There’s a certain category of news so shocking that you’ll always remember where you were when you heard it. And now for a lot of people, the news that President Trump had tested positive for COVID-19 will be intimately linked to being shaken awake by their romantic partner in the middle of the night.
It certainly will be for me. My girlfriend woke me up around 4 A.M. to deliver the news. I resisted the urge to grab my own phone for maybe 90 seconds before giving myself over to a spiral of doomscrolling, and it got dark, fast. I pondered the similarities to the October Friday almost exactly four years ago when the “Grab Her By The Pussy” tape dropped—the last time I was absolutely sure Trump was finished. I made way too much of erroneous reports that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson—who was laid low with the virus last spring after displaying a Trumpian disdain for it—saw a bump in his approval rating while he was “in hospital.” And I wondered why on earth my girlfriend had woken me up! Any series of events that led to me sitting in a dark room at 5 A.M. convinced Trump was going to eke out another victory seemed suboptimal—maybe she could have waited until morning.
I was not alone there. Novelist Emily Gould had put her two kids to bed and was enjoying some “very deep, relaxing, well-deserved slumber,” when her husband returned from a late night of beer-league hockey. “He was so filled with hockey adrenaline and joy that he just thought that I would be in the same exact mood,” she told me.
She was not. “I was just like, fuck you. Wake me up when he’s dead,” she said. “But of course I couldn’t go back to sleep. I immediately had to look at Twitter, which was the exact wrong thing to do.” Happily, the bad feelings didn’t last: “This morning I was mad at first about being really tired. But then I remembered that Trump has coronavirus. Then I got into a better mood immediately.”
For Rebecca Makkai, also a novelist, it didn’t take nearly that long. “My husband touched my arm very gently. I woke up ticked off, but then he told me the news, and nothing wakes you up like that,” she said. “I’m not gleeful about anyone being sick, but I do think that this is an important moment of karma and things coming full circle and hopefully increased public health awareness.”
Makkai understands her husband’s impulse to wake her up. “There’s something fundamentally satisfying and fulfilling about being able to break news to someone else and then get a reaction. What difference does it make to him if I learn this at 8 A.M.? But you just want the gratification of that reaction. Maybe it justifies your reaction, or it makes it more real. It’s probably some evolutionary thing, like: I see mountain lions coming. I have to tell everyone. ”
Kristen Bartlett, co-head writer at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, was positively exuberant at the prospect of being roused to take in some breaking news. “If I had any kind of life right now that involved my having to leave the apartment in the morning to go see people, I might’ve been a little annoyed,” she said, “because I was then up for a solid three hours watching CNN.”
Another woman, Haley, who asked to only use her first name, was also happy to be roused. “There was this sudden sense of validation: Anyone that has been taking the virus seriously hasn’t been crazy or stupid to do that. Biden’s not dumb for wearing his mask all the time,” she said. And unlike most people I talked to, she was able to drift right back off.
“I went back to sleep so, so peacefully,” she said. “You have no idea.”