My bike ride starts with the same admonishment my mom had when I was growing up: “be home before dark!” I have left it late in the day to get started. I let the traffic lights determine if I go right or straight. The light is green, so I go straight – straight into a nearby hill: Communication Hill. At the top there are mysterious metal frames with small dishes and antennae pointed at all corners of San Jose. Underneath the towers KB Construction has built and is continuing to build a small town on the hill. Of course they forgot to build any amenities, so it’s street after street of condominiums piled on top of each other and piled on top of this hill.
It’s a good biking hill for me. I’m not great with anything over a 6% grade and this one is a comfortable 5%. My mind wanders. I start checking out the long lines of cars parked on the side of the road. Almost automatically, I check out which ones have been moved recently and which ones have leaves and debris collecting under their wheels. Then I remember. It’s been over a year. Over a year since we all parked our cars and the street sweeping stopped. A year since the cops no longer cared that you kept your car parked in the same place for over three days.
Our lives wrenched into a new gear. At first we all walked and avoided each other with distance. Later on the ones that hadn’t already done so added masks. I lived in a heavily Asian town at the time and masks were an easy transition for folks coming from areas that had more experience with pandemics. We non-Asians had so much to learn!
We gave up hugs, hand shakes, eating inside with friends. Heck, we gave up meeting most friends altogether and the few we risked it with we thought long and hard about their health safety protocols. Some people chose to close their doors and seal themselves away like modern day hermits and cloistered nuns. Food was delivered to a door. If it wasn’t their roof over their head, they just didn’t go. It’s how I discovered that so many people I know have dangerous health conditions they live with – but without fanfare.
Joe and I had no pressing health concerns other than age. We chose a middle ground and ventured to Safeway. There I broke social norms by chatting to other people in the line – yes, you can still chat through masks and separated by 6′. We made our acquaintances with the door guard who had a mask from Cape Verde. We have a few people over on our one year wedding anniversary. Lots of extra cutlery to avoid sharing – and held outside. That was it.
Eventually I ventured to the YMCA. Outside workouts were surprisingly enjoyable. And even socially distant and masked spin classes had a lovely camaraderie.
A few days ago, the state opened up vaccinations for people my age. I jumped online and got an appointment the very first day I could. I drove up to a huge stadium, parked where folks used to park for the nearby amusement park, now standing empty and silent. I joined the stream of people headed towards the stadium – and tears started rolling. I held back sobs. I hadn’t realized how much I missed my previous life. How important friends, family and hugs were. My responsible adult had been in charge for so long that the ‘should’ had taken over my life. Walking across the tarmac, through the socially distanced lines for bag checks, health checks, paperwork filling, registration checks, up escalators to the area where shots were being given and finally directed to seat 13 where the national guardsman in scrubs kept holding out tissue boxes for me, the tears were hard to keep back. I told anyone who would listen how moved I was by this huge government effort to get us all safe again. And most of all how I missed hugging my mom.
If it’s been a hard year for me, for her it has been excruciating. She spends all her days in bed. To a certain extend she’s waiting to die. And I’m dreading the day she doesn’t call me 4 times telling me how bored she is and making up issues to worry about. Somehow the small sin of passing cups of hot tea to her under the plexiglass barrier is no replacement for a the human touch.
And I am not alone. On Sundays after Zoom service, we can join breakout rooms to chat. I share my vaccination story and a grandmother shares how she plans to go and visit a young grandchild all the way across the country. She was a powerful executive in tech and has been president of the church board – and she, too, pulls out tissues and wipes back tears. We are all holding it together with willpower and social responsibility. Seeing a glimmer of light at the end of this dark tunnel shows us how much we gave up – and what we so want to have back again.