Gregg Reep was sitting in his home in Warren. This was Thursday morning. His voice was breaking.
He was talking over the phone about the "torture" of being quarantined 100 miles from his wife while she, 62 and with a pre-existing condition, was on a ventilator in an intensive care unit in Little Rock with the coronavirus.
The doctor had just told him she was stable and maybe getting better. And that was the main thing, the only thing.
But there was the other thing.
Reep says he's not a Facebook user. But he says his son--who runs a local online news site and who also was under quarantine next door--sees Facebook regularly. And it had been ugly.
There was a post alleging that Reep, while knowing he'd been exposed to the virus, had gone into the local Warren coffee shop and refused to leave. There was a post that he'd endangered a local substance-abuse program by hanging out there and that, for good measure, the Democratic Party was cutting off the program's funding.
There was discussion that Democrats are spreading this "Chinese" thing to hurt President Trump, with Reep and his wife presumably the Bradley County operatives.
This might be a good time to tell you that Reep, a former state representative and Warren mayor, has been active in state Democratic Party matters for as many decades as I've been writing about them. Reep is one of those old-style rural moderate Arkansas Democrats.
It also would be a good time to say the Democratic Party has nothing to do with funding the substance abuse program.
It also would be a good time to say that Reep assures that he had not ventured into that coffee shop since returning a week ago Thursday from a trip with his wife, son and daughter-in-law to London, Paris and Normandy. Nor had he shown up at the offices of that substance-abuse program. Neither he nor his wife had been to their downtown office.
They were being cautious because of concern about overseas travel amid a virus suddenly spreading domestically.
It also would be a good time to say that he, fully asymptomatic and before his wife became sick, had gone to the grocery store at 5 a.m. to avoid other shoppers out of that same caution.
He did venture out a couple of times to get drive-through food. He admits that.
So, last Sunday morning, three days after returning from three days in Paris, three in London and one in Normandy, Reep's wife Beverly became very ill, with both respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.
By Tuesday, she was in intensive care at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in Little Rock, having tested positive for the coronavirus, and Gregg was quarantined, though he has not been tested because he is not ill, just sad.
"It was a dream trip of a lifetime that has now turned into a nightmare of a lifetime," he told me.
The trip had been Beverly's Christmas gift to the family--to her husband and next-door son and daughter-in-law.
They'd thought about whether to go through with the trip considering the spreading virus. But there was no advisory against the travel at the time and the family took plenty of sanitary wipes and did frequent hand-washing.
They had a spectacular time and returned feeling great, though sensitive to the need to keep some distance for a while.
Then the virus took hold of Beverly.
Then the cancer of ignorance, meanness, rumor, panic and tribalism took hold of some Facebook threads.
"The only thing I care about is my wife getting well," Gregg said.
He meant that, of course. But he seemed secondarily to care what some of his neighbors were saying about him.
He wanted me to make clear--as if I would need to make such a thing clear to the sane population--that he would not purposely wander about his community to infect others, for a political or any other purpose.
His brother was with him there at his home. His son and daughter-in-law were next door. The doctor was staying closely in touch. He'd even been allowed to talk a little with his wife.
And there are good people out there--in his community and across the land--who wish him and his loved ones only the best, who blame his family for nothing and who would never think poorly of him or repeat nonsense or mean rumors about him.
I can report that he'd started hearing from some of them Thursday afternoon after people statewide began learning of his wife's illness, his tortured alienation and the ignorance and hate complicating his woe.
As the virus spreads, let's all try to be better than what's happened here.
It shouldn't be hard.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 03/22/2020
Print Headline: An ugly side of humanity