What Happens After This?

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A year has passed and it feels like 100 years and none at all.

We are all bodies out of time now.

This is the anniversary week of the start of our indoor year, a year lived on loop, riding a Mobius strip made from razor blades, shaving us down to near nothing over the course of 365 endless days. We lived our lives indoors, we lost our lives indoors, we were alone, abandoned by a president who only cared about his reelection prospects.

We learned to work at home. We taught school. We made masks. We hoarded toilet paper and baked bread. We supported each other in a million tiny ways because no one else would. We thought it would end. It didn’t.

We lost jobs, we lost lives, we lost hope a thousand times over. The longest year, every day a year. We said goodbye over Zoom; we worked our jobs on Zoom; we went to school on Zoom; we visited family on Zoom. I dream in Zoom sometimes, either that or being somewhere without a mask. The two indelible dreams of the indoor year.

We’re entering another spring of unknowns, of anxiety, of waiting. But the questions are different now: Instead of wondering how bad it will get, we’re asking when the vaccine will end up in our arms, when we might hug a friend, when we can leave the indoor year behind. We are wondering how good will it get? And we worry that those questions are premature, that we’ll have the hope pulled out from under us like we did so many times this year, or at least I do.

It feels like a betrayal of the promise of finally getting out to wonder if I want to.

And as much as I long to leave it, this indoor life has become familiar. It’s predictable and, in some ways, that predictability is nice: you stay in, you do nothing. It’s Stockholm Syndrome, certainly, but it’s more than that. In a year when everything stopped, in a year of so much loss, and a year that has forced so many painful questions to be asked, it has forced perspective on our Before Lives and how we lived them. I wonder sometimes about the decisions I made back then, about the things I did and didn’t do. The priorities of weeks of business travel instead of being home, of late nights working, of the lives we missed and the ones that, weirdly, we’ve now gained.

My family discovered the birds that visit our backyard; we bought feeders and kept count. Our youngest learned how to draw, our eldest how to code. My wife rebuilt muscle she’d lost to cancer, working out on the living room floor. I wrote. The four of us spent every single day of the last year together, which was impossible in the Before Times. Most days it was exhausting; some days it was nice in its smallness, in its scale and scope of just the four of us, safe inside.

But that’s changing. We have an administration focused not on saving its own ass but on saving ours and their promised ramp-up of vaccines is really happening. The end of the indoor year is visible, even if it’s not imminent. It feels like a betrayal of the promise of finally getting out to wonder if I want to. Of course I want to, but also I don’t want to simply go back.

Even in that trepidation, being able to envision that struggle, a new struggle, a struggle about being out instead of in, feels like a gift. Like a literal shot in the arm after a year of illness and death.

And maybe the struggle isn’t about the binary of being inside or being out, but about starting to envision a life in the After Times that isn’t the same as the ones we lived before. Because too much has been lost to simply set the clock back to 2019 and pretend nothing happened. Too many truths have been exposed, too many lives uprooted. Covid exploited the fissures in our society in a vicious, meticulous, unrelenting way and we do ourselves a disservice to paper back over them in the name of “normalcy.” We can’t go back and we can’t stay here, dipped in amber. We must move on, but in a direction that combines the good we left behind with the stuff we want to keep from the lives we built during the indoor year.

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Lifestyle – Esquire

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