We’re Never Getting Back To Normal Because We’re All A Little Fucked Up
I am emerging from the pandemic and I’m a mess…
I have read the words “emerging from the pandemic” in a few articles and social media posts and everyone is talking about emerging slowly and safely from the pandemic, like vampires in tuxedos rising from coffins.
But that phrase makes me uneasy. The plague hasn’t ended. We’re still counting the dead. I’m emerging from a pandemic into a pandemic.
Things are looking hopeful. I’m fully vaccinated. And yet I open my apartment door slowly. I hold my hand up to shield my eyes because the sun is too bright. I have been inside too long. I am emerging from the pandemic. I am emerging from a bunker. I am emerging from the ground like a cicada. Only I am quiet. I don’t want to draw attention to myself.
I cover my face in public. Welcome to Ninja City. Do you know who else emerged? Jesus. Jesus emerged from his tomb. He didn’t linger. No small talk. He doesn’t really visit anymore, does he?
I try to think positively. I do. Life must go on. If you happen to speak to my therapist you tell him I’m trying to think positively. I am emerging from the pandemic. I am walking in the park. I am riding the subway. I am picking up my prescriptions. I am going to dinner with a friend. We are sitting outside. He is acting normal. I am acting normal. Would you like a squirt of hand sanitizer? No? Well, let me know if you’d like it, my friend. I love you. I missed you. I’m crying, yes, not sobbing, but don’t be alarmed, it’s just what I do now, in public, my face bathed in sunbeams.
I’m at dinner out in the world with someone I care about and have not seen in forever and suddenly chips and salsa appear on the table. They serve chips and salsa in the post-apocalypse.
It had been at least a year and a half since I had sat in a restaurant and said: “I’ll have the chicken enchiladas.” My friend ordered the pork tacos. The server, masked, nodded and walked away. We smile at each other nervously, maskless, older than when we had last seen each other, vaccines flowing through our veins.
I lowered my eyes, bashfully, and carefully unwrapped my knife and fork from the napkin as if this is the first time I’d ever unwrapped a knife and fork from a napkin. It’s not the first time, obviously, but I appreciated the fork, I studied the knife, I was happy to place a napkin in my lap. I was deliberate. Behind my friend, a woman laughed and that made me laugh and then he laughed at me laughing, and there we are, two aliens in disguise, sharing a dinner.
We talk about the last fourteen months or so. He offers his condolences and I remind him he already texted me those. He then leans in and sheepishly tells me the pandemic wasn’t so bad for him, personally, no one he knew got horribly sick or died, he and his girlfriend just roasted chickens and sat on the couch and watched oodles of TV, and I look him in the eyes and I tell him he had no choice.
They were both chased indoors by death and then stared at their screens in abject terror eight hours a day, seven days a week for over a year and we’re all a little fucked up. It’s not a big deal.
I’m fucked up. I tell him the truth. We’re never getting back to normal. A snake can’t unshed its skin. A butterfly can’t crawl back into its cocoon. We are different now. Changed. I have risen.
He tries to find the silver lining in the pandemic, and there is none. If I could magically wish the pandemic away, with a wave of a wand just make the last year disappear I absolutely would. Nothing good came from the suffering brought about by COVID-19. But I am patient with him and with my own sorrow and rage. It is human to search for purpose.
I remind him — gently — that he’s fucked up. I tell him I think the absolute worst is behind us, we’ll know more in the next few months, but the pandemic wasn’t a staycation, it was a nightmare of endless ambulance sirens and terrified nurses in Hazmat suits sticking long cotton swabs up noses and, oh yeah, the air was poison. Remember that?
We were told to wipe down our groceries because they were covered in corruption, and then we were told not to worry about anything, everything is fine, COVID-19 is just a cold. That kind of emotional seesaw fucks a person up, you know?
My neighbors are fucked up. The guy at the coffee shop is fucked up. I made eye contact with at least four pairs of fucked-up eyes on the subway yesterday. Even the lunatics who refused to believe in the plague are fucked up. It takes a lot of fear and anger to ignore hospitals filled to capacity with those dying from a very specific, highly communicable illness.
I don’t know about you but I watched movies and TV shows that I didn’t even know existed, and then I watched them again, for a second time. We all became time wealthy and spent our new fortune like a drunk who hit the jackpot — we shopped online and streamed The Office and ordered snacks, so many snacks. That fucks a person up. And then there are those who survived, some by miracle, and those who said goodbye over the phone. My god.
I tell him a story about another friend of mine who is a high school teacher. He spent most of last year worrying about his students, who seemed so far away. Teenagers are already predisposed to not trust adults and then the pandemic came and proved their fears in spectacular fashion. Not only are adults not to be trusted, but they also don’t know what they’re doing. They’re incompetent. They don’t say what they mean and they will lie and spread sickness if it means a little more money, a little more power, a nicer parking space, a new title. I tell my friend over my chicken enchiladas that I’m fucked up because we had multiple chances to make it better but we kept making it worse and I emphasize “we” because to any reasonable alien observer we’re all human, and therefore, we’re all slightly culpable.
I remind him of last year when the president got sick and the entire might of the United States government was marshaled to save him, a platoon of doctors and experimental drugs and the man was told by some of the smartest people in the country how to not get sick and he ignored their advice and got sick anyway and then got better, not quickly, but he got better and triumphantly stood on the balcony of the White House without a mask, wheezing. Look at me, I did it! I reminded my friend, who was no fan of this man, that the one person alive with all the best information about an unprecedented plague and he couldn’t resist being himself, a giant self-involved prick.
He got sick, and survived, and learned nothing and I worry that’s what’s going on, right now. We learned nothing. I worry that we’re going to get busy forgetting the past year. Denial is not a character on De Fraisier but a lot of people want to pretend none of this happened, that we didn’t crawl into holes while hundreds of millions of Americans wheezed and gasped and died. It happened. There were those who lost everything, and those who lost less but everyone lost something. It happened, it is still happening, it could happen again.
I’m fucked up and so are you, and this is just the way it’s going to be so we ordered more chips and salsa.