I am working at my company’s small sublot for a few days, and on Friday the twenty-something yard employee who opens the gates is running a little late. He apologizes profusely, then tells me to forgive him if he seems a bit “off” today. His friend from high school was killed last night, so he’s understandably emotional. I offer my own shocked condolences, and he manages to give a few sparse details about their friendship and history before the tears he’s been holding back begin to flow. Male tears have always had the power to undo me, and COVID be damned, I rush over to wrap him in a friendly hug. There is no one else around to comfort him, and I cannot stand idly by as his grief overflows. He regains his composure and thanks me, and we turn to the demands of our jobs.
Hours later, I take my lunch break and wonder how he’s managing. I distract myself with Facebook, where I stumble upon an article about how the lack of physical touch over this last year is wreaking havoc with our mental health. I become teary-eyed near the end, thinking not only of my hug with my coworker this morning, but of the scores of people dealing with what may be the most difficult and bizarre period we’ve ever encountered.
I continue scrolling through my feed, trying to focus on positive posts. I smile when I see one wishing my favorite composer, Mozart, a happy birthday. There is a video to go along with the post, one I’ve seen a dozen times before, of opera singer Diana Damrau expertly nailing the Queen of the Night aria. This stunning and exceptionally difficult piece always makes my heart flutter happily, but today it shatters me.
Tears of my own grief and despair pour over my cheeks as I watch the artists on stage, and suddenly I am painfully aware of just how long it’s been since I sat in a darkened auditorium absorbing culture and theatrics and feeling the rush of human interaction and our shared passion for the arts. And then I am sobbing for everything.
I cry out of frustration for the linger, all-encompassing fatigue that COVID has left in my body, and I cry out of fear that the virus will have some future negative effects on mine or my husband’s health. I cry because it’s been nearly a year since I’ve swum laps or splashed and laughed with other women as we aqua-Zumba our way across the pool to Bruno Mars and Ricky Martin. I cry for the restaurants and small businesses, the non-profits and schools, the students and teachers, the nurses and travel industry. I cry for my friends in Holland and the missed opportunity to visit them in The Netherlands. I cry for the unfulfilled desire to see the Van Gogh Museum, the canals, the windmills, the tulips. I cry because I just want to sit at my friends’ kitchen table, laughing and talking and catching up while we sip beer and wine and finally taste homemade Olliebolen.
When lunch is over, I force my tears to an abrupt halt in the way that women do, in order to attend to the necessities of work and life until there is another spare moment for release.
I stumble through the rest of the day as best I can in this fog of emotion and brain fuzziness and exhaustion and wonder how long the remnants of this virus will inhabit my body and mind.
At 5pm, I head to the pharmacy for prescriptions, resting my head against the steering wheel in the parking lot for 60 seconds just to gather my wits. I have not known fatigue or frustration like this since I had mono in my early twenties, but there are errands to run and a house to clean and meals to cook and dogs to attend to.
On my way home I am sitting at a red light, fighting the urge to close my eyes for only a moment, when the tears break through again. I am sobbing because I am so tired. I am sobbing because it is so cold — the bitter January air is cutting through my coat and gloves and laughing at the meager attempts of the heat in my car. I sob because it seems like spring will never, ever come. I sob because I want to exercise swim and take my dogs to the park. I sob thinking about my messy bathroom and kitchen. I sob because I want to go to a restaurant with my friends and have a glass of sangria and eat too much rich food. I sob because I miss my mom and dad and sister and friends. I sob because we still do not know when this will end.
When I finally walk through my back door, I greet my dogs and my husband. I eat a bowl of cereal for dinner, take my pills, and go upstairs to read and rest for an hour before starting laundry and making a grocery list.
But after awhile, I fold down the page in my novel, set it aside, and flick off the bedside lamp. And I sleep. And I sleep. And I sleep.