February came out of nowhere. Many days recently seem just like the next one or the one the day before. No special event marks the changing of the months - except for those lucky enough to celebrate the certainty of a first or second vaccine dose.
And how does the prospect of becoming more safe, somewhat immune, feel? More of a mix of emotions than all out relief. Some of the same habits, patterns of behavior continue. An obsession with creating the next meal, the uncertainty of being able to plan far ahead, awareness that mindset and outlook is determined a great deal by the behavior of others. To wit, cocooned in my single state, alone at home most days, I am 'out of the box' elated when some incidental encounter occurs either remotely or in person. A neighbor texted me this morning out of the blue that she had left me a piece of lasagna in a plastic container outside my gate. No explanation - just a note. A thrilling note of care, never mind that I've stuffed my fridge with food and go on binge buying to local stores occasionally just to be around people
Or maybe the reason for these forays is more complicated. The chance to go unrestricted into a world that looks BC - before Covid - in many respects. A chance to have some spontaneous connection with strangers, using all senses to get oneself out of the humdrum daily life. Getting some exercise and stimulation Out There. So when I went yesterday on a whim to buy what I had convinced myself was a 'necessity' - jumbo pasta shells that I could stuff deliciously, maliciously, with sausage and cheese - I knew the surest place to find them was an Italian grocery in the Union Market near me in NE Washington. Too far to walk on a dreary day (though at 46 degrees, nearly a warm one), but a grand excursion into another neighborhood. I surely did not want to make a dish of pasta always too large for consumption. But I wanted to feel I could find a physical object that I desired in a context that I could pretend was 'normal.' A cheerful burly man queried me with a smile: What was I looking for? Ah, yes, he said - they had run out of the shells and reordered so there must be some in one of the large cartons stacked up before the pasta shelves. I said I had found a parking space and wasn't going to be in a hurry to leave. He said he would attack the cartons and, lo, he did find the Ferrara labeled box and handed it to me. I can't even remember now if he wore a mask and, if he did, how would I recall a smile? A mask in my own mind perhaps? (I've been a bit absent-minded of late: signed the date on a check sent to someone as " Feb. 2121" without realizing it until later. Went to my bank to deposit a check and somehow ended up withdrawing an equal sum from my account. The clerk seemed to understand my confused state.)
This pretense of buying a box of pasta I didn't need led me into a wonderland of sights and smells, engagement with clerks only too glad to see a shopper or sightseer in their midst - , and the best excuse to walk up and down streets in an ever-changing area. Apartment buildings being built opposite small wholesale dealers in food and other goods, a bustle of commercial activity, discovery of an emerging Latin market and restaurant center. Some protocols easily observed: quick sanitizing hand wash in and out of stores. The local book outlet, Politics and Prose, now condensed, open for browsing. How long has it been since I felt free to roam the shelves? No more than five or eight or such allowed in at a time but on a Wednesday afternoon that would not be a problem.
Then home again, bags clanging with the edible merchandise for which I am probably reluctant to consume, dreading the routine, yet again, of creating a meal by myself, for myself alone yet somehow having to try. A pattern of sorts: prove that the NYTimes recipes are accessible and the rhythm of creation will be satisfying in ways far beyond the pleasures of taste. How, even in the bloated newly remodeled Safeway in my home neighborhood, I can do such wishful thinking of the preparation ahead, knowing at the same time that I do not want to be subject to the confinement involved.
The month now notable for the date (2/14) and time (approx. 11:45 a.m.) I receive a second Covid vaccine. No mean thing to be a member of what is something of a club - those relatively few of us working towards a form of security to be able to mingle in the world. Not necessarily mingle freely with impunity but at least with some relief that it is now unlikely (after a 10-14 day wait-and-see time) that I would be a victim of the disease. A serious victim. So I feel I have won some sort of lottery through little effort and a lot of prayer. Prayers that take the form of specific dreams about the process, the actual jab. Through it all, anxiety was rising from some unknowable source - until I felt like a kid going off to the first day of school alone. No special favors were being granted me, I was only one in a long line standing outside the Model Cities Senior Wellness Center unsure of what system was in progress. Anxiety that if I failed to arrive on the stated hour chosen that I would be, again, adrift in a crowd waiting to find out every day if, indeed, symptoms had turned up in my system. Nearly all coming there were white and masked and older. DC citizens mainly from nearby Ward 6 grouped by their preordained appointment time, every 15 minutes. An ice storm had struck the day before, cutting down travel and any thought of walking far on slippery sidewalks. The city in lockdown: no mail because postal carriers couldn't risk a fall, and especially on brick that can e especially slick in 30 degree weather.
Still it is/was a strange psychological element that nearly upended me, interrupting sleep the night before. I had comfort only in the fact a friend would drive me to the center (I was afraid, among other things, the lock on my 13-year-old car was frozen solid in the ice storm, making a drive impossible.) The comfort of having another person around. Does such anxiety go back to a childhood spent too much alone and insecure lacking any real sense of safety. I grew up always running from those fears, when one is one's own worst enemy and victim. How I would shirk challenge in order not to fail lest I disappoint. Such a state of mind must stem from early roots. What else accounts for the diminution of self-confidence and strength.
But it is Sunday, Valentine's Day - and the relief was immense after receiving the jab from one of the Safeway pharmacists doing the jabbing on overtime. Entry into a large bright room and a choice of unveiling either left or right upper arm. Little small talk ensues. A single sting and then our reward: a coupon from Safeway (the sponsor? who indeed was paying for all this?) saying we would get 10 percent off on purchases on a trip in the future with the exception of liquor and prescription medicines. We are encouraged to wait 15 minutes in an adjoining room in case some unsuspected reaction took place. I said I would wait in my friend's car and ran out, as though from prison. Relief was more than palpable. I could turn to thoughts of others, buy flowers for the neighbors who do me small favors unasked. And in turn I am given some heart-shaped ravioli and homemade cookies. My son on the phone volunteers that I should expect the second dose to have some side effects' though he has yet to have even one dose. He did not overstate the case. I spent a night and a day with a success of aches and pains and self-pity - as warned.
normal state since it is still not yet known if vaccinated people can be carriers and even if two or more of us are together unmasked that we can pretend normalcy. To await the studies, the what-ifs, a life ahead that still will seem precarious but probably not deadly. How long will such a limbo state last is key. To be among, at this date, only 4.2 percent of the US population to be 'fully vaccinated.' But not, alas, fully secure of best behavior around others.
I'm probably among many people who continue to be deviled by different forms of anxiety: where they come from, how to 'cure.' A friend believes that his brush with Covid (fatigue mainly) produced welcome change in his sleeping habits for unknown reasons. Maybe the habit of sleep lingered on..so that now he can count on enjoying 'full night's sleep,' where before (B.C.) he struggled. The anxiety I often feel about digital devices and their 'bedeviling' impersonal sometimes inscrutable rules: might it stem from one's sense of helplessness in general, the impersonality of nature and its command over life. When sitting alone at home watching films on television, I have a similar reaction: the movies are manipulative, indifferent to individuals in the audience, a reminder of how the 'entertainment age' has taken over the world. Explosions of social media as substitute for human interaction and immediacy. My rebellion and my frustration over why it had to happen and why it came to be.
How much is Covid, how much worry over political/social trends in the country at large? Remarkably, it's somehow soothing to be among people -one at a time ideally - each giving the story always with a sightly different twist on how he/she managed to sign up for the vaccine, what happened when he/she actually got the vaccine, and what physical reaction the first or second might have occurred. The body knows...and each body is different so reactions are unpredictable in each person. The comfort, of course, is knowing a date is fixed, the vial is secured (or will be until the message comes about a delay...). Should we all be wearing a V sign if we have officially made it through the hoops. So it was the other night that I could enjoy a martini and regale with some humor what was my experience to a couple who were also now 'done.'
Then the problem becomes whether this is reassuring to others who are not. "Can't wait to get the mask off,' is the general cry of greeting to replace 'How are you?' which is meaningless: everyone is miserable having to wear a face covering, listening or reading about rule changes (what is 'safe' and 'unsafe').