The ‘quarantimes’ category

The Reckoning Week 45: At Long Last, Bye 45

January 19th, 2021

The year is 2021.  The girl is steeling herself to go to the food store for supplies. She inserts a filter and seals her mask to her face, then checks the interior of the car to make sure she has what she needs laid out for when she gets back in: lysol wipes, sprayable hand sanitizer, and some salve to soothe her hands, chapped from all the chemicals. She grabs her list, organized by the layout of the store so she can be in and out as quickly as possible. Less chance for the virus to get her. Practicing her smize so people know she’s friendly, she steps out of the car…..

…the first paragraph of a sci-fi novel written 100 years ago or my actual life?

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Four years ago I was in a massive election funk.

My husband, the eternal questioner, asked me, What if he’s a successful president? Will you allow room for that possibility?

I found the question itself flawed, as any measure of “success” in implementing the changes and policies he sought would be a loss for human rights, equality, and equity. 

So many of my friends were in that same funk. We were scared, nervous, riddled with anxiety about the next four years. We knew it would be bad.

But personally, I lacked the imagination to know just how bad things could get. Yes, I lived in hyper-conservative Sandy, Utah, surrounded by people who fervently supported 45. The neighbors across the street hung a Confederate flag from their house, prompting a small crisis in my household. I was familiar with this particular brand of “patriotism.” But I was also deeply enmeshed in raising twin babies, orchestrating a move away from there, and keeping my freelance-writing business alive. 

I thought this administration would roll back human rights in astonishing ways, and it did. Immigrants, BIPOC people, LGBTQ folks, the imprisoned, marginalized folks, women — all suffered. Racial tensions went beyond the pale. A hell of a lot of people suffered acutely as a direct result of this administration’s policies, actions, and lack of actions. Children were torn from their parents. Racialized violence was normalized, even encouraged. Many Black people died at the hands of police. 

I also knew the environment and earth would suffer. With a president who’s a climate-change denier, how could they not? It was hard to predict his petty picking on a teenage activist over a broad public forum, but hey, wildcard.

And I knew he’d try to get that idiotic wall built with a deranged, single-minded focus. Last I checked, he had indeed managed to make progress on that project — if you count 15 miles of new barrier out of a total of 2,000 miles of border as progress. (Facts here, from the BBC)

What was not predictable — at least to me, admittedly in my privileged white-lady world — was the way we are all living today. And at the risk of putting forward a myopic, sheltered worldview, I’ll just describe how my own world has changed in just the last year alone because of this president’s lack of leadership. Here’s my perspective, insulated from the worst but nevertheless reflective of the worst. The worst possible leadership in a global pandemic, that is.

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First, school was shut down for months.

No summer camps. No swim lessons. No live music. No family reunions. No weddings. No awkward conversations at kids’ birthday parties. I miss those awkward conversations at kids’ birthday parties!

We were afraid to go to the grocery store. We wore gloves to pump gas and wiped down our hands and faces with a vigilance bordering on OCD.

In my family, when we finally sent my daughters back to school, it was with masks and a much-abridged schedule that wreaked havoc on my ability to make enough money — already precarious, as a freelancer. While we were extremely lucky to send our kids back to school in person at all, and while our school does an absolutely incredible job, it’s not like it used to be. We don’t have all All School Gathering. We don’t have playdates. I don’t get invited to go inside my kids school to meet with teachers and see their artwork on the walls. I haven’t even met one of their teachers face to face.

My husband, the nursing home RN up until a few weeks ago (he changed jobs, thank god), was under intense stress daily for almost a year, wearing not just a mask but, often, full PPE all day, every day, at work. There were various scares but no outbreaks, thankfully. Still, he witnessed families unable to hug or comfort aging loved ones dying alone.

I haven’t seen someone outside my family smile for a year, except through a screen. I’ve forgotten how to talk to people face to face. I live in fear every day that asking my mom to help with my kids — something that’s saving her from complete and utter isolation — will somehow kill her. I’ve given up on seeing my aging dad, who lives an hour away. We haven’t seen Jon’s mom in a year and a half. She’s all alone in Utah with no family support. She’s in her 80s. 

More fallout: I no longer talk to people I was close to when we lived in Utah, because of their political beliefs. The sweet nanny who was my godsend for years, and so close to our family she came to visit us after we moved to Vermont? We no longer speak. The innocent teenager I once moved to Utah for — who turned into a vocal Trump supporter and BLM-basher somewhere along the line — is now an adult, and we, too, no longer speak. Because I can’t. I have too many friends living in fear every single day because of this administration to make excuses for someone who supports it. It’s a matter of moral integrity to me.

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I recognize that my family has been very, very fortunate to survive this time relatively intact. So many people have not. 

By the time you read this, over 400,000 will have likely died from a pandemic the president repeatedly called “The Chinavirus” and refused to address head-on. Marriages fell apart. Friendships disintegrated. Joblessness became rampant.

The economy is in despair, billions of dollars handed out, businesses shuttered left and right, my own town now a ghost town and my favorite restaurants closed forever. Women’s careers in particular have been gravely wounded by the pandemic, a phenomenon I am too close to familiar with. Food insecurity plagues communities across the country, especially communities of color. Our world has effectively shut down on one hand, and bifurcated violently, on the other. 

When #45 was sworn in, we knew it would be terrible. But this — THIS!! — was beyond my imaginative capacity. 

Tomorrow is January 20th, and at long, long last, the staggering amount of healing we face can hopefully begin. Yet instead of celebrating, I’ll be keeping my kids home from school in fear of violent terrorist action from militant insurgents even in my own progressive state. I anticipate the inauguration of Joe Biden with a mixture of relief, hope, sorrow, and, frankly, a trauma born from the last year — from the last four years — I’m not sure I’ll ever shake. 

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Of course, there have been good things too in these last four years. I write about them every week. But just for one week, I choose to focus on the reality of what has happened in our country. It’s a country I once felt proud of, and fortunate to be born in. No longer. I hope these next four years can undo some of the damage.

I hope one day we can once again see friends, go to movies, eat dinner in restaurants, and have book club meetings without a palpable sense of anxiety hovering over our every interaction. I hope my daughters will eventually go to school without masks on, and attend summer camp, and make friends. I hope I can forgive people.

I will never forget this time. I’ll hold it close to my heart and fear its reappearance for the rest of my life. I am ready to wear a mask in perpetuity. We probably won’t ever put candles on a birthday cake again or go to a crowded indoor concert. Shaking hands is certainly a thing of the past. 

But I hope someday we can return to a sense of community and empathy for each other. We are survivors— minus the hundreds of thousands who did not survive.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to soul friend Rebecca Pacheco for her help getting this in shape for public consumption. Have you guys read her first book, Do Your Om Thing? It’s pretty amazing. She has another book coming soon….

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Recommended read: The Plague Year in the New Yorker is a comprehensive narrative of exactly what happened over this last year, and how we got where we are.

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