Wow! An entire year in quarantine, lockdown, stay-at-home, whatever you want to call it. In some ways it’s hard to believe it has been that long, and in other ways it feels like it has been much, much longer, closer to forever. My thanks to Third Eye Blind for giving me the title. Another song I considered, which also seemed an apt title, was “Impossible Year” by Panic! at the Disco. Since these songs are from 1997 and 2016, respectively, I don’t expect most of my readers to know them. I’m betting you have never even heard of either Third Eye Blind or Panic! at the Disco. In your spare time, you might want to check them out.
I have written my own Journal of the Plague Year in five chapters. I'm thrilled that this fifth chapter is the last!
In the course of this year, through Retrospect prompts, I have written my own Journal of the Plague Year in five chapters. I’m thrilled that this fifth chapter is the last! Even though it may not become a classic like Daniel Defoe’s, I’m glad that I have it to remember what this year was like at some future time when it fades to a dim memory.
The chapter titles reflect how I felt at each stage of the process.
Ch. 1 – Don’t Get Around Much Any More [I wasn’t going anyplace]
Ch. 2 – Don’t Stand So Close to Me [starting to worry about other people]
Ch. 3 – Long Long Time [until quarantine is over]
Ch. 4 –Two of Us [Thanksgiving, and constantly, alone with my husband]
When it started, exactly a year ago, I was clueless about what was in store for us. My husband and I had some masks that the fire department had given out a year or so earlier when there had been bad forest fires causing Sacramento air to be dangerously smoky, so we pulled them out. The elastic went around the back of the head and I didn’t like it, so I didn’t wear one. Then I was at a little store called Mixed Bag, and they were selling cloth masks with ear loops made by a local woman as a fundraiser. I thought they were cute, so I bought one, and that was the only mask I wore for the next several months. Did I wash it in between wearings? No, it never occurred to me.
I thought the whole inconvenience would last for a month or so. I assumed that I would be able to go to my daughter Molly’s college graduation in May, only two months away. Surely that would be enough time to get this thing under control. Remember how we were being told to “flatten the curve”? It seemed that if we could do that, the problem would be solved. Ha!
Even when the college cancelled the graduation, I held onto my air bnb reservation and my plane tickets for quite a while, because I figured if it was safe to travel by mid-May, I would go for a visit anyway, even without a graduation ceremony to attend. Of course it wasn’t safe, so I ultimately cancelled both and got my money back.
Meanwhile, we were planning a trip to see the solar eclipse that would occur on December 14, 2020, visible almost exclusively in South America. Because the best place to see it was a somewhat remote area on the border of Chile and Argentina, we booked a trip with an eclipse tour company that would handle all the logistics of getting us to the right place at the right time. We would start the tour in Santiago, Chile, and end up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Then the company offered a pre-tour extension to Macchu Picchu, so we booked our flight going to Lima, Peru instead of Santiago. They would arrange the transport from Lima to Santiago, as well as all the hotels in all three countries. I had never been to South America at all, and had always wanted to go, so I was very excited that we would be visiting three different countries. We finalized the arrangements with the eclipse tour company in February. Ironically, we bought the plane tickets on March 15th, so we obviously were not thinking about Covid at that point. We did end up getting a refund on the plane tickets, but not on the tour.
I know that some people were wiping down all their groceries before they used them or put them away, and also doing their shopping via Instacart or other delivery services in order to avoid going into a supermarket. We never did any of that, nor did we put mail or packages in quarantine for 3 days before opening them, which people were also doing. We just never took the risk that seriously. My husband was comfortable going grocery shopping as often as necessary, although at some point he did stop patronizing one store because they refused to require shoppers to wear masks.
By the summer, I finally acknowledged that the pandemic was going to be with us for a long time. It was so sad that we couldn’t have our family reunion, as we had done every summer for more than 30 years. Instead we had a Zoom of the extended family in August for my birthday. It was nice to see everyone for a couple of hours, but not the same as being able to hug them! And we couldn’t sing together, generally a favorite family activity, because with the time lag, singing just doesn’t work on Zoom.
In November I wrote about how nobody was joining us for Thanksgiving, and it would just be the two of us. I think that might have been the first time in my life that I spent Thanksgiving with only one other person. We did have a belated Thanksgiving in December, when two of my children decided it was safe to come for a visit, driving up together from Los Angeles. They both got tested before they came, not because my husband and I said they needed to (we would have gladly taken the risk), but because they thought it was important not to expose us, or each other, to Covid. They were here for a week, which was wonderful! It was the first time we had seen them since their holiday visit the previous December-January, an entire year earlier. That was the longest I had ever been apart from either one of them.
When we went to Atlanta the first week of January, it was the closest my life felt to being normal again. Of course we were wearing masks the whole time, except when we were in the hotel room or in the car. But we ate in restaurants three times, which we hadn’t done since March. We also went to the grocery story together a few times, and at home I hadn’t been in a store since March, because my husband did all the shopping. And we were around other people almost all the time, unlike at home. It was great! But then once we came home, we went back to our isolationist ways.
A silver lining of the pandemic is discovering Zoom and other platforms for meetings and appointments, including doctor visits, and realizing that most things don’t have to be done in person. There have also been a phenomenal number and variety of webinars and online cultural events from all over the country that could never have been available before. A synagogue in New York, Temple Emanu-El, has been doing fabulous programming for free all year. The first program I signed up for was a conversation about the TV show Unorthodox, between the author of the book and the star of the show, back in June. Once I was on the mailing list, I began getting notices of programs all the time. The most recent one I attended was a conversation between Hillary Clinton and Abby Pogrebin (daughter of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the founders of Ms. Magazine), which was this past Thursday. A group in LA, Jews United for Democracy and Justice, has also put on some wonderful free programs, including one with Adam Schiff. I’m hoping all of this will become part of the new normal.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about my hair…. As you undoubtedly noticed in the featured image, my hair is a lot lighter than it has been in previous pictures. But you would be too polite to say anything unless I brought it up first. The hair appointment that I had in March 2020 for a cut and color was cancelled when everything shut down. I know I could have bought box dye at Target, but I decided to let it grow out and see how it looked, since nobody was going to see me anyway. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to experiment. For several months I colored the roots with a crayon called Tween Time, but after the “roots” got several inches long, that became challenging. Finally in December, with salons having been opened, I decided to get my hair cut, because it was getting too long and too bushy, and I wanted to look respectable for my trip to Atlanta. My appointment was on December 9th, and the following week the Governor ordered salons to be closed again because of a spike in covid cases, so my timing was good. My stylist cut off several inches of brown hair, and I wanted her to lighten what was left of it to match the new growth. She said it would be too damaging, and suggested doing the opposite, namely putting “lowlights” (a new term for me – the opposite of highlights) in the gray part that would make it blend in with the brown. The lowlights were only semi-permanent color, so would wash out in a couple of months. I really like the way it looks. In a few more weeks I will go in again and get the rest of the brown cut off.
And finally . . . the VACCINE is here! I got my first shot on February 6th and my second shot on March 6th, so two weeks after that, on March 20th, I will be fully vaccinated! In the featured image, you can see the needle actually going into my arm. (The 12:00 sticker on my shirt is the time I got the shot, so that the staffers would know when my fifteen minutes was up and they could dismiss me.) It did hurt going in, and the next day I was feverish and a little dizzy, but by the 8th I was feeling great. And the day after that, March 9th, the CDC said that fully vaccinated people can gather together indoors without masks! So maybe we are looking at normal life again!
More good news: Within the past week there was a graph which showed that the number of people who have been vaccinated is now greater than the number of people who have been infected. So we are really coming to the end of the story. Time to start planning a family reunion for this summer!