When Rick and I hit the road for Canada a year ago (March 11, 2020) -- he was to continue on to his trade show in Massachusetts -- we had no idea that our world was about to change. I've been reflecting on this past year often in recent weeks, as I've reviewed the Covid journal I made over the past year (HERE).
In the weeks leading to that trip, we'd heard an increasing number of reports about an illness that had started in China and had hit other countries as well, including Italy and other spots in Europe. There were even cases in the United States. The first reported case in Michigan was March 9. People were talking about how important it was to use hand sanitizer and I had bought Rick a large container to put at his booth. He had strict warnings from me not to shake hands with prospective clients.
He'd called several times to see if the show was canceled. It wasn't, so off we went on a lovely mid-March day. Our plans included a stop for dinner in the Ontario town of Strathroy at a favorite restaurant where, that evening, we would celebrate 24 years together, though our friendship actually began a few years before. Then we'd stop overnight at my friend Suzanne's, where I would stay while Rick was at the show. He'd venture on, do the show, spend time with his brother and pick me up on the way home.
It was all so simple. Our dinner -- the pizza and wine special -- was really quite good. But as Rick said not long ago, "If I'd known it would be our last dinner out together for such a long time, I would have ordered better wine!"
And that is one of the lessons of this past year. Order the good stuff now. Because you never know what might happen.
After we arrived at Suzanne and Jim's, we watched the news on a variety of international stations. The president gave the most sobering, somewhat incoherent and robotic and extremely frightening address we'd ever heard, speaking of closing our borders to Europeans that week. The video footage that followed focused on people with shopping carts full of toilet paper, empty shelves, and people in Italy in hospitals and on ventilators, that country -- and many others -- locked down.
That night while I was blissfully asleep beside him, Rick spent much of the night gasping for breath, not sleeping well. He was remembering that only a week before he'd been on a flight home sitting next to a seminary student who had returned from Italy to escape what was now called a pandemic and was headed home to Michigan. The next morning he took off, leaving me behind as we planned.
While on the road, he learned that the show was canceled as of that morning. After an overnight in upstate New York (and tracking down his seatmate, learning he had no symptoms), Rick returned home, leaving me in London with Suzanne -- just in case. (If he had heard "no symptoms" today, he would still be freaked out and so would I, for at least two weeks.) Lesson learned: Covid has an incubation period and you can spread it while being asymptomatic.
During those days, I remember great concern for Rick, even as Suzanne and I hit grocery stores in an impossible quest to find chicken, while noting toilet paper-filled carts and long lines at Costco and other spots we went. Flour and yeast were in short supply, too. Of course, at that point, no one was wearing masks. We hit used bookstores, some of which already had sanitizing operations in place. We had one last dinner out -- and were practically the only diners in a very large dining room. (That was my last dinner inside a restaurant to this day.) None of us had masks yet.
She brought me home two days before the border closed.
I don't think either Rick or I realized how significantly our lives had changed in those days, not just for a short period but for far longer. His breathing, he learned, was anxiety attacks. But while those eased, the anxiety we both felt kept getting worse and worse.
I began chronicling things in my Covid Journal (you can see it in more detail here.) A combination of narrative and paintings, it told our our story and noted how things changed. Events were canceled.
We did shopping online and sanitized our groceries. After one last doc appointment, for months the appointments were by telephone.
We wore masks. Friends made them and sent them to us. We didn't leave home without them. We still don't and despite restrictions being eased, I don't see being without a mask at hand for an indefinite period of time. (I learned a lot about how masks worn by all will protect all and why not doing so is discourteous to others and way more about viral load than I ever thought I'd be interested in.)
And, because Rick did go out where I didn't, we kept distance between us. We did that till just a week ago, when both our vaccines had fully kicked in, although in public we will wear masks for a long time.
For weeks, maybe even months, Lizzie was the only living thing that I touched.
We weren't alone. We didn't see friends for months, opting instead for Zoom happy hours. We longed to see the Toddler Twosome and at long last -- at very long last -- we have. Carefully.
Everyone we knew was in the same boat -- canceling classes, parties, trips abroad. I had planned to go to England; Rick missed his annual cycle ride into Canada. We were baking a lot, taking walks, streaming video. I finished my family history book, did a lot of painting, and even managed to lose fifteen pounds. We were hanging on.
Meanwhile, there was plenty of chaos in our country even if we'd never heard of Covid. Police shootings and senseless murders brought the Black Lives Matter movement back to the forefront, Covid-deniers and conspiracy theorists were running rampant, protesters stormed our Michigan capitol and others, and our governor narrowly avoided a kidnapping attempt. Then there was the most ridiculous and important presidential election we have ever faced.
In these months I've learned something. Maybe I knew it before but never really had to put it into such practice. People will either learn to live with the changes for the better good, even if they have restrictions or deny them and go about as usual and taking their chances. The latter was not an option for us. I'm too high risk and Rick is far too caring to play roulette with his health or with mine. So, we adapted.
We put on our masks, we kept our distance. If we saw people (as we did when summer came along and we could be outside) we wore our masks, kept distance and swapped hugs for fist or elbow bumps. We put Cork Poppers on hold, did meetings by Zoom and only saw the toddlers once or twice, including an exceptionally warm day in early November.
I have learned to treasure quiet moments together. Any moments together. Every moment together. I learned that it didn't matter if people thought being so careful was over the top -- I was worth protecting. So was Rick.
I learned how to be creative with cooking, especially near the end of the grocery run. And, I learned how to handle my hair. I'm not saying I handle it well, but at least I handle it better than I did back in the summer.
We just moved forward and so did the life around us. Neighbors moved, new ones arrived. I've been without a dishwasher for about a year. I view dishwashing as extended handwashing. I regenerated scallions on the window sill. In many ways, we didn't just cope. We thrived. Not that it wasn't frustrating -- but the options weren't really options for us.
I've always been pretty good at being self-contained. We only children learn at an early age how to entertain ourselves and that's a lesson put into great effect in the past year.
We summered at the lake, spending more time together 24/7 than Rick and I have in the past now-25 years.
We celebrated birthdays.
And we turned regular days into celebrations. Because we were here and alive. That's a valuable lesson, too.
We missed big occasions in person but did our best to be part of them in whatever way possible, like watching the Zoom version of our cousin Heather's wedding. I learned how to Zoom this year, too!
And life went on. I paid off my mortgage and was able to celebrate with dear friends. Although I didn't do my annual art sale, my sales (thanks to some of you) were better than ever this year.
I have learned about different vaccines, the differences in masks, the best ways to breathe and control breathing, which side to lay on (your stomach, preferably) and have been talked off the ledge more than once by my doc. I watch daily briefings because things change -- as this process evolves, we have to evolve, too and recognize that what was said when things were new might be different now.
I'm a pro at sanitizing the groceries. They say we don't really have to do that anymore. Hey, what else am I doing with my time? It doesn't take long -- and it makes me feel better. I sanitized the mail, too. (And that I've stopped doing!)
I think I've always valued the joys of family and friends, but in this past year I've realized how much I enjoy being with them and miss it when we don't have the option. Rick and I became closer; we took care of each other, even though we had to keep somewhat apart. We have survived and in some ways, thrived.
While we both sorely miss being able to go to Canada (Rick is hoping to do his bike hike in August -- we'll see if the border is open), and while I look toward 2022 to return to England, we have been reasonably content. With the vaccines, we should have more flexibility, (although I think Rick got pretty bummed out when he realized that just having the vaccine doesn't mean you can toss your mask and hug with abandon and that distance and sanitizing will still be part of the game for awhile, at least for us).
But we may be able to go to a restaurant more comfortably, hang with the toddlers and see friends more readily in person. I feel very optimistic about the recent Covid relief bill that passed in Congress this week and agree strongly with the go-big-or-go-home plan. I want to see vaccines easily available for all in the world, for businesses to open in full and to resume some sense of normalcy.
But I'm not naive. I don't think we will ever know the "normal" we knew a little over a year ago. And so, we adjust. We go forward. We look out for one another. And I will do my best to be patient. That's another lesson I've learned well this year. And of course, we will try to stay well.
One warm evening last May, I was walking home from Rick's. We had enjoyed a wonderful dinner on the patio and probably a movie -- I can't remember. It was quite late, very dark, and so quiet I could only hear my footsteps and on occasion, a distant car. Every neighborhood tree or bush that flowered was in full bloom and the fragrance was almost intoxicating.
And all I could think of, my silent -- or maybe whispered -- prayer was "Please let us be here next spring so I can take this walk again, smell the blooms, hear nothing but footsteps.
That prayer was answered. I hope your were, too.
Has the year changed you? How? What have you missed most or been surprised that you missed it less than you thought? Please share in the comments!
Stay well and safe, my friends.
Sharing with: Pink Saturday