If You’re Feeling the Pandemic Era’s Weight Harder Than Ever, You’re Not Alone

“Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five. I know what it means.

Yesterday, although it wasn’t quite dawn yet, I was trying settle on music for the morning. I’d been awake for almost two hours, again, though I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight, again, and the point was pressing in the lamplit gloom. Would it be the indefatigable motor of McCoy Tyner’s left hand? Or perhaps the tiny ageless perfections of Murray Perahia’s take on J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations? It was going be piano, no question. Let’s go with Tyner, Bach is too fussy this morning, and don’t let me forget to remind my daughter to do her piano practice, she has her lesson tomorrow, it’s amazing how she has improved, I sure hope she likes it…

…and with a start, I awoke, chin in hand, small reservoir of drool accumulated on palm, almost two hours gone on the clock. I was right where I’d left myself: At my desk, hovering over my keyboard like a praying mantis, head turned toward the window facing the sunrise over the rolling hill that looked like some pine green breaker about to crash down onto a shoreline. It was light outside and the road was covered with a crust made of ice. No music; I hadn’t made it that far without becoming unstuck, again. This time, it took two hours. Add them to the pile.

Two hours, two years, it’s starting to get a little flaky around here. I was a little skeptical when they told us this thing would last years. I was determined to keep my cool. I followed every guideline and rule because vaccines were a fantasy and my garbage-damaged lungs made it a delicious COVID morsel.

I was not going get sick. My family was not going get sick. I homeschooled my little girl, until the classrooms opened once more, and then sent my daughter back with my heart in the throat when the doors opened. There were a few cases of infection, but none that were lethal or her. Truth be told, I would have lost a wager on that one. A little voice whispers in my head when she comes home from school. Love, have you brought death back with yourself today?? Did you get it from one your little friends??

My reserve is slowly slipping. I walk the evening streets of my little town, passing empty taverns with “Open” signs feebly lit beside the door, and recall a thousand nights inside such places, the air so warm and moist my glasses would fog as I shouldered my way to the bar. The urge to find that scene again is almost overwhelming, but I leave it be, because I wish to be, and specifically to be the difference between “is” and “was.”

I look like a fat, rumpled cat that has been too much asleep in the laundry. My memories of the last two years are sparse; there is nothing for the mind to drag anchor on, it’s all a sort of drifting haze, unstuck in time. What is this place? Is it permanent? Dr. Seuss is instructive:

Waiting for a train or bus to arrive, or for the mail to arrive, or for the rain to stop, or for the phone to ring, waiting for a Yes or no, or waiting for their hair grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for fish to bite or for wind to fly kites, or waiting for Friday night. Or waiting for Uncle Jake to arrive, or a pot of boiling water or a Better break, or a string or pearls, or pants or a wig that curls, or another chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

Epidemiologists are cautiously pleased about the Omicron variant’s seemingly small claws, but they Also warn that the next variant may well learn from the last ones, and potentially turn into something hyper-dangerous beyond our current experience. “Imagine a lineage that’s as transmissible as Omicron but also attacks the lungs like Delta tends to do,” writes David Axe for The Daily Beast. “Now imagine that this hypothetical lineage is even more adept than Omicron at evading the vaccines. This would be the worst lineage. And it’s entirely conceivable it’s in our future.”

Our future. What is it? There are many reasons to be hopeful, but this fog of fear, uncertainty, and confusion is the everlasting present. The window faces east, and the Waiting Place is two hours away. If you expect nothing else, you won’t be disappointed.