Vacation pictures are ruined for me now. Before 2020, I loved seeing familiar faces beaming up at me from far-flung beaches. Good for you! I'd think. You know, Mexico looks surprisingly kid-friendly. Let's put it on our list. But a full year into buckling down at home with my husband and four kids—instead of going to all the places we also wanted to see—I'm crushed when I see the photos now.
I thought we were in this together.
Why are some of us carrying on with keeping each other safe while others have left the building, in this case, literally?
It's not the guys from my high school who surprise me. They started raging on Facebook in the earliest days of the pandemic. "Who says I can't take my own boat out?" You could practically hear them growl about state park restrictions last spring. I'm also unfazed by relatives whose media choices have them convinced that COVID has never been something to worry about. Possibly gone by Easter, they thought. Of last year. (Since then, three people I know have died.)
I'm not talking about them.
What's going on with people who used to take precautions? A lot of them are people I know. Why are they rolling on like we aren't in a pandemic anymore?
"So, what have you guys been up to?" my friend chirps into the phone every few weekends. Last time we spoke she was fresh off hosting a Super Bowl party where everyone decided that wearing masks in the house would be silly, since they all know each other. As though that's how COVID works, only transmitting to strangers.
A Super Bowl party sounded fun. I love parties!
I also love my friend. But it's maddening. She's a retired nurse. She's normally a conscientious person. What is happening here?
I KNOW it's exhausting. I know because this is my answer, every time she asks.
"Um, the same. Just trying to get through the school year without losing my business. Or my sanity. I still have to sit with Violet (our six-year-old) and guide her through first grade on an iPad. Then I check in on all the other kids for the rest of the day, so yeah, my book project (and its income) is on hold." That's when I get to hear about her home improvement projects. Her weekly card game with friends. Golfing. Meanwhile, I just begged my kids to stay outside for the next nine minutes so I could make some progress with an assignment.
Before you drive over here to find out if I'm okay, yes, we've found some outdoorsy things to do. It's not all doom and gloom because we're lucky enough to not have caught COVID-19. We've stayed home, we've worn masks and we've only done things outside with other people who've done the same. It's not great but at least when everyone was doing it, we felt less alone.
Now that people are having adventures again, though—and doing it without us—that stings.
Don't mistake my tone for sour grapes. I'm not upset because I'm not invited. I'm upset because every time someone else has a party, it increases the chances of more infections. Of a new strain. Every time someone hops on a plane and stays with people in their homes, the pandemic has just been extended for me, and everyone else.
As one of the most astute memes of this year says, "I can't teach you how to care about other people."
What baffles me now is that I know most people DO care. They're just so tired. And I get that too.
We're all exhausted. As a family. As a society. As a lady sitting here at this computer. But it's simply not over yet. Just this month, experts from the New York Times said we have to hang tight for just a little while longer.
"We're, hopefully, in between what I hope will be the last big wave, and the beginning of the period where I hope Covid will become very uncommon," said Robert Horsburgh, an epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health. "But we don't know that. I've been advocating for us to just hang tight for four to six more weeks."
Not one person wants to do this. But we need to.
Let's not slip and fall on the one yard line. The article continues:
"The director of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said at the briefing on Monday that she was 'really worried' about the rollbacks of restrictions in some states. She cautioned that with the decline in cases 'stalling' and with variants spreading, 'we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.'
And the plateauing case levels 'must be taken extremely seriously,' Dr. Walensky warned at a briefing last week. She added: "I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal. But we're not there yet.'"
When you hear "extremely seriously," what do you think?
Every baby shower, movie night or poker game inside a house, without masks, drags this whole thing out. That's where rugged individualism fails us as a culture. Doing whatever you want impacts me and what I want.
You know what I want? I'm betting it sounds familiar: For kids to go to school, giving me time to work, bringing in money I can spend with other businesses. To have dinner parties and game nights with friends. And my crispy fried nerves could definitely use a nice long trip to a beach.
Once it's safe.