It is a known fact that I am not very good at ending things. I stay at jobs for way too long and habits for longer. My tendency is to forgive, but hounded by memory, I rarely forget. I can get sentimentally attached to almost any object if I think about it for a moment or two. And on the narrative front, I have written many stories, plays and otherwise; every single one of them basically ends at an open door, metaphorically speaking. To date, I have one story—exactly one—that has a solid, immutable, unambiguous resolution and I still haven’t finished it yet. There are a lot of reasons why ranging from the emotional/aesthetic (I’m not sure if I’ve totally nailed a couple of the characters) to the practical (it’s a murder story, based in my hometown, and I know what happens when one dares to tread on the fragile egos up in Vanderbilt Patchouli Holler).
I mention this because I’ve started writing this particular Plague Diary, which is not so much an End-of-Plague Diary but certainly a Locally-Postive-Change-In-Plague Diary if not a guaranteed Actually-This-Plague-is-Ending Diary, about nine or ten times, probably owing to the fact that my enthusiasm for starting things is comparatively endless. I won’t take you all the way through the rejected first paragraphs, but my favorite was probably:
“I frequently feel condescended to by writers of dystopias. Most of them feel like I’m getting a lecture by an humorless adult who liked philosophy and is very good imagining architecture, but just can’t do empathy. Like you can just tell me why you became disillusioned by communism, George Orwell. I’ll listen. I don’t need you to do a puppet show with talking pigs and rat hats.
Thing about boots. Tina Turner.“
I’m not sure where I was going with the dystopia thing. But I suspect the “Thing about boots. Tina Turner” bit was a note to myself about where I wanted to pass through on my rhetorical frozen daiquiri-drunk lazy river to making a point. So let’s get this out of the way, upfront:
1) Over 14+ months of quarantine, I never once made a loaf of bread or learned a new crafty skill, but I did buy three pairs of boots (two sparkly) and five pairs of “fashion” sneakers (plus four pairs of running shoes), also mostly metallic of sparkly and
2) in all the dark months of mostly solitude, panic, reflection and endless Internetting, I never could nail down (no pun) the bathroom mechanics of Tina Turner’s “Thunderdome” chain mail dress Best guess: maybe the water shortages in the Mad Max Universe meant that people were so dehydrated they just peed less? Still the risk of rusty metal chafing private parts is the kind of thing that keeps a girl up a night, and if you’re wondering, it did. Because finding yourself deep in the fall surge around the election, trying not to think about Our Current Hellscape, while also trying not to think about whether your tingly foot means you have liver disease, while also not trying to think about the fact that you’re alone and wasting your life, while trying not to think about the fact that you’re a failure, while trying not to think about your grief for your late grandmother, while trying not to think about the fact that if you ever have to sell your house, you probably will have to move to a different state because of this real estate market, while trying not to think about the fact that you are officially, absolutely no question about it middle-aged, means you go down lots of rabbit holes trying to find a different thing to think about, and sometimes when you’re even failed by the pirate epic you’ve been writing mostly in your head for twenty years, you end up in the back of the mental storage unit trying to figure out how you still remember all the words to all the songs in the talent show episode of H.R. Puffnstuf or whether you’d have been a healthier person if you’d been able to admit, unironically, that yes, you did kind of wanted to slow dance to “More than Words” when you were sixteen or the whole deal with peeing in chain mail.
But that was then.
Two days. Two weeks. Two months ago, back before I’d been to the bar or been to a restaurant or ran my hand over dresses on a rack that was not in my closet. That was before I drank outside, then inside, then inside without my mask on. That was before That was before I hugged my father. That was before I hugged pretty much anyone that would let me.
On each one of these occasions, I’ve expected to get a little emotional but the slings and arrows of outrageous hormones have defied prediction. So, like, I didn’t even get misty when I let my dad in the house for the first time in a year, but Sunday night, at the movies, I got pretty choked up when I realized the bartender at the fancy movie theater was still working at the bar. “I’ve really missed seeing you,” I said, when he handed me my beer. He just kind of stared at me like he was trying to figure out whether I was insane or hitting on him or both.
We took our seats, my friend and I, about halfway up a half-filled house, clinking pint glasses in a pre-lights out selfie. The last social thing I did before I locked up last March was to see a movie at the same theater with the same friend. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” was a beautiful, affecting movie, but when I think back on it now, I mostly remember being afraid to touch the armrests of the seat and making mordant conversation with another woman about whether thirty seconds of handwashing was really enough. “Maybe forty-five? Maybe a whole minute?”
The lights dimmed.
“I forgot above previews,” I said. “I love previews.”
And we began. And we begin.
I’m not very good at ending things. I’m not sure we should be ending things. I couldn’t stop fiddling with my mask.Did I need to replace it immediately after taking a sip? Did I need to be wearing it at all? Was I courting disaster by even drinking in a movie theater? Was I a reckless sociopath l for even going to see a movie?
As the film started, my friend was like, “This feels like things are getting back to normal. But it’s not normal, right? There are variants. There is India. What is even happening in India? Is everything still terrible there?”
I said something vague. I’m only reading the newspaper once, maybe twice a day, down from thirty, maybe thirty times. There’s something comforting in the fact that I don’t know and also undeniably privileged and also terrifying. I think I’m supposed to be enjoying myself, but my brain is still sending out little anxiety alerts, sometimes about Covid, sometimes about the doodly feeling in my stomach, sometimes about the economy. “I’m not concerned about the 2022 election yet,” I tell friends, but of course I am. People forged new relationships during Covid, and I ended up in a mutually dissatisfying, codependent long-term hookup with a collection of worries as messy as a disastrous roommate and emotionally exhausting as a bad boyfriend.
Worry Collection and I spent fourteen months doom-scrolling and producing a variety of elaborate psychological shadow puppet theater that the gaps between jigsaw puzzles, Netflix series and Zoom meetings. Now it’s time to move on, but we can’t quite let go. Which is probably why, seven days ago, at the maybe end of this pandemic, I found myself wandering the woods behind my house at dusk trying to tire out Worry Collection, who’d spend the day telling me I was probably dying of pancreatic cancer and would definitely end up living spending my golden years living under an overpass with a three-legged dog named Randy (not a metaphor). As I watching a blue heron (Ambrose) pose beside Bolin Creek in the gloaming, I thought, “this is probably the end of me. I should just prepare to dwindle and fade” like I were a sad European man in a rumpled suit drunk on 100-proof Criterion Collection
And that is an objectively absurd and maybe even hilarious kind of thought, when you’re looking at HOT VAX SUMMER head-on and you have a closet full of irresponsible, but honestly life-affirming fashion purchases you’ve made over the months of lockdown and there are beach trips coming and you’ll almost certainly be back in NYC soon and, fuck it, it’s time to activate those dating apps, let’s cast out the net, let’s make eyes at the bar. Should I go blonde? Should I start dating women? Should I start a band at forty five? Do I dare eat a peach? I mean, they’re in season and I AM STILL ALIVE AND AM NOT GETTING ANY FUCKING YOUNGER.
But it can be hard to safely activate the part of your brain that allows for risk and relaxation when you’ve spent the last year plus bombarded the thought that a routine trip to the grocery store could kill you and you might kill your best friend if she doesn’t sit far enough away. One wrong move and you could be a disease vector, a local extinction level event, who might inadvertently decimate the whole community because your mask slips at the gas station, because you let a plumber in to fix the faucet. And now you’re out in the world, watching people watching you futz with your mask in the theater because you have zero idea about what actually constitutes best practices at this point in the game. There’s a kid two rows up and even though you’re vaccinated, if you somehow passed it on to him, would you be a murderer? And what about the variants and the breakthrough cases? Can you still get Long Covid with two Moderna shots?
I don’t know. Maybe you’ve decided not to worry about it. I’m envious. I’m dreaming of indifference. Not because I want to be irresponsible or a bad citizen, but because I’m not a natural agoraphobe. I was already a bit worn before Covid, and I’m not sure this year hasn’t frayed some edges that cannot be stitched back.
I want to be done with this story. May we? Will we? Are we?
We’ve made it this far. Is it time, once again, to begin?
Picture today is at Peel Gallery, in Carrboro, which is one of the very greatest things that has happened during the last year.
As of this writing, 161,615, 602 people have recovered from Covid-19. Globally, 459,688,374 people have been received at least one vaccine dose.