a view of lake michigan from the shore at berger park in the edgewater neighborhood in chicago taken at night
Lake Michigan at night as seen from Berger Park Credit: Philip Montoro

I finally got COVID-19 in December, first testing positive on the 16th. For Christmas my family was gathering at my parents’ home in Texas—my brother, his wife, and my precociously deranged seven-year-old niece were traveling from New York. I had one chance all year to see everybody together, and suddenly it looked like I’d miss it.

I would eventually test positive for 17 days, forcing me to cancel even a last-ditch shortened trip. I’d spend Christmas and New Year’s in isolation. When a brutal cold snap arrived on the 22nd, none of that had happened yet, but I was already in despair. Catastrophizing comes easily to me during the Official Merriest Time of the Year.

In the predawn hours of the 23rd, the temperature bottomed out at ten below, with a wind chill of minus 40. I couldn’t sleep, and I developed a perverse desire to subject myself to the worst of a Chicago winter. As I walked to the lakefront in the dark, the sliver of exposed skin around my eyes burned and went numb. Soon it began to feel stiff, resisting the motion of the muscles in my face. I turned east, looking out over the water, and waited for the black to turn blue.

The wind at my back had traveled 1,400 miles from the polar vortex. The point on the planet’s surface where I stood turned at 800 miles per hour toward the sun, 499 light-seconds away and itself moving at half a million miles per hour relative to the supermassive black hole at the galactic center.

The cloud cover lightened to indigo. My body wanted to survive. Friends had brought me food. I would keep on living.

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Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.