Driving with One Headlight is better than driving blind
The path back to something that resembles normalcy starts in a backwater parking lot on the outskirts of Albuquerque. It’s called the Presbyterian COVID-19 Vaccination Hub, but it’s the kind of place where, if not for the chain link fence surrounding it, would be ripe for the kinds of deals in a movie like Heat.
I’m surprised Breaking Bad didn’t film a deal gone wrong here.
I follow a long and kind of winding path past signs and warnings to a check in area. I get a sticker and continue to follow the arrows to another room. The person in front of me is directed to table 9, and I get a little disappointed I was that close to my lucky number. Instead, I end up at table 12 with Randi, a talkative nurse who holds a syringe that for intents and purposes has my name on it. The instrument that terrified me as a child is loaded with one dose of a vaccine that purports to protect me against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus virus first identified in 2019 that causes Covid-19.
I believe the vaccine does just that. But at the same time, I can’t believe that it does.
If you ever find yourself doubting humanity, just remember that someone or a group of someone has figured out how to create this vaccine under immense pressure to save other someones and their someones. They built the spaceship after it took off.
The pandemic has taken our family and friends. It's taken our jobs, careers and livelihoods. It's robbed us of our sense of time and our sense of self. Our sense of togetherness. Collectively, we've shared in this loss all around us that has come to define the past year.
Still, this quarantine, this lockdown, this forced isolation hasn’t even been the most difficult thing for me to navigate. In some respects, it's been easy. I became a professional at staying away from the outside world and leaving it in the background as I navigated the waves of grief after my father’s non-Covid death and the weight of guilt in being so thankful he wasn’t around for any of this.
That I didn’t have to worry about him.
The thoughts of what I have lost have consumed the last year of my life. Why? Why dwell on something that isn't coming back, that can't be changed. Why pour energy into something lived through and survived and put into the past.
Perhaps it's because after more than a year, I have yet to come to an understanding or an acceptance of what happened. Of how I can be an orphan in my mid-40s. How all the end-of-life things I have woven into daily anxieties, tasks and plans for dealing with what remained after mom and dad dies are now — nearly — complete.
There's loss there too.
Nearly a year ago, I spent a week in and around the home that dad built for us — myself, my sister and our mother. Its outer shell left in tatters, faded from the wind and the elements. Inside it's a burned-out husk, ravaged by a fire that started near the microwave, overwhelmed the kitchen, the living room and my dad.
Dad's imagination took root in this house. My sister, my mom — we all dreamed big dreams here. Dreams perhaps that were outsized for our station in the world. And now, some 41 years after we all began to call it home, it reached the end of its life span.
And so, I stopped my world on March 18, 2020 and I’ve been pretty content to just be stuck there thinking about the difference between grief and loss.
The former washes over me at various times, triggered by memories and remembrances. I can recreate the sounds of voices, and still feel those moments when the immortal hands of those I long for guide me through challenges.
The latter though hasn't left my side. It's an ever-present, ever-felt recognition that how things were will never be again. The upside — which I have come to at least be able to acknowledge, if not accept — is one can learn to live with loss.
So as a result, I have steeled myself for more than a year now. I ignored and banished the thought of this kind of moment. Because if I had some semblance of when it might come, I knew I would not, could not survive. "Do the time," they say, "don’t let the time do you."
This virus, this Angel of Death that has floated in the air and killed more than half a million Americans, and maybe four times as many more around the world, has been the cruelest kind of captor. Because all around you catch glimpses of a former life. Our days are filled simulacra and stand ins. You see people old and new on a screen in front of you, but veiled, hazy even and not quite real.
I woke up excited today. As is my morning routine, before setting in for work, I played a couple songs on the drum set I bought myself for Christmas, the one that dad — and mom — would have wanted me to have, I tell myself. I picked an easy track, a nice easy rhythm to start the day.
"So long ago I don't remember when. That's when they said I lost my only friend."
But now I’m here in an observation room with an mRNA-based cocktail running through my body, teaching my cells how to build an immune system response. That same song starts to play over the speakers.
A doctor asks me how I am doing. I say "Physically, I’m fine, but emotionally … Not so hot doc."
He smiles and says he’s been in a lot of rooms where people didn’t survive Covid-19. He was happy to see this one filled with people who get a chance.
"I'm so alone, I feel just like somebody else. Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same"