After 24 months of uncertainty, who wouldn’t be spent? It’s the mentality that infects you. The maddening sensation that you’re living like a cockroach, in constant fear of when the switch will be thrown.
Twenty-four months ago, I was standing in my grandparents’ kitchen. Wuhan, China, had been mentioned as an afterthought before I stepped out the door. “I’m sure they’ll find a remedy. Once they do, we’ll be fine,” best summarizes my reassurance to them.
I didn’t know diddly about infectious disease; I just repeated the things newscasters said. What was happening in Wuhan was a distant tragedy.
I remember driving home on Interstate 90 from my then-job as a hotel clerk in Geneva. I looked at the dark shoulders of trees bracing the highway.
“It can’t come here,” I thought. “Not rural Ohio.” I don’t know if I expected nature to know the answer.
I don’t need to tell what happened next. But I do need to tell how I felt. I wasn’t hysterical, even after I was laid off. At the advice of a friend, I started journaling the events. I taped photos into a composition book from the timely New Year’s Eve trip I took to New York City a few months before. I guess I thought I could be documenting something important. I was prescribing purpose to my predicament.
When there were only a handful of cases, I memorized where they each were (California, Washington and Illinois). My sister kept a tally of the cases as they grew. A friend said she used to write the number of deaths in the corner of her notebook each day next to the date.
I ran into the room when I heard Gov. Mike DeWine’s voice on the television. I laughed at shirts that read “Wine with DeWine” in playful, cursive script. I was driving once when an ambulance made all the cars pull over and freeze as it shrieked past. I remember my eyes filling with tears at the wheel, thinking, “Yes! This is us! In this together!”
Today, it’s white noise. There’s a roar, but the adrenaline’s gone. I wonder if this is what it’s like to stir tea in a
war zone as shells fire off. I’m learning to sit and sip it,
learning to go deaf.
My journal entries tapered off after April 26, 2020. My sister’s listing went on a little longer but petered, too. Now I glance at soundbites of the governor. What case are we on? I don’t know. A digit, a number. Gosh, didn’t they used to be names?
I’m not motivated enough to care. Maybe I don’t need to marshal like I had; we have better tools to fight the disease now than before. But what’s changed can’t soothe the burdens that hold life stagnant.
I still question if it’s wise to go to Giant Eagle for Tostitos. That’s if I can find them on the shelves. My relatives still argue over politics. That’s if they don’t speak in fragmented sentences to maneuver around the topic. In some ways, 2021 felt like a bad throwback, plus a massive game of red-light-green-light with every variant.
Grab what toilet paper you can and run.
While I resume taking precautions, the murky path ahead causes me to mentally stagger, panting, “Does it matter?”
Being courteous for 24 months is exhausting. I’m done playing the cockroach who lives without light but survives. I want to grab the last loaf of bread in the dollar store and not care who comes in after me.
Consideration swarmed during 2020. Dante’s delivered meals to low-income families and laid-off workers, Cleveland Whiskey made hand sanitizer and the Panza Foundation shifted its aid to local music venues. In November 2020, Cleveland Magazine’s “Do Good” issue brought to the forefront more individuals and organizations steeped in performing goodwill, many well before the pandemic.
Maybe that’s my problem. I expect us to all band together and stay together. Goodwill is a marathon, but humans love a sprint. I want something quick, instantly rewarding. I want to be congratulated soon after I start.
But for those who saw need before the rest of us, who continue to make sacrifices to ensure others’ ease for more than two years, this is the goodwill that isn’t dead.
And I’m sure they’re tired.
But they aren’t going deaf like me.