It’s not often I find myself at a loss for words. They have a tendency to spew from my mouth sometimes before I’ve fully thought them out and flow from my fingertips faster than my autocorrect can catch. But this morning, I reached the middle of a sentence, the intro to an email, and I was stumped.
I was looking for a phrase that was sort of like, “in these tough times,” and then I caught myself. Are these “times” still tough or has the difficulty of the times worn off? Scratch that. Maybe, “through these unusual circumstances?” No, that’s not right either. A pandemic isn’t really “unusual,” it’s “unfortunate” and I don’t know that the phase we’re currently in is even still considered a circumstance.
When COVID-19 began spreading globally, knowing what to say felt easier even as the questions continued to mount. It was more natural to address and so unassuming. There was no expectation of anything as the world just seemed to halt, everything and everyone put on pause, while we figured out—or scrambled to figure out—what the hell was going on.
We’re closer now to answers than we were several months ago. The curve has been flattened enough for my Facebook feed to be filled with bright-grinned best friends smooshing their foreheads together for a braggadocious pic INSIDE a restaurant, the sugar-coated glass edges of their margaritas clanking without concern of what is traveling from glass to glass after each rim was kissed by the lips of a potentially asymptomatic carrier. Marshall’s & Homegoods opened back up allowing the suburban moms to stand masked in line for hours to eventually make their way to the teal plush throw blanket they’ve been waiting all these months to add to their collections. Even strip clubs reopened for gentlemen in need of entertainment (at a distance, of course, and with dancers in masks).
Comment feeds are filled with excitement and eagerness, people ready to re-emerge out of their dark basements and sit inside a Starbucks together at a table. Finally, life can resume now that nail salons can soak off your 3-month-old ANC set and buff your calloused soles just a shower curtain away from your face.
But this isn’t the life we’ve been promised. This isn’t the reimagination we pictured when they told us what it would look like on the other side of the coronavirus. Then again, no one said it’s fully behind us yet.
While we wait with held breath to continue to hear from the non-social media scientists (the ones with real degrees) what we need to do to continue to protect the most vulnerable of our loved ones, we’re opening more and more with tight restrictions and temperature-reading guns. Our word is being taken at every turn when we’re asked to fill out daily questionnaires on whether we feel ill.
Have you had a temperature?
Have you visited another state?
Do you feel unwell?
Have you coughed today?
Nothing and everything makes a difference in cases climbing or not climbing overnight. Everyone must wear a mask by law, but none of the law protectors are saying boo to the a-holes who are wearing them under their chins, making masks, essentially, no more than a new and optional garment just like underwear. Hand sanitizer is available everywhere to use, but touchless options for making payments and purchase pin pads are few and far between.
All of this is to say I’m having a hard time grappling with this state we’re in where nothing fully makes sense. I know the way we’re living today is not the way we will live tomorrow, but my skin crawls every time I think about how long it will be until 20,000 people are ever carelessly in one place at one time again the way thousands of events held around the world had been just 6 months ago.
I’m more than fine with social distancing, even excited to have fewer obligations, but I have anxiety thinking about the next time I’ll be able to go to a live concert and what that experience will be like. I hear football fans talking about the impending 2020 NFL season and can’t believe it’s planned to go on as “regular, but maybe without fans” and that has still not been decided yet.
I question when we’ll be able to go to the grocery store and walk both ways down an aisle. More than that, I question when I’ll be able to tell my daughter she can freely have as many friends over as she wants and that “sick season” has ended.
Or when we’ll be able to celebrate a birthday and not be skeeved by someone from outside our household blowing out the candles on a cake.
Or when we’ll get a piece of mail and not think about how the sender licked the envelope.
Or when we’ll be able to easily open a plastic produce bag with some alternative method to either blowing hot air on it or licking our thumbs, both of which we cannot do with masks on.
Or when we’ll be confident that renting a library book is not bringing a stack of pages potentially sneezed on by many into our homes.
Or when we’ll be able to pump gas without trying to hold the handle with as few fingers as possible out of fear of how many others had grasped it tightly before us.
Or when we won’t internally panic any time we hear someone nearby cough.
Or when we’ll casually hug people upon greeting again.
Or when trick-or-treating will be allowed.
Or when we will have the ability to be mindless about things small and large that have taken up so much mental real estate it’s almost unbearable.
While I’m glad we have more answers today than we did in March, I think we have a long way to go until we have enough answers to feel like we’ve resumed the life we left behind when coronavirus took a devastating toll physically on hundreds of thousands and mentally on millions. Until that time comes, there’s nothing to do but idly engage in the half-life we’re being offered that is something in between panic and prosperity.