturned a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home—I suddenly started feeling feverish. Sweating. Nauseated. Like I needed to pull over and throw up, but I was on the FDR Drive, and this was impossible.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to my son, when I collapsed in a feverish puddle back at home. “You’ll have to go without me.” I’d told him I’d join him at the Friday night march in Manhattan, to protest the SCOTUS ruling. We’ve been doing a lot of marching lately, what with 19 children and 2 teachers killed in Uvalde, among dozens of other murders before and since, as an increasingly delegitimized SCOTUS simultaneously loosens restrictions on guns while tightening them on uteri.
I took my temperature. It was 100.3. In an hour, it would rise to 102.1. Covid, no doubt, I figured. Shit. Not again. I took a rapid Covid test, one of the ones I had to pay for myself at $32 a pop, because our government, unlike so many others, does not provide enough of them to us at home for proper testing. Another thing to get angry about.
It came out negative. Huh.
Then, like a character in a 19th century novel, feverish and unable to remain vertical, I took to my bed at 5 pm. (I’m not the only one. Half of my middle-aged female friends, having lost all hope, did the same.) I sweated through the entire night, either shivering or burning up. When I awoke the next morning, my fever was down to 99.9. A friend was still convinced I had Covid, despite my negative rapid test, so I decided to venture out in a mask in search of a PCR from a Covid testing van.
The closest vans that were open at 10 am, according to Google maps, were parked just over a mile away. I walked to them on wobbly legs under an unusually warm sun for June—thanks, climate change, glad we’re on top of that problem, too—and found two vans, neither of which were operating at 10:45 am on a Saturday morning, even though one of them clearly stated it was open 24/7 on the side of the van.
How how how is it, I wondered, that 2+ years into this pandemic, we still don’t have a reliable means of testing? I’d been to Italy for work and France for vacation over the past year, and when I needed a test in either country, the Covid testing tents were bountiful and open at most hours. I finally hoofed it on over to the nearest urgent care—something I was trying to avoid by using the outdoor vans, not wanting to infect anyone inside a waiting room or to pay a copay—where I finally got my PCR test, two hours after leaving home. Once again, it was negative. As was the test for flu. And now my fever had finally broken and was back to normal.
“So what was it?” I said to the urgent care doctor. “Could it have been…my fury over this latest SCOTUS ruling? Like I was burning up with rage?” I was totally joking.
He was not. “Yes,” he said, matter-of-factly. “It really could have been that, given that you’re negative for both Covid and the flu. Psychogenic fever is an actual phenomenon.” I looked it up. Oh my god, he was right. Then he added, “Imagine how we feel, as doctors. We can now get jailed for saving a mother’s life.” He looked so sad, defeated, and angry, I wanted to hug him.
As I walked home, pondering this idea of an actual fever in a human body triggered by rage, I combed through all the other infuriating events of the past month that could have contributed to my elevated temperature:
My flight to Detroit last week to deliver a lecture the next morning at the Alma College MFA program, delayed by eleven hours on the same day Laguardia canceled a third of its flights because who knows? No one told us. Though I suspect it was all the pilots getting infected now that airlines dropped mask mandates.
The January 6th hearings, which are both fascinating and enraging, as we learn of the full extent of Trump’s crimes and those of his aiders and abettors. I watched several hours while stuck in LaGuardia airport with an octogenarian, church-going, Black grandmother sitting next to me, who couldn’t figure out how to get it on her phone and asked for my help. She was also trying to get to Detroit, for her granddaughter’s wedding the next day. “Look at those smug white men,” she said as Jared Kushner came on screen, followed by Giuliani. “Racist, lying, fascist motherfuckers. Sorry, I don’t usually use such language.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, thinking of all the errant fucks that have been flying out of my mouth of late. And of my friends’, as if we’ve all just given up on verbal propriety in a world that’s becoming increasingly inhospitable to our voices. “Curse away.”
The man lying prone in the hallway of the creepy Detroit airport hotel—the Magnuson, don’t stay there!!!—in which I was forced to stay (and pay for) for two hours, between 3 and 5 AM, after missing my last connection to Lansing. His eyes menacingly followed me down the hallway to my room, two doors down from where he was passed out. “He’s harmless,” said the hotel clerk, when I mentioned the man’s existence to him. “Just high on fentanyl.”
“I’m a woman,” I had to remind the clerk. “To us, no man—particularly one who is passed out on the floor outside our hotel room and high on fentanyl—is harmless.”
Representative Mary Miller, who thanked Trump for a “victory for white life.” If ever you doubted that overturning Roe v. Wade was fueled by virulent racism, now you know. She just spoke the quiet part out loud. The Civil War was never over. They just relocated the battlefield to our bodies.
The war in Ukraine—my country of origin, where half of my relatives were forced to flee in the early 1900s because of an antisemitism that is once again raging here on our shores—provoked by a dangerous tyrant admired by and pulling the puppet strings of our former disgraced and twice impeached president.
There are obviously many more of these horrors, and they are all related. We are a country, sliding headfirst into tyranny, that values profits over people, guns over uteri, violence over safety, control over freedom, white over Black, men over women, fantasy over reality, slavery over bodily autonomy…shall I continue? The list is becoming brutal, chilling, and endless.
In 1989, when I covered the end of the Afghan war du jour (with the Soviets back then), I was forced to wear a burka to sneak in over the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan with a group of mujehaddin. I keep a burka hanging on my wall now, draped over a half mannequin, to remind me, my kids, and any visitors of the ultimate end game of patriarchal oppression: total annihilation of female personhood. For awhile, that end game felt distant, like something that could never happen here in the U.S., but it was helpful to be reminded, daily, of what it looks like elsewhere in the world under stricter patriarchal rule.
Now? It feels so close, I can literally feel the fabric falling over our faces.
And yet even in Afghanistan, where men force women to cover their bodies from head to toe, abortion is legal to save the life of a mother. Here, in a growing number of U.S. states, it is not.
So am I burning up with rage? Yes. Yes! I am. Not figuratively. Literally.
Okay, so an update on Monday, June 27: 5 negative rapid tests, 1 negative PCR test, and 4 days after the start of my symptoms. Which means please, everyone, even if you get a negative test several times, keep testing. And swab the back of your throat, not just your nose. That’s what finally registered the second red line today. I still think I was burning up with rage. But now I have Covid on top of it.
I am listening and screaming along with you and everyone else. Thank you for sharing and writing. You know exactly how to articulate what we are all feeling. Also, the Body Keeps the Score (Bessel Von Der Kolk). That crack in my neck? It’s been there since 2016.
What a powerful piece, Deborah!! Sentiments I feel so profoundly as well... My hands turned red and began to burn after that news. Never happened before. Heartbreak. Not allowing myself despair. Yet. And - Afghanistan ... ahead of us on saving a mother's life?! This country, the US now meeting almost all of the int'l criteria of a 3rd world country.... Infant Mortality, Maternal, access to health care, water, even power ... Education...etc. Descending morally and ethically in ways it is hard to have imagined. But now we know... and cannot forget. Thank you for your voice ... and concern.