I received your mom’s email while sitting in rush hour traffic today. She wrote that you have COVID. She also told me that you’re terrified of this illness even though the doctor says you’re going to be perfectly okay.
Still, I was determined to do something about your situation, so I called my physician friend for some medical advice.
“He has COVID?” said my friend.
“Yes. What should he do?”
“Hmmmm. Has this child been to a doctor?”
“Yes, the doctor did tests and told his mom he would be fine. He barely even has symptoms.”
“Hmmm, is she monitoring him?”
“Look, if the physician says he’s okay, then your friend really needs to relax because managing anxiety is one of the big problems we’re seeing in COVID patients.”
So I said to my friend, “Don’t tell me to relax, you luxury-sedan driving punk!”
My friend went on to explain that many COVID patients are experiencing crippling fear about their illness because of things they’ve heard in the news. And here’s the thing, Peyton. In some cases this fear is doing far more harm than the actual sickness. I’m not saying this is what’s happening to you, but according to your mom and your family physician, you need a happy distraction right now.
“Make him smile, get his mind on something else,” said my doctor friend, empathetically, as he tossed his golf clubs into his Lexus.
Well, I’m always one to heed medical advice, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to tell you the story about the only time in my life when I won something. Maybe it will make you feel better, Peyton.
I promise, I’ll try not to make this a long story, and if you believe that, then I also have a suspension bridge in New York I’d like to sell you.
It all began one day at the grocery store when I was a kid. My mother was checking out, and I was playing my favorite sport: jumping on the weight sensitive automatic-door mat to make the doors open… Then close… Then open… Then close… Then open…
Until eventually a lady at the service counter threatened to hang me upside down by my underpants from the 10-items-or-less sign if I didn’t quit.
That’s when I saw it. That’s when my life changed forevermore. It was a poster plastered to the wall above customer service that read: “COLORING CONTEST!”
Time slowed down. I could hear a cinematic film score somewhere in the distance, and I got excited because coloring was my thing. I was the Jackson Pollack of the second grade. I approached the counter and asked about the contest details.
The lady stabbed out her cigarette and said anyone could enter. She showed me the sign-up form, then said the winner would even be on TV.
You must understand, Peyton, TV is probably not a big deal in today’s kid world, but when I was a kid back in the early 1700s, we had no internet, no text messages, and many of us were forced to take accordion lessons at gunpoint. Television was all anyone cared about, and it came in the form of local channels which aired shows like “Wheel of Fortune,” reruns of “I Love Lucy,” and “The Flip Wilson Show.”
“The winner will be on TV?” I asked the lady.
“Yep, the six o’clock news.”
No way! The local news! The news came on right before “Gunsmoke,” my father watched that show! So I applied my John Hancock to the contest form and the die was cast.
This was your straightforward coloring contest. Basically, all you did was color the line drawing provided, which any yahoo could’ve done blindfolded. What I truly needed was to catch the judges’ attention, I needed something that would make me stand out.
And so it was, Peyton, in a moment that can only be called heaven inspired, instead of using crayons I used Elmer’s glue and roughly 213 pounds of silver glitter to decorate my paper. My masterstroke took two days to complete, and it was blinding.
When I finished my uncle remarked that my artwork looked like a very flat disco ball.
The next day I submitted my picture to the supermarket, whereupon the lady behind the desk looked up from her magazine, stopped chewing her gum, and said, “Hey, you can’t use glitter, kid.”
“Rules, that’s why, this is a coloring contest.”
“The judges will love it,” insisted my mother, who already had flecks of glitter on every square inch of her personal body including her teeth and was using her “don’t screw with this psychotic mom” voice.
Then came the waiting period.
It was misery. I waited for what felt like ten fortnights for the results. But my big moment finally came one fateful December day when my mother got a phone call. She stood in the hallway with a 90-foot cord stretching across the entire house, and shouted, “We won! We did it!”
Well, you’re never really prepared for televised stardom, Peyton. Nobody is. It just sort of happens. One day you’re testing the limits of supermarket automatic doors, the next thing you know you’re writing inspirational Bible verses in the wet cement outside the Chinese Theater for a crowd of photojournalists.
Later that afternoon I found myself standing before studio TV cameras, holding my glittery picture while a newsperson with 40 pounds of funeral-home-style makeup on their face announced, “Let’s meet Sean Dietrich, winner of the Sav-A-Bunch Supermarket Christmas coloring contest…”
Oh, it was the greatest day of my life, Peyton. And do you know what? That happy day will pale in comparison to the moment when your mother tells me that you are out of bed and back to normal. Because I sure do love you, friend. Get well soon.