This Is the Underwear I Will Live In Until My Body Stops Hurting

July 10, 2022.

Life comes at you fast. One minute your partner is taking a nap at 11 am “just because” and the next you come back from a quick midday dog walk to find her standing in the living room holding a positive Covid rapid test.

We quickly cordoned off our downtown Toronto apartment, which is a loft above a Portuguese butcher shop that always smells faintly of various meats in a variety of states of being cooked. We have a bedroom, kind of, but it only has a sliding barn door and the wall connecting it to the rest of the apartment doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling. When you think of the perfect location to isolate from Covid — “open-air” is not high on the list of priorities. But here we are.

July 11, 2022

I made a little nest on the couch in the living room. I told myself it’s like camp, if camp was when you were 40 and your fiancé was sick and had to wear a mask if she left the bedroom to come and refill her sodastream bottles. I would make coffee and tea and leave it on a bench just outside the door to the bedroom and then text her when I was a safe distance away to tell her it was there. She would walk out into the hallway and wave at me on the couch and I would wave back. Just like camp.

I’ve started watching Ms. Marvel on Disney+, which is really charming and fun and it kind of makes me emotional but maybe that’s just because I’m also sleeping on the couch while my fiancé is in the bedroom dealing with a disease that we have worked very hard to avoid for years now — and I can’t do anything to help her.

July 12, 2022

My throat hurts, but I don’t have Covid. Not yet anyway. The little rapid test keeps showing negative and I feel a little like I’m being gaslit by Big Rapid Test. My fiancé and I talk over FaceTime from the same house, if we talk too loud you can hear the echo coming from the other side of the wall that doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling. She tells me she found a show on HGTV that she’s waiting to watch with me. It’s a lesbian home repair show or something. Lesbian home repair is my new favourite genre of anything.

I’ve been staying up late playing Halo on Xbox and eating Drumstick ice cream cones. I’m having flashbacks to being 21 and living in a punk house with my close friend from high school and a guy that graduated the year before we did, who needed roommates for the house he sold drugs out of. Now when I fall asleep it’s not because I drank malt liquor and smoked weed until my body went into stasis, but just because I’m 40 and sober and two drumsticks is too many for the middle of the night.

July 13, 2022

Despite our best efforts — an air purifier, fans and a window open — I test positive for Covid. I get my test results in the morning as I’m pouring coffee for the both of us. Fittingly, mine into a mug that just says the word fuck on it. I move back into the bedroom with my partner and our pets and the prospect of the lesbian home repair show.

I put on what will become my new Covid uniform; a pair of high-waisted black bike shorts that I bought online on sale many years ago from KOTN and a sports bra — also from KOTN — that I bought when I needed something comfortable to wear after getting breast augmentation last November. They are both the softest and most comfortable clothes I own that are able to weather the internal storm waging within my body that runs the gamut from sweating to oops, all freezing in an instant.

July 14, 2022

We have watched all of the lesbian home repair show. It’s called Trading Up with Mandy Rennehan and it’s about a Halifax lesbian, daughter of a lobster fisherman, who rose up through the trades and became a wealthy and successful woman. She’s training three apprentices in all things trades, one of whom is a young trans non-binary person, and is trying to support them into becoming part of what she imagines as the new vision of tradesworkers in Canada. Rennehan is kind and thoughtful, encouraging and stern and careful, with the three of them and it makes us both cry multiple times. I think of my own father, who taught me trades way back when I was a teenager, and how he showed me ways to find myself the same way.
Haligonian lesbian home repair show is my new favourite genre of anything.

My brain is starting to work less good than it used to. I have forgotten how to pronounce the word neurological, which feels a bit like the killer covering it’s own tracks in a bad British murder mystery. Can’t blame what you can’t name.

July 15, 2022

I don’t leave bed that much, other than to walk the dog in the morning. There’s no one on the streets then so it’s safe to assume we won’t get anyone sick, but I mask up anyway and keep a watchful eye out for the occasional keener who is also up at five a.m for some ungodly reason. Maybe they also worked construction for 20 years and it’s in their blood, same as mine. Bowie, our dog, doesn’t know anything’s wrong. It must be so nice to not have to know things are bad.

I can’t drink coffee, the taste doesn’t mix well with the taste in my throat that I cannot place. My fiancé’s mom sent us a care package that has this tea that’s ginger and lemon and all the things that soothe us when we’re sick. So I’ve been making tea instead, with a spoonful of honey. It’s the only thing that helps my throat that has been thoroughly ravaged by coughing nonstop.

Ricola cherry honey throat lozenges are saving my life right now. My brain is so fogged up that I can’t type as well as I used to, I don’t remember where letters are on the keyboards I have been using since they taught us about home row in typing class in 1994.

July 16, 2022

I have a non stop headache, a dull roar in my head that pulses and wanes and grows over time. Everyone tells you “drink lots of liquids” which is great advice you don’t need to hear every five minutes. I drink lots of liquids. I pee a lot too, like my body is intent on proving that it can still function like it used to.

I don’t know if I moisturized today. I haven’t been doing a skin care routine. The point feels moot. When you’re sweating a lot, it feels like nature’s skincare. Don’t I look so wonderfully pale yet dewey? Like a grassy field after a morning rain, washed out by the sun.

I have yet to wear anything but the bike shorts and a sports bra. I think about when I had H1N1, many many years ago. And how I was still living as a man then and how uncomfortable it was to be that sick and then have to contend with a body I hate. I don’t know, Covid is a weird way to come to a “being trans is the best” point but being able to be sick and wear bike shorts and a sports bra and have to put my hair up in a messy bun for days on end because it’s gross and sweaty is somehow very affirming.

Jul 17, 2022

Sundays are shot days. Noon is when I inject estrogen into the muscles of my body to be slowly absorbed over the week. No one tells you how hard that will be when you’re sweaty and have a headache and your body feels like a truck ran over another, smaller truck. Just a lil guy. I have my little ritual of laying out my needles and estrogen vial and I put on a Julien Baker song to calm my nerves and my hands as I prepare to do something I literally do every week. But now I don’t trust myself, I don’t trust my foggy brain and my sweaty hands and the fact I don’t know how to say neurological without really thinking about it.

I just stand there with the needle on the outside of my skin for what feels like hours. Julien Baker sings “you say that it’s embarrassing, sorry that you had to see me like that” through the honestly pretty good speakers on my iPhone and I feel very seen in this moment. The needle goes in, does its thing and comes out like it always does.

I do a covid test and the positive line shows up just as readily as the negative one does. But I’m feeling a bit better, my cough is less intense, my headache is more dull. I can type a little better — still not as good as I used to — but I feel a corner has turned. Tomorrow, the line will be more faint. The day after, maybe it will be gone.

I’m still wearing black bike shorts and a sports bra, my hair is up in a messy bun waiting to be washed. When I’m feeling better, I will spend the minutes upon hours that it takes to run through every Olaplex product on my shelf. I will put on different shorts, a clean bra. I will feel like myself again, it will be made all the sweeter when I can take the time to do all these little things for myself and feel refreshed afterwards, and not like my ribs will buckle under the weight of endless coughing.

Until then, it’s a lot of bed and Disney+ and Ricola lozenges. It’s tea and comfortable clothes and not caring if I put moisturizer on my face that day.


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Niko Stratis

Niko Stratis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in outlets like SPIN, Bitch, Xtra, Catapult and more. Her work primarily focuses on culture, the 1990s, queer/trans topics and as often as possible where all those ideas intersect. 

She wrote that piece about Jackass that you liked and also the Gin Blossoms one. 

She is also the creator and host of V/A Club, a podcast about movie soundtracks.

Niko lives in downtown Toronto with her fiancé and their dog and 2 cats. She is a cancer.

Niko has written 15 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. I do not have covid but today I was feeling sorry for myself for other reasons, and really didn’t want to get out of bed, and realised that I was getting confort for being able to sleep shirtless, post top surgery. I was feeling negative for lots of reasons but the fact that my brain funk clothes affirm my gender feelings now is a real positive for the day.

  2. Ugh. I’m sorry you’ve caught it even after trying so hard to not get it. I’m fearing the same especially since my mum had surgery. Boosters tomorrow for both of us. A friend’s 20yo kid got it and had to be hospitalized for a really high fever that couldn’t be controlled for a while. Here’s to turning that corner and getting on the upswing.

  3. This is so relatable, best wishes for a speedy recovery! I got sick a couple months ago, after 2 years of avoiding it. I also thought a lot about twelve years earlier, when I got what my Italian host parents called “La Swina” (AKA H1N1). Both times, I didn’t leave my dorm/apartment for at least five days, and was pretty miserable. But this time around, I was able to take care of myself a lot better than when I was 20 and sick while away from home for the first time.
    In other words, yaaay for growing up and understanding oneself better, boooo for COVID and its ilk, and thank youuu for this piece!

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