Out enjoying the daffodils and cherry blossoms in the neighborhood, I came upon two women on the street, just chatting. Both were masked, standing about six feet apart, an everyday sight to us all. I wondered if either were vaccinated, if they had asked the other about their vax status, and if there was a delicate way to have that conversation.
“I’m vaccinated are you?” seems awkward. If the answer is no, once everyone has had their chance to get one, then “why not?” seems rude, maybe even confrontational.
I heard someone say, “I won’t be getting a vaccine.” A pause followed. It’s a conversation stopper. You don’t know whether their health prevents it, if it’s political, or if they’re anti-vax in general. Perhaps they don’t want to be told what to do, or they’re afraid, or believe it’s the Mark of the Beast, or whatever other reasons there may be. I try not to judge; everyone has a story.
If it’s someone you don’t know well, or if good manners stop you, asking for an explanation could be delicate or embarrassing, or a deep conversation, which isn’t always something you want to do while walking the neighborhood in search of signs of spring.
So I’m thinking we need a signal, some indication or sign that you are vaccinated. If you knew the other person was “safe” you might approach more readily. If you’re outside you might even not slip your mask on. If they knew about your vax status, they might be more willing to smile, stop and chat, get a little closer, back to the 1-2 foot distance we used to maintain – though I confess that makes me nervous, just thinking about it.
As I walked, looking at the yellows, pinks, and light greens that are slowly replacing the greys and browns, I thought about what that sign might look like. An armband or tattoo would be just bad taste, and rather anti-celebratory. What about something like in a spy film, where agents have a super secret signal to identify each other. Perhaps simply a V sign, as in Vaccine, as in Victory! It could be two fingers aloft, or more subtly, a V alongside your cheek, or tapping your upper arm – now that the swelling has subsided and the red faded away. How about a whole dance routine of movements, a two-armed V outstretched, a V tap on the bicep, a fist thrown into the air, ending with a bit of a victory dance, your own touchdown choreography?
Perhaps I’m feeling a little spring buzz in my brain. Maybe it’s the post-vax giddiness as friends plan visits, I hear about others’ adventures, events are creeping onto the calendar, and I feel the tentative thrill of starting to dream of venturing out from this year-long inner sanctum.
“Starting to dream” is all I can muster though. To be honest, while I’m cautiously optimistic, I’m nervous as I look to this unknown future. Covid cases are trending upward again, there’s talk of a 4th wave), schools are back in session, people are partying like it’s 2019, or even February 2020. How good is the vaccine, and how long will it last? Blah blah blah. Hate to rain on anyone’s parade.
The thing is, I’ve been shut into my tiny universe so long, I’m not even sure I know how to behave in company. Can I make small talk anymore? My facial expressions are easily hidden among a dozen Zoom faces, and I may have to be more aware of my grimacing or eye rolling while face to face. And if we hug or kiss? Go right or left? Avoid hugs, handshakes, and high fives, no matter what the vax status?
I was in a restaurant on a trip last August, anxiously suspicious of every surface, from tabletops to menus, to the plates of food, to the wait staff’s proximity. It’s hard to trust all that again. More importantly, I’ve caught myself at home lately, hunched over my plate, shoveling food into my mouth, licking my fingers, and yes, slurping, sounding like my Grandpa Herman. I may not know how to eat in public any more. What’s that? Food on my face? Aiyiii….
And what about dressing to go out? People in my current orbit don’t care how I look. They look much the same. Clothes that button and zip and cinch and tug will be annoying. I’ll have to think in advance to make sure that 1) my clothes coordinate, 2) they’re not stained, and 3) they still fit and are flattering. I’m not so great at checking my wild and overgrown hair before Zoom meetings; but now it will be worse without that little rectangle of screen to give me visual feedback. I’ll be pressing an imaginary “stop video” button to no avail.
Case in point: I leave the house for a chiropractor appointment, late because I forget how to keep track of time – something that once was my superpower. On the drive I realize I never brushed my teeth this morning. I’m mad at myself, but realize I’ll be wearing a mask anyway so it doesn’t matter. I just have to hope that the N95 does what it says it’s going to do. I didn’t get my hair brushed back either, and now it’s too late, but managed to bundle it into a quick braid at a stoplight, wishing I’d grabbed a hat. I file my ragged nails at the next stoplight. And vow to do better.
Soon enough I’ll all be joining others in public, and I’ll adjust. Still, everyone has their own risk tolerance level, and mine is firmly conservative. I’m hoping to skip birthday parties – candles on cakes?! It may be a while before I enter a gym or indoor pool (all we have in Portland) though I can’t wait to swim in the Willamette River when it warms up. Forget about using cash. I have the same $50 bill in my wallet that I’ve had since December. Buttons on keypads in the checkout line are germy enough. I avoid elevators when I can, and fortunately I’m still steady on my feet and can use public stairways without touching the railings. And after years of turning my nose up at it, I now carry a bottle of hand sanitizer. I know I know, the chances are low for surface transmission. But we’re not far enough away from it all, the variants are perplexing, hospitalizations are back up, and “long covid” is a mystery. So I’ll continue to err on the cautious side, and adapt slowly.
The thing is, we locked down when covid cases were in the hundreds, and now we’re letting loose like it’s all ok, though cases are 100 times that. But I get it, it’s been a long year, and spring is busting out.
The question remains, am I too feral to be in company? But flash me your V sign, and I might give you a hug. I think I need one.
I’m late to the party obviously. There are t-shirts, stickers, and hats, and no doubt more. Even non-vaxxers have signs that give others fair warning.