I wish I would have written throughout the course of the pandemic.
When it began, I mean.
I wish I would have captured the multitude of questions and anxieties the last two years have wrought in real time. But I suppose one is busy surviving.
The last normal birthday I can remember was my 29th.
My family and I planned to reunite at Morimoto in Disney Springs for cocktails before going to the movies. We grabbed a table in the lounge area upstairs which hadn’t been wiped down, but it was a busy evening so I didn’t think twice about sitting down to secure our seats.
The server attending us arrived quickly, unnecessarily apologetic for the brief delay. “Sorry about the wait,” she said as she sprayed a large bottle and wore thin plastic gloves like the kind you might see on someone making your sandwich, yet no mask yet. The smell of bleach filled my nose.
“Oh, and the smell! We’re getting really clinical with it now,” she added implying we’d seen the news but still embarrassed. She wiped a dishrag across the table surface in full sweeping motions and seemed overwhelmed.
If you want a job as a teenager in the US, you usually go into either retail or food service. I’ve found that people usually remain in one or the other once they have, unless of course they have had the privilege of not working through high school at all. My siblings and I individually went into food service. I worked as a hostess at a pizza restaurant and later slung smoothies to my peers after school wearing a tie-dye company tee. My brothers have each worked as servers so between the three of us, going out to dine can feel like we’re competing to see who can be the most polite to service personnel. We’ll stress our “please,” overuse our “thank you,” and stack our plates after each meal. This evening was no different.
“Totally fine! We’re not really in a hurry,” I replied, thinking of our selected showtime but figuring there would always be another. This year, I didn’t carry with the expectations and pressure birthdays are usually pockmarked by. I just wanted to have a nice time.
Earlier that day, the governor of Florida had announced that the first two deaths in the state. But they were elderly and had traveled internationally…
A few days later, the first cruise ship would be prevented from docking as a result of 21 passengers testing positive. Metropolitan cities like New York City had already experienced a ravage by the novel coronavirus, the rest of the country had not. The majority of Americans were still saying “it’s just a flu,” or at best simply trying to carry on with a heightened sense of caution and consideration. Like us.
But the tension in the restaurant that evening was electric and nervous. People kept their distance from others, strangers looked at each other shiftily in passing as if the symptoms of Covid would stare back. We tried to make the best of it, thankful to be among family in one place but certain it’d be our last reunion for a long time. I ordered a lychee martini and our server told us it wasn’t available because the lychee wouldn’t come in from China anytime soon.
Since that day, the world has changed about 3,000 times over. Maybe more.
While I might spend my waking hours cleaning, working, reading, walking the dog, thriving, surviving, consuming, I arrive here and feel the sudden compulsion to account for the ground upon which I find myself standing. I need to discover the ring patterns that have appeared among this forest since, and pass on what the trees have told me about the time that’s passed. Who I’ve become as a result.
Who we’ve become.
I’m asking that question as I prepare for birthday to come around again next month. When I consider who I am now and how I’ve changed, I’ll notice my spirit catching with an alarm that didn’t exist within me before. It’s subconscious. Not exactly fear, it’s not quite terror. It’s more like a state of hyper-vigilance and nervousness remaining from the experience of my parents catching (and surviving) Covid before the vaccine was available, from observing how few people remain when our community contracts, and the fatigue of two-years worth of moral Olympics when you’re just trying to go to the grocery store.
I’ve become curious about this feeling, and how it’s emerging in others — at this point in the shared timeline of our collective trauma. We are a band of brothers, you and I, carrying on because we must. Anyway, there’s a question I find myself most unable to shake in isolation, clamoring relentlessly to be asked. It’s the investigation I engage as I write, figuring these days are still odd, and new, and worth logging.
What have we survived?