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RACHEL HAWLEY
  • Rachel Hawley

Rachel Hawley

Apartment tours are like first dates, in that you often know you're not interested within a few seconds of introduction, and must politely smile and nod your way through a sales pitch anyway. I'd been viewing apartments, masked and gloved, for a few weeks when I found The One: an implausibly large one-bedroom with air conditioning a block from the Red Line in Rogers Park. The moment I stepped inside the empty unit, I began sketching a layout in my mind: a couch, comfortable writing chair, and coffee table near the living room windows; a proper desk for my work computer; my kitchen table and chairs in the dining nook (the dining nook!). This apartment, I knew, belonged to the best of all possible futures, the universe in which I become the type of person who makes smoothies with kale and protein powder and hosts parties and never has to weigh whether or not to put on concealer before a Zoom call because my skin is perfect.

This was the first time in a long while that I've been able to imagine an ideal future. In January, I filled the first page of a notebook with resolutions: lose 30 pounds, land a byline in the New York Times or the New Yorker, go out with friends every weekend. We make plans, and coronavirus laughs.

A little over a year ago, my vision of the future dissolved under very different circumstances. Midway through my senior year of college, I began hearing footsteps outside my apartment door at all hours of the night. Gradually, I came to the realization that they belonged to a group of nefarious strangers determined to break into my bedroom and abduct me, and started sleeping with the lights on. I began leaving my apartment less and less, unsettled by the sense that some of the people who walked past me as I crossed the street were real, and some were not; at Target, I wandered the aisles aimlessly, unsure of what I'd gone there for, and certain that the other storegoers and employees were staring at me and whispering. I took the train to the hospital one day, and left a week later with a new handful of prescriptions and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty.

If you'd asked me a year ago what kind of future I imagined for myself, I would have described living in my parent's basement in New Jersey. I could never have imagined a universe in which the meds worked, and I'd work in journalism, and I dug up the perseverance to put one foot in front of the other, day in, day out, until I no longer felt like I was tiptoeing across a high wire. The irony is ripe—I finally caught a break just in time to navigate a global catastrophe. Having already emerged out of such a state of uncertainty once has in some ways prepared me for the present moment. I tend toward pessimism, because it is fun and feels sophisticated, and because my brain chemistry is bad, but it's difficult to remain a pessimist after experiencing such an improbable reversal of fortunes. "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst," is grating, as all aphorisms are, but the sentiment holds water.

In a few weeks, I'll be packing up my things into boxes. Moving is miserable, but there is no better feeling than having just moved, the apartment neater than it will ever be again and the neighborhood yet to be explored. I'm trying to tell myself that it's OK to feel hopeful in this moment—hopeful that Ikea will have the perfect rug to bring my new living room together, that the New Yorker will eventually take one of my pitches, that things might return to normal sooner rather than later.

Salem Collo-Julin

I keep ordering takeout. There's some measure of reason to this: it's good to limit my exposure to big groups of people at the grocery store and farmers markets. I have a job and lose track of time, making it hard to plan meals. I live alone and sometimes go by the Mike Royko System of Food Shopping for the Single Man (never do it unless there's absolutely nothing there, not even ice). An honest attempt to shift to more frequent grocery visits during this pandemic has resulted in the same "only if I'm desperate and only if the store's empty" policy, supplemented by grocery delivery services, which is basically takeout: you still tip a driver, you still call to order, they still have downtime in a car with your food and beverages and perhaps a moment to glance down at your pile of cheese-covered whatever-it-is and make a snap judgement about what your life must be like.

I could make the argument that having at least one of the preexisting conditions that makes the CDC say "uh, you may want to stay inside," it's somehow my duty as a thoughtful person to get grocery and food delivery. I could also make the argument that without frequent access to a car (and the game of Russian roulette the CTA buses near my house have been lately, with their maskless riders that eschew distancing) it's tough for me to get to the grocery and back.

These are terrible rabbit holes of arguments to follow for what ends up amounting to my privilege. I've been without many times in my life and perhaps part of me thinks, "Hey, I can get groceries delivered to my house like a regular middle-class person, woo hoo, take that gas station ramen!" It's a fun privilege. I can argue that I'm one of those people who tips above and beyond, allowing delivery drivers to feel the immense power of my guilt through their rounded-up (always at least 30 percent of the total) gratuity. I can hear my field worker ancestors yelling at me with sarcastic disdain as I write this, "Oh REALLY, Miss 30 Percent?! How generous you are!"

I went to the grocery store a few weekends ago on a Saturday morning and had to wait in line at the checkout for a few minutes. While I moved back my cart to get behind the distance tape on the floor, I looked around at everyone else waiting in line. All masked, as far as I could see. And still, the little voice in my head (maybe the ancestors again) was shouting, "We're all going to die." I don't have any answers. I'm just filling my mouth with cheese until I can't anymore.

A friend posted a video to Instagram from a recent hiking trip. She zoomed in on a great shot of a turkey vulture chowing down on dinner in the middle of a field. You can't tell what the vulture is eating at first (the tall grass makes it look like dinner is a pile of discarded beige plastic bags), but then the bird grabs hold of an end of its meal and lifts up the tail and lower half of what appears to be a dead coyote. The bird flips the tail around for a second and then brings it back to the ground, chomping and chomping. My mind drifts as I watch and I daydream of vultures gathering around my body, lying on the ground. "Big creatures," one vulture says to another, "lots of fat."

Taryn Allen

My quarantine bubble includes me, my girlfriend, and the Jewel-Osco down the street. Groceries have been a necessity, a hurdle we've all had to face over and over again in the midst of this hellscape.

Week one: Leaving the house in a makeshift mask feels like being plunged into a dystopian novel, the sense of fear and urgency in the air palpable. No crazy apocalypse preparation, we only want to go as long as possible before shopping again. The shelves are ravaged. We still manage to overfill our cart and are ashamed to call an Uber to transport us less than half a mile home.

Week two: Don't you know, people consume a lot more food when they're home all day, every day. It seems like we're out of everything.

Week three: We return to Jewel wearing our new masks, an upgrade from napkin/scarf/bandana placeholders. Six-feet markers dot the floor and the loudspeaker reminds us of CDC guidelines. Still incapable of judging just how much two people can carry, we overfill the cart and have to call an Uber again.

Week four: In search of alternatives, we put ourselves on the long waitlist for Imperfect Foods grocery delivery.

Week five: We explore Mariano's just to liven things up. Determined to avoid a rideshare, we walk home. Our shoulders are bruised from all the "necessary" gallons of milk and ice cream and liquor that weighed down our bags. We remain too lazy and too stubborn to purchase a personal grocery cart.

Week eight: With a full cart and all of our reusable Wegmans bags perched on the self-checkout machine, a Mariano's employee tells us that reusable bags aren't allowed anymore. She stands over us as we fumble to refold the bags and pack groceries into plastic. "Please place the item in the bagging area," the self-checkout machine screams. Shoppers stare as our bags fall over and rip, and stray lemons roll across the floor.

Week 12: Our only non-grocery-store adventure of quarantine, a nearby Black Lives Matter protest. "Think of it like going to the grocery store," my girlfriend says. "It's just one of the necessary things we have to do."

Week 13: As if delivered by God, a giant box of Imperfect Food groceries appears at our apartment. It's ugly, as promised, yet it's the most beautiful food I've ever seen.

Week whatever: Masking up and heading to the grocery store is a taste of freedom just as much as it is a chore. It's my framework for quarantine, almost the only place that exists outside of my apartment. There are now more places to go, but I can't help but prioritize the data as politicians prioritize the economy.

Karen Hawkins

This year, I finally visited my friend in Estonia. I had birthday cocktails in Manhattan, cuddled on the couch at a palatial home in Akron, sat at the kitchen table with a friend's parents in Virginia, toured a home renovation in Arizona, watched the plants grow on a courtyard in LA, and been entertained inside the homemade lip-sync studios of a dozen friends of a friend around the country. I also, of course, have been to nearly every room of culture editor Brianna Wellen's place.

Since the beginning of quarantine, my boozy friends have taken the proliferation of videoconferencing in our lives to its next logical conclusion: virtual happy hours. For those of you who have been FaceTiming, WhatsApping, Skyping, and Google Hangouting internationally for years now, I know that we're late to this party.

But for my Gen X friends and our families, video calls have been a revelation. I don't know why it didn't occur to us before that the smiling faces of Girl Erinn in Estonia and Boy Aaron in Pittsburgh have been just a click away since they moved out of Chicago years ago, but now that it has, we have a standing monthly Family Meeting. I have a quarterly catch-up with the crazy kid I interned and roomed with 24 years ago, our boss, and his husband (he's in New York, they're in Ohio); and one single dad friend in the 'burbs has a weekly hangout I haven't yet made it to (sorry, man!).

None of this replaces seeing these folks in person. I struggle with self-isolation every day and with the dawning realization that parts of our lives will never look the same again. Google Meet will never be able to capture the life-affirming joy of themed New Year's Eve parties at Aaron's apartment (one year we all dressed like Stevie Nicks, another year required Burt Reynolds mustaches), or weddings, housewarmings, karaoke, game nights, brunches, BBQs, chili cook-offs, or 12-hour Pride celebrations. But for too many of us, schedules, finances, and random obligations would probably have meant that years would've gone by before any of that happened anyway. It's both sobering and exciting that I'm now as likely to spend time with my friends in Andersonville as I am to have drinks in Arizona. I'm still holding out hope that someday my Stevie Nicks shawl and matching tambourine will usher in another year IRL again, and that I'll have a reason to learn how to say "cheers" in Estonian.

RACHEL HAWLEY
  • Rachel Hawley

Brianna Wellen

My 30th birthday party was going to be a blowout. I tend to go hard, hangovers and overdrawn bank accounts be damned, and typically all of June is filled with brunches and concerts and so many shots, because it's my birthday and I deserve it. The culmination of this monthlong celebration is a giant party at one of my favorite bars, usually Rainbo Club or Parrots Bar & Grill. Well, until coronavirus.

I'm lucky enough to have a backyard and a love for spreadsheets, so instead I invited my friends and family to fill out a questionnaire to safely schedule mini celebrations—about a dozen total—with few enough people to safely social distance. There was much to take into consideration.

The bathroom: I wasn't going to make anyone pee in the alley on my busy intersection, so I set ground rules for letting people into my home—masks on, plenty of hand sanitizer (I bought a large self-pump), disinfecting wipes, and lots of handwashing. Snacks: I'd love nothing more than to put out chips and guac to share, but these celebrations were strictly BYOT (bring your own treats). Conversation: when you're sitting at least six feet away from someone near a street with nonstop traffic, there's a lot of shouting involved—that tickle in your throat the next day isn't coronavirus, just the early stages of laryngitis. Daylight: forgetting that the outside is much more harsh on a fair complexion than a dark dive bar, I feel like I lost two layers of skin during the first week of backyard hangs due to sunburn.

"I don't think I talked to you at all during your birthday last year," one friend said, remembering being pulled into a conversation in the corner of the bar by strangers while I attempted to greet all my guests. It's been nice to spend quality time with folks without other friends—or worse, drunk strangers—interrupting. Even with guests buying me drinks, a birthday night out at a bar could easily rack up a $100 tab. In my yard, I can spend $15 on a case of beer and be set. And the commute is a dream—instead of waiting for an Uber or plotting the easiest route home, I've simply walked up a flight of stairs and plopped into my bed at the end of the night. I get to pick the music, I can wear whatever I want, I can order off-menu, and there are cats nearby at all times. The best party spot in town was right in my own backyard all along.

Yazmin Dominguez

I've been stuck in my living room for what feels like a year. My morning commute went from hitting the gas down I-90 before 9 AM to brewing Cafe Bustelo in my kitchen and racing down the hallway to the living room to clock in on Slack. My workday routine is a thing of the past, and my living room has turned into my office, gym, and therapist's couch. My laptop sits right next to my boyfriend's DJ equipment, a reminder of the "work hard, party harder" mantra I used to think of to keep my lifestyle balanced. I hula hoop on breaks just to keep things interesting.

Reopening weekend I visited a friend who asked to go to a dive bar in suburban Elgin. Though hesitant, I agreed.

The small backyard beer garden was packed with people not wearing masks. A piece of paper with chicken scratch was nailed to a post: "15 people capacity." There were at least 40 people in the tight spot. No masks. Loud yelling. I swear I saw spit particles fly from their mouths and into the air. There was a sign on the door that said, "Please wear a mask upon entering." I watched in horror as a woman put on her mask to go inside, only to be chastised by her husband and his friends who said it was "just for show." I held my hand over my plastic cup.

It began to rain. I sat at the bar watching my friend eat a greasy burger while a sweaty stranger repeatedly bumped into my sweaty back.

I had been missing going to a bar with my girls. But here I was, at a bar with my girl, and the only place I wanted to be was in my living room alone. I'm never coming to a bar until there is a vaccine, I thought to myself as I turned to the bartender and asked for another one.

Janaya Greene

Why could I never sleep the night before a visit to the grocery store? I'd watch Netflix and play Scrabble on my phone. Early on in the pandemic, it took three nights of this for me to realize the pattern. I realized my heart was beating faster and faster, even though there was no imminent danger. I realized I was ready to run to the grocery story in the middle of the night, in the middle of a pandemic, to just get it over with. I wanted to sleep.

Bless therapists. Not only are they dealing with the virus themselves, but they're holding space for those of us trying to reconfigure our lives. My therapist, who I've been having virtual sessions with since college when I first had crippling anxiety attacks, has helped me feel comfortable leaving my home. My telehealth sessions are like a FaceTime call. I tell my therapist how tough it's been to be quarantined mostly alone, unable to do the things I love like go to the movies or see my niece. She tells me to find creative ways to spend time with loved ones. Picnics at a distance, for example.

Still, reopening feels like a mindfuck. The nation is seeing higher positive rates and Cook County, where I live, has more new cases than the rest of the state. My mind shuts down just thinking about it. I try to distract myself with TV, but even reality shows have stopped filming so I can no longer get a slice of the real, previrus world. I want to hang with my friends, but I question if the paranoia I'll have after is worth it. I worry about how to navigate this city safely when folks are still not wearing masks. I can't control if someone whose face isn't covered will get too close—coronavirus has not put an end to catcalling—and I just can't find a way to tell people to keep their distance in a nice way.

I miss my friends and family. I miss wearing makeup and dressing up. I'm beginning to open up to the idea of spending safe, socially distant time with those I love. I'm grateful for my therapist. No one is meant to live this life alone.

S. Nicole Lane

I felt hot and sticky behind my mask. I was nervous about being in a confined space with other people. I lay down on the table, face in the little face hole, and I panicked. My face rested on the leather where several other faces had been.

I haven't eaten at restaurants or seen many friends. But I made a chiropractor appointment because my body is in severe pain. Being a dancer trained in ballet comes with consequences. The pain in my feet has affected my knees, hips, spine, and neck. Before the pandemic, my health came second to everything else in my life. Sure, I exercised and ate vegetables, but I never dealt with my chronic pain, things that have plagued me for a decade. And since quarantine started—and since I've been training to hike 20 miles for several days in southern Illinois in October—I can't ignore my aches and pains anymore.

Besides two patients who went in before me, everyone in the office wore masks. I was more nervous about how my bank account would look after the appointment than COVID protocol. But on that table, as the electric muscle stimulation pulsated through my body, I imagined all of the folks before me on a contaminated chair. After my ten-minute treatment, I was directed to another room where I'd come into physical contact with the chiropractor. I pictured all the folks who I haven't hugged or touched, my close friends who stretch out their arms for an embrace only to have me politely decline. I've kept a safe distance from the majority of people in my social bubble, yet here I was letting a stranger bend and contort my legs and crack my back with his hands. My desperation for pain relief turned into what seemed like recklessness.

I felt so calm after the appointment that I returned a week later. This time masks hung loosely on faces and one staffer even walked around with their nose and mouth exposed. My isolation-protocol-following ass was not about to succumb to the pressures of freedom to expose my own face. Back alignment. Then a neck alignment. Then a few leg stretches and I was back on the table. I was so shaken by the lax rules that this time instead of lying flat on my face, I propped myself up on my elbows.

The chiropractor showed me X-rays and said that I picked a perfect time to work towards a pain-free body. My spine is curving, one of my legs is shorter than the other, and my feet are in some serious distress. A few years from now, I was told, I'll be in even worse shape. If right now during a pandemic is the best time to remedy that pain, then I'll continue pulling up to the doctor's office, equipped with hand sanitizer and a handmade mask, ready to rock and roll.

RACHEL HAWLEY
  • Rachel Hawley

Leor Galil

I'd never earnestly considered making a New Year's resolution, never mind following through on it. But after I spent 2019 listening to Smash Mouth's "All Star" daily on a lark, this year I decided to be kinder to myself: I wanted to visit every branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Before I got the idea, I'd made visiting the Harold Washington Library a routine, stopping in whenever I had even a small window of time during my commute to or from the Reader's Bronzeville office; I'd place holds at the Logan Square branch regularly enough to stop there almost weekly too. I love unsystematically wandering through book aisles with the unspoken hope of accidentally discovering my new favorite story. I wanted to see what made each branch unique—its architecture, special collections, and art installations.

I made it to eight CPL locations before the pandemic started. When libraries began reopening in June, I didn't want to go. I knew I couldn't visit all the branches. A few libraries remain closed, and I don't have a car or bike, and thus far I've avoided taking public transportation. Aside from swift grocery runs, I've avoided going inside any building that isn't my home. I often don't leave my home for two or three days in a row.

Then I received the first notification that a hold I placed in March had arrived at the Logan Square branch.

I moved to Avondale in April, so picking up the book on foot would no longer be a convenient excursion. But the notification did make me reconsider the idea of visiting the library. The city's libraries don't offer curbside pickup, but CPL's guidelines for visitors and staff are on par with that of a well-regulated grocery store. In fact, the library's COVID-19 precautions are better than what I've seen visiting Jewel-Osco. If I felt comfortable walking around a grocery store populated by strangers who don't understand face masks should cover your mouth and nose in order to buy apples and frozen pizzas, surely I'd be OK stopping in a library for a few minutes to pick up a book I really want to read.

Since I've come to this realization, I still haven't made it to the library. I haven't made the time, and even though I remain inside my apartment most days, the hours melt away faster than a soft-serve cone in 98-degree heat (which reminds me, I'd like to make it to the Freeze before the summer ends). On a good day at home I'm able to make a dent in books I've otherwise struggled to focus on for more than a few minutes, which means soon I'll want a new tome to read. Good thing I still have a hold waiting for me. 

Deanna Isaacs

The Chicago Botanic Garden reopened its campus to the public June 24 on a limited basis—parking appointment required, numbers capped, masks (whenever indoors) and social distancing mandatory. Starved for the spectacle of this 385-acre living museum and wondering how hard it would be to get access, I went to the website at 3 PM that day and was surprised to score a 4 PM reservation. On arrival, I pulled right into a prime Lot 1 parking space, steps from the entrance.

That was the upside of reopening day. The downside was that spectacle was in shorter-than-usual supply.

Coming out of its own quarantine—an entire spring season without its full staff, its army of 1,400 volunteers, and its usual planting of 150,000 annuals—the garden looked, well, a little ragged. Like the first sight of a friend who's been through a nasty illness, you couldn't help noticing that its color wasn't so great, and that a certain amount of vigor was yet to be regained.

The tulips, of course, had come and gone. Roses were in bloom, though mostly past their prime, wilty around the edges. Trellises, including the one that usually supports a jaw-dropping floral ceiling over the Gateway Center bridge, stood bare. Pools were still drained. The butterfly exhibit, model train, and greenhouses were closed; bonsai platforms were empty and forlorn. There was a wind out of the west, carrying the intrusive sound of traffic rushing past on I-94, louder than remembered.

Without the usual mobs of flowers dominating the scene, the garden's impressive collection of trees came into focus: the elegant alley of lindens bordering the south side of the Rose Garden; the sweeping stand of Whitespire birch nearby; a multitude of conifers—the whole handsome cast of arboreal supporting players.

Still, I left for the first time ever without thinking about the flaws of my own meager gardening efforts. Chalk it up to schadenfreude, that ugly weed, but the patch of impatiens and potted petunias that greeted me at home didn't look half bad.

It was a fleeting satisfaction. On a return visit last week, porta-potties were still camped out at the entrance, but the professional landscapers were everywhere, manicures in process. Also, the grill was smoking (restaurants are partially open) and fountains were splashing, and, I noticed, the Sower statue—proudly naked in his niche on the Esplanade for so long—had sprouted a mask. 

Maya Dukmasova

I joined a quarantine pod with six people. Some of us have no close contact with people outside the pod, others are essential workers. Four of us live together, two of us are in a relationship. Everyone's diligent about hygiene, but if one of us gets the virus, it would be highly unlikely that all of us wouldn't get it, too. Yet we're continuing to hang out together, at least once a week. No one's gotten sick so far and the joy of our gatherings has been tremendous. After months of isolation those of us who are single and live alone have found the pod particularly life-giving. We scoff at the people choosing to drink and dine indoors with strangers. We think we're being more careful, trusting everyone's adherence to all safety protocols outside the pod.

AIDS didn't stop people from having sex or using intravenous drugs, and that epidemic made clear that it was harm-reduction education, not abstinence propaganda, that actually saved people's lives. Our local government has largely embraced harm-reduction messaging during this pandemic; public health officials are leveling with people and trying to hammer home the point that there's a spectrum of risk to reemerging from our social hibernation. Still, the choice to form a pod is among the riskiest we could make. It seems we're only marginally more responsible than the Wrigleyville bar hoppers. But I've recently learned we're wired to make these choices, to prioritize the cognitive and emotional reward of our little community over the risk of dying.

Experts say our brains are meant to find coping mechanisms for fear, to reduce our stress levels, because constant stress is taxing for the body and mind. Being in a prolonged state of fear can muddle our defense reflexes, drive us into more danger by clouding our judgement, weaken our immune system, kill us from the inside. "Alarm fatigue" is the way people inevitably tune out noise from physical alarms in hospitals or at construction sites—over time workers' brains learn to tune out the beeping sounds, leading to possible accidents and oversight. "Alert fatigue" is that drained feeling we get when we're overstimulated with new information, like by watching the news or scrolling through social media. "Caution fatigue" is our assessment of risk and reward changing after prolonged exposure to a dangerous situation. Brains need the hormones produced by rewards; their drive for them grows the longer they're deprived. There's also "risk compensation"—people grow to think they don't need to take precautions because others are taking them already.

The thing about survival instincts and our brains' coping mechanisms is that they're designed to save the individual, evolutionarily honed to protect a single organism's longevity and successful reproduction. The pod itself has become an organism, a sort of colony. But the very same thing that's helping each individual in the group to cope, experience reward, and thus improve our overall health in the short term makes us a danger to each other and others. Each individual's potential to become a disease vector is now multiplied by six.

I don't know what we'll do. Maybe we'll all be fine. Maybe we'll all get sick, mildly, and be relieved to just be through the thing, for now. But maybe one of us will die. Or more. We have no children, and we're not in touch with any elders. We've mostly avoided public transit and rideshares. One of us gets tested every once in a while and the results come back negative. Our reward-starved brains are pushing us to keep taking the risk. But in allowing ourselves these liberties, excusing them with scientific explanations and empathy toward our social and emotional needs, we also tacitly collude with a virus whose only imperative is to survive. 

RACHEL HAWLEY
  • Rachel Hawley

Kerry Reid

When Nike first unveiled their "Just Do It" motto, a friend said he wanted to make knockoffs reading "Just Avoid It." Turns out, sheltering in place is a good way to find out just how much avoidance I can handle in my life. The answer is "a lot."

For someone who prefers social interaction in small controlled doses (there's a reason I lived alone most of my adult life), quarantine is a perfect excuse. But it's also, unfortunately, a time to brood. Especially about one's health. I mean, there is a pandemic going on.

I'm not so much worried about contracting COVID, though I'm taking all the precautions and then some. It's the other Big C that haunts me. Half your immediate family dying of various forms of cancer and having another sibling in remission will do that to you. So you'd think I'd be better about doing all those various 'grams and 'oscopies and other regular screenings. And up until a couple of years ago, I was. But I'm behind schedule, and it's not because of lack of insurance or any other reasonable excuse.

It's the dread of finding out I do have it, and then, like COVID, figuring out that nobody really knows what to do. Or in the words of Beckett's tramps in Waiting for Godot: "Nothing to be done." Because whatever miracles people experience in cancer treatment seldom landed on my family's doorstep, and I don't believe I would be an exception.

The shelter-in-place order was another excuse. "I shouldn't be going to the hospital for screening now. They're hot spots. I'm in a vulnerable age group. I shouldn't waste valuable medical resources." I know the people doing the screenings aren't being pulled away from ICU beds. But who rations their rationalizations when they are in a quiet panic most of the time?

But not knowing is not better. Not really. The anguish around the virus and all the things we don't know about it has given me pause. I have no right to put off tests because of my personal terrors. Information is power. Even if it's not the answer I'd like to hear.

I feel fine. There's no reason to think anything is wrong, other than family and genetic history. But it's time to stop avoiding what's out there. Or in there, as the case might be. We've seen what avoidance and denial does at a national level. I will do what I can to change an administration this fall. Meantime, I'm calling my doctors this week to schedule those damn appointments.

Jamie Ludwig

Imagine you've been on some form of lockdown because of medical concerns for more than a year. How much more eager would you be to get back to some semblance of normal? That's my reality.

Without getting into too many details I'll just say that cancer is a merciless bitch that too often wreaks havoc on the best people you could hope to meet in a lifetime. And for anyone suffering from an immune-system-obliterating illness, and their family and friends, one of the most striking things about pandemic quarantine is that everyone has been experiencing some level of isolation and anxiety alongside them.

After my loved one was diagnosed last spring, I scaled down my nondigital interactions to the bare minimum, and eventually halted them completely to limit my exposure to germs. Even a slight cold would mean I wouldn't be able to see them or help care for them in person. Minor discomforts, of course, are nothing compared to what people struggling with severe illness, and their full-time caretakers, endure. And as the virus has made even more painfully apparent, it's an incredible privilege to be able to be there, to be physically present with family members when they need us most, rather than let them suffer alone.

I'm a million percent ready to enjoy once- benign activities like dining and traveling and going to concerts, especially going to concerts, without fear of illness. I'm even more ready to no longer feel like I'm living in some state of suspended reality. But until infection rates go down and there is a vaccine, it's better to wait out a pandemic in boredom and loneliness than in sickness. Knowing the kindness and respect people showed my family by keeping physically distant for so long makes it feel even more crucial to return the favor. I know how precious life is. I know how life can turn on a dime.  v

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