The Chicken Pox Hat
New Year’s Eve. In my cubical at work, I noticed on my wrist a weird-looking sore filled with a clearish liquid. I'd never seen anything like it. Huh, I thought. Did a bug bite me?
I felt a little feverish, but I didn’t connect it to the strange sore on my wrist. And I really didn’t want to think I was sick. It was New Year’s Eve! My boyfriend and I and a group of friends had tickets to a party at a hotel, the kind where everybody dressed in their fanciest clothes and danced the new year in. I’d seen so many movies with those kinds of parties, including When Harry Met Sally, but I’d never been to one. I’d always wanted to go. That year, I’d talked my friends into it and purchased the (at age 24 or 25, for me) expensive tickets. It was finally happening.
Like most people in the office, I cut out early that day. When I got home, I took my temperature. It was over 100 and climbing. I had to admit it: I was sick. But I wanted to go so badly, had been looking forward to the party for so long.
I decided I would attend anyway. I wore my favorite black dress (the same one I wore as Madame X) with a silver belt and a new hat: black with silver-patterned lace. I was running a pretty high fever, but I didn’t have other symptoms. I’d already forgotten about the weird sore on my wrist. So, I went to the party. Though it wasn’t as wonderful as a movie party, it was still fun. As CDs had recently ousted vinyl as the music format of choice, the decorators had hung records from the ceiling as decorations. (I remember one called “Rubber Glove Seduction”). No live band, but a D.J. played good music. I loved to dance so much, I almost forgot my fever.
The lighting conditions were terrible for photos, but here I am, running a fever of 101 or so, showered with confetti. Living my dream.
The next morning, New Year’s Day. I woke up still feverish, with many more spots. That’s when it finally occurred to me that I might have the chicken pox. According to my mom, I’d never had it, though sometimes she said I might have had a light case when I was a baby. I didn’t put much stock in that “light case” business, and had always avoided situations where I might be exposed. I don’t know how I got it. In those days, there was no vaccine.
Since it was New Year’s Day, I didn’t go to the doctor and get diagnosed until the next day. The doctor's office had me come and go by a side entrance, avoiding the lobby. My doctor prescribed bed rest, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths. Then she said that I needed to quarantine myself for two weeks and tell everyone I’d been in contact with what I had.
I called my friends, all of whom had had chicken pox as children. I dialed in to a meeting and told my team at the office. Though one guy said he hadn’t had it, he fortunately didn’t come down with it. But there was nothing I could do about all the strangers at that party I'd exposed.
I really wish I had gotten to this hat before the coronavirus hit. As I wrote this, I wondered if I should put a trigger warning before it. Because I behaved so stupidly and selfishly, I exposed many people to a very unpleasant disease. I was ashamed of myself. This hat took on bad associations, not of the chicken pox itself so much as of the aftermath, of having to confess to so many people that I had exposed them, and of feeling guilty about all the strangers. I don’t think I ever wore this hat again till now.
So maybe it’s appropriate that I wore this hat during a shelter at home pandemic, quarantined again.
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Ann Hillesland writes fiction and nonfiction and collects hats. In this blog she vows to wear (not just model, but wear out of the house) every one of her hats, blogging about their histories and their meanings for her.