Exactly two weeks to the day after my second vaccine, my older son picked me up in his snazzy convertible and drove me to my parents’ where I celebrated my full immunity by hugging my mom and dad maskless for the first time in over a year.
My mother was doing a lotion treatment when I arrived — thus, the duck hands.
It was a token gesture — it’s not like the two-week date is the day — but still, it felt good to mark it.
By the end of May, most people in my social circles will be fully immunized which means that soon we can get together, indoors and unmasked. Even though I’ve known this was coming, the realization feels semi-shocking. I’ve gotten so used to physical distancing that, in order to cope, I’ve refrained from thinking, dreaming, and planning about getting together with other people. And now—
Let’s have a doughnut party! I say to my husband. Everyone will be vaccinated so no masks, and it’d be outdoors so that’d help people relax. Unvaccinated people know the drill — stay masked and keep distant — but everyone else would be just fine, right?
But — I pause — what about children? And are there laws about outdoor gatherings? What if people look at us wonky for being risky — would it be risky? I don’t think so, but maybe? Darn. A doughnut party might be pushing it…
And just like that I slip right back into the same old swirl of confusion that’s characterized this pandemic: what science to listen to, how to be respectful and gracious, how to take precautions and live without fear. It’s such a muddle, and it’s all terribly draining.
Bottom line? Hooking back up with civilization is gonna be tricky.
The other day the bakery was closed to the public and, since all of us have been vaccinated, no masks. No longer muzzled, I ate and talked and laughed with wild abandon. And I couldn’t stop staring at mouths! So much expression! So much nuance! So much glorious mouthiness! It was fabulous.
And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was committing a crime. Each time I walked from bathroom to bakery, or ate something and then went back to work, and didn’t pause to put on my mask, I felt a pang, like I was missing something important. Like at any moment I was going to get in trouble.
Was this maskless thing really okay?
Gearing up for a visit from out-of-state friends, my mom told me that, even though they were all vaccinated, she wasn’t sure she felt okay sitting down together at the table for a meal. “Maybe we’ll just eat in the living room,” she said. “That way we can spread out.”
“But you’re all vaccinated,” I said. “You can eat together!”
“I don’t know…” she hedged.
“Just set the table and then do it,” I said. “Rip off the bandaid. It’ll get easier after that.”
And then the NYTimes ran an article titled “Why do so many vaccinated people remain irrationally fearful?” which I forwarded to my mom. Summary: vaccinated people can still get (mildly) sick, but you have a greater chance of getting in a car crash, and we ride in cars all the time. When there is a new risk — like Covid — people tend to perceive it as really big. But once that risk has been around for a while, it becomes normalized, like driving in cars.
They ate at the table.
Last weekend, we went on a hike with friends. As we tromped up the rocky trail that zigzagged back and forth over a small creek, we talked about kids and work and Covid, and then my friend asked me if I’d been working on the book.
I sighed and explained that no, I’d given it up during the pandemic. Already trapped at home, I didn’t want to sequester myself up in my room so I could slog along on a painstakingly hard task that made me even more isolated and emotionally worn out than I already was. Once I could get back into coffee shops, I explained, then I’d consider starting up again.
“But you’re vaccinated now,” she pointed out. “Doesn’t that mean you can write in coffee shops?”
I stopped walking. “Oh.” [stunned silence] “Um, I never….”
So far this week, I’ve gone to two different coffee shops.
The other night after shooing the kids off to bed and settling down on the sofa next to my husband, I said, “So what do we do about people who choose not to get vaccinated?”
He looked at me blankly.
“I mean, now that we’re vaccinated, is it okay to have unvaccinated people in our home? Do we ask them to stay masked? Should we stay masked? Do we limit our visits to the outdoors?”
“Who cares?” he said. “I don’t ask people if they’ve had the flu shot, so why would I ask them if they’ve had the covid vaccine? I’m just going to go about my life.”
That didn’t answer my question — are we welcoming unvaccinated people into our home and, more pointedly, is there anything we should do to help hold people accountable, because the longer people dilly-dally about the vaccine, the greater the chance that variants will go hog wild and then this thing will never end SO GET THE VACCINE ALREADY PEOPLE PLEASE — but he made good points: take care of myself, follow CDC guidelines in public, and just chill the heck down.
Just as when the pandemic started, now that it’s lifting, we’re once again on a steep learning curve. The situation is constantly shifting — just today a new report came out that says there’s hardly any evidence of outdoor transmission; it’s the indoor events that cause problems — and the situation will probably look quite different even just a few short weeks from now. If I’m patient, if I just hunker down and bide my time a little longer, many of my questions will probably work themselves out.
Or that’s my hunch, at least.
In the meantime, I’m stocking up on oil and confectioner’s sugar. You know, just in case we decide to fry a few hundred doughnuts some afternoon….
P.S. Thursday morning update: an opinion piece on how to handle vaccinated adults and unvaccinated kids. Like I said, the situation is evolving at a rapid clip.
This same time, years previous: making pie: I have a system, both ends, the best fix, in the night air, with an audience, let’s pretend this isn’t happening, the quotidian (4.21.14), nutmeg coffee cake, therapy, bacon-wrapped jalapeños.