What COVID Stole From Me

You guys know me, I was born wearing rose-colored glasses and I refuse to take them off, but like most of us, 2020 was a year that truly challenged me. I can’t embrace 2021 without paying tribute (and by “paying tribute”, I mostly mean “flip off”) a very weird year.

I am one of those people who “feels” things before they happen, but still, I did not predict a pandemic. I did however, “feel” on New Year’s Eve last year that 2020 would be personally challenging for me. I was separated from my husband of 30 years, living alone for the very first time in my entire adult life. I was in a state of shock mostly, questioning my sanity, my judgment. My therapist refused to allow me to call it a “midlife crisis” but rather I was “redefining myself “. I like that.

If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that we have absolutely no control over anything whatsoever, only ourselves and our reactions to the things that happen to us. Also, some things are irreversible.

Since the quarantine in March/April, I, like most of you, have been living in fear of contracting COVID-19. It was a new world of masks and hand sanitizer and everyone looking at one another fearing each other’s cooties. It’s horrible way to live. We humans are social creatures and we biologically crave connection. Not being able to see one another’s faces, or hug has taken its toll on us all collectively.

Picture if you will Burgess Meredith in the old Twilight Zone episode, at the very end where the world has come to an end, everything destroyed, and he’s the only surviving human. He is thrilled with this thought because ironically, as the world was being destroyed, he was apparently safe somewhere in the library, and he is now laying on the crumbled steps of this library, and books are strewn everywhere. He can read now to his heart’s content with no interruptions, only guess what??? He can’t find his glasses. Frantically he waves his hands around, the world blurry, and he joyfully finds them, only guess what again? They’re broken and unwearable. He’s basically in hell and realizes it.

Metaphorically, that was me this year, “waking up” to realizing life as I knew it had been completely obliterated, my rose-colored glasses shattered for the very first time. How to deal??

If you read my “How Tiktok Saved My Sanity” then you already know how the pandemic affected my mental health. I am still enjoying being a very minor celebrity as the conditions under which I started TikTok back in June are still present. There are still no sporting events to go to, no live music (my band probably won’t survive this sadly), I can’t go to the museum or the library, and no hanging out in coffee houses. If you’re a social butterfly like me, “staying home” is like a prison sentence. I have heard a few of my introverted friends say, “the pandemic hasn’t changed my life at all”, and I just want to scream. One friend said, “I didn’t really notice”. WOW.

I am so sick of “staying home”. When you live alone and you’re an extrovert, “staying home” every single Friday and Saturday night for a year IS a prison sentence. I have a need for socialization, and well, FUN. Netflix is ok for weekday nights but come the weekends, I miss going to clubs. I love dancing, I love live music, I miss performing and I also miss going to see other bands. I miss plays and fuck I just miss being able to go to a nice restaurant on a weekend night if I have no one to do anything with and sit and chat up the bartender and whomever’s on a barstool near me. Wisconsites are a friendly bunch and especially friendly to one another at a local tavern. “Hanging out and having a beer” is how we connect in Wisconsin. We are serious hangers-out here. We bond over wings and fries and cheese curds. We are also die-hard tailgaters and to have a summer without Brewer baseball and tailgating is just well, unthinkable. Same with Packer season. I have been blessed to have been able to attend a few games with my sweet son’s girlfriends’ parents who have season tickets, and of course, we didn’t go this year. I look forward to this so much every fall.

COVID stole some profound Proud Mommy Moments from me too. I didn’t get to dress up and take Proud Mommy Moment pictures with my son and ruin my makeup with my proud-mommy tears for my son who first graduated with his Masters in Public Health with honors in May nor his White Coat Ceremony in August as a medical student at Madison. This was a big deal. Their White Coat Ceremony was cancelled this year and in its place the University did a wonderful job of celebrating the new incoming doctoral students with a live-streaming ceremony of pictures of the students in their white coats and stethoscopes and a short bio of each student instead. It was nice, I got to watch it with my son, but not the same thing as BEING THERE, watching him being handed the coat by his professor, and ceremoniously putting the coat on for the first time, seeing his smile a mile wide, feeling his own pride at his accomplishments, tossing the stethoscope around his neck symbolically. COVID-19 took that away from my son and away from me. He handled it way better than I did as he was just so happy to have the coat and stethoscope and be a medical student. I love his resilience. But for me and all the other proud moms out there, we were robbed.

My grad school classes (like everyone else’s) went online. How I miss being IN school. I moved last year to be close to campus for the whole school- environment experience and two months in, in-person classes were all cancelled. I’ve yet to meet my professors and classmates.

I had two trips planned this year and had to cancel them both at the last minute because I had to accept that it “wasn’t safe” to travel, and one would’ve required a 14-day quarantine when I got there. At my own expense. Insert broken-heart emoji. This was so disheartening. After months of “imprisonment” in my apartment, my need to get away was fierce. I mean yes, I’ve got flight vouchers good for a year I can use when it IS “safe” to travel again, but I worry my father won’t live long enough for me to get to see him. He will be 92 in March. And speaking of my dad, he actually caught COVID and is recovering at this writing. He and my younger brother who lives and cares for him caught it despite not having gone anywhere but the grocery store and doctors’ appointments for 10 months. How they caught is remains a mystery. I’m just so so grateful that despite having COPD and emphysema, he was never hospitalized. My brother as well had a mild case.

I’m sure what I lost is small bananas compared to many and I realize I sound like a spoiled brat. But what I’ve lost personally is something many of us have lost, and that’s the ability to truly connect to other human beings. We had just come from an era of a collective anger and annoyance over people’s overuse of technology vs person-to-person communication, and COVID put us right back there, staring at screens 24/7. We’ve lived this way for almost a year now, and the end is still nowhere in sight.

What I worry about is how this will affect us all in the long run. There’s an old saying that goes “do something for 21 days and it will become a habit”. Well, how about things we do for a year or more??? Like, being afraid to get close to another human being? Yesterday I was alone in an elevator, mask on, and the door opened and someone with a dog refused to enter, choosing to wait to ride when he could ride alone. I mean, everywhere we go, elevators have signs saying “two-at-a-time only”. With his dog that would be 3 but the dog doesn’t count. What was he so afraid of??? It hurt my feelings. Like wow really.

We are all so used to taking huge steps back from one another in line at the store (let’s face it, that’s the only place we go). We are so afraid of one another’s cooties we behave horribly to one another. I have always been friendly and I have always chatted with cashiers, asking how their day is going, chatting to other people in line, you know, if I see a cute purse or hat on someone or they’ve got something cool in their cart I’ll mention it. Those days are GONE. People are so afraid of one another, I get cold stares or just plain ignored as if I was invisible. On Christmas Eve I went to the grocery store and there was a super cute guy wearing one of those cheesy Christmas suits, you know, like a business suit but all green with little Santas all over it. I told him how cute he looked and he brandished an angry stare and kept walking. Again, like “Wow. Really”.

One time (again, in an elevator, because that’s how exciting my life is now), a mother with a baby who was sitting in the shopping cart facing me began to scream when I said, “Hi baby! What a cutie pie you are!” in my bestest high-pitched baby voice. Now that baby might’ve screamed anyways had I not been wearing a mask, but it made me gasp and wonder, without the ability to see my whole face, this generation of children doesn’t benefit from seeing a person’s smile. You know how babies love when you make a really big face with your eyes super open and mouth wide open? Playful and fun. And I can’t do that and that baby doesn’t get to see my over-the-top “you’re such a cute baby” face. Can you even imagine being a baby right now? Babies learn to read and interpret from facial expressions and all they can see are eyes. They are either going to be seriously fucked up or masters of reading what they call “micro-expressions”. I don’t know, but it’s sad I can’t even coo at someone else’s cute baby anymore.

What’s gone is simply “being nice” to one another. Have you dared held the door open for someone lately? OH MY GOD you’d think I was committing attempted murder. Sorry, I’ve been holding doors open for people for hmmmm, about 40 years, and it’s instinctive. Sorry it doesn’t occur to me you would reel with horror and refuse my chivalry.

I refuse to kowtow to this fucking virus. I will not let it change me. You people can go about being rude and mean and giving me the stink-eye for continuing to be my happy-go-lucky, friendly self. There is no reason to be this way and you know it. If you’re that afraid of the virus, stay home, or shop at 6 am when stores allow the higher at-risk shoppers to shop. I will not become like you. I will not stop saying hello even if it’s behind a mask. I will not stop thinking of my fellow man when I hold a door open for you or allow you to go ahead of me in line when I’ve got a cart-full and you’re holding just a loaf of bread. Stop looking at me like I’m the enemy here. I am sick of it.

The worst thing COVID took away from me? Of course, it was the ability to see my family and friends while I try to “stay safe” in my apartment cocoon. I am grieving the losses of everything fun from Burning Man, Summerfest and State Fair being cancelled, all the venues and clubs, and inconceivably at one point, the beach was closed during the measly three months’ summer we get here in Wisconsin. I mean, I get it, we all “get it”, the hospitals are over-capacity and they’re stretched to their limits. My heart goes out to front-line workers everywhere and I think they are definitely the angels in this whole fucking catastrophic world we are living in. But much lip service has been given to how hard it really is to just “stay home”. And I’m not even going into those who’ve lost their jobs. “Staying home” isn’t fun or an option for many of us, and even to those whom it is an option, it’s fun until it isn’t.

I have accomplished much since the pandemic started, some good and some not so good. The good?? I am a second-year grad student with a 3.80 GPA (that one B in Stats but hey! I was very happy to have gotten a B!!) and I have an amazing job I love. I’ve gotten so much closer to my two kids, one I see nearly every day and the other lives a little further away who called me frequently just to say hello. And living alone I’ve gotten to know myself better and learn to budget and also shop just for myself. I’ve gotten to cuddle my cat more than ever before. The not-so-good? I’ve learned that if I open a bottle of wine at dusk (which is now 4:30) I can finish the whole bottle by myself in one evening. I also have found a way to make nachos at 1 am when I get home from work. I’ve developed some bad habits thanks to six months of no gym being open and living in an apartment where I can’t even walk from one room to another without annoying the person living below me. Can you imagine if I tried to exercise??

I did take up walking during summer since I had to get out of my apartment. I started listening to books on Audible and would walk for 2-3 hours just to get outside. But it’s January now and snowing, so forget walks. My gym did open but it sometimes scares me to go because they don’t require masks while exercising. So while I’m trying to get healthier I might catch something that might kill me.

The risk is real and I’m just plain sick of worrying about it. Aren’t you? Thankfully, it looks like I’m next in line to get the vaccine because I am a health care worker. It cannot happen fast enough. I know you feel it too.

Little by little, it will happen. For those of us who haven’t lost a loved one due to COVID, life will get back to normal and this will all be just one big horrible nightmare.

I’m ready for the era of debauchery we haven’t seen since the roaring 20’s to begin. I’ve got a bottle of champagne in the fridge that’s symbolically sitting there to open when I can throw every single mask I own in the trash. Or better yet, burn in a dumpster.