This time last year I was still walking around armed with a tape measure and a can of Clorox spray. Mail stayed outside for a day before opening, and delivered grocery bags were sprayed and unpacked with gloved hands. The newspaper was drenched with disinfectant. By the time the paper dried the news wasn’t new and I was always a day behind. Like it mattered. All I knew was my age made me a target. All I knew was one false step could lead to my demise. All I knew was no one seemed to know anything.
Eight months before, when it all started to go so wrong, my husband and I stayed inside for 114 days, not counting the one day my doctor ordered me to get the hell outside before I went nuts. By then it was full-on spring, and I emerged shocked to see tulips and daffodils. I kept a wide berth of anyone I saw on the street and they avoided me like — well, like the plague. I accepted then that everyone had a right to deal with the monster in his or her own way. Double mask? Face shield? Crossing the street became an exercise in courage and skill. I could hardly see; I could barely breathe. But it was what I did.
Summer, the season we wait for all year, floated along. No company, of course — time on my hands yielded sparse productivity. Little concentration and less book reading. Lots of phone calls — lots of bad news — lots of political discourse and lots of Zoom meetings. Now that was funny. Getting six tech-challenged people together before the 40-minute deadline (no one wanted to pay for Zoom) yielded a cross between stress and mirth. Lip-reading was a requirement; tops of heads and roots grown in were usual, if unfortunate, sights.
Fall brought some hope and excitement. I bought political signs and planted them on the front lawn next to our mailbox. They were gone the next morning. I bought more and they too disappeared. I like to think they were taken for someone’s own residence, but most likely they took up residence in the dump. Oh well.
Thanksgiving approached. The one bright side was I was sure to escape P.T.S.D. (Post Turkey Stress Disorder). The virus, while worrisome, constricting, and spirit-crushing, had nonetheless lifted a burden from my increasingly broad shoulders. No turkey to worry about. No “how big, how many, fresh or frozen.” True, no family gathering around a table that spanned three rooms. But also no humor directed at my penchant for roasting the thing until the smoke alarm went off. Not that I minded. Not really.
I was scared of my grandchildren — my doctor had referred to them as “vectors of infection” — and they were befuddled by me. The virus had been explained to them but it was impossible to explain something that no one understood. So there were stops and starts when we saw one another — starting to run for a hug then stopping because hugs weren’t allowed. I read that a child could be hugged if you turned him or her around and hugged from the back. I did that only once. Poor child.
So Thanksgiving last year was just weird. My family and I left our special dishes for one another at our respective doors. I bought a turkey for two — a scrawny little bird that dared me to find a way to stuff it. The house smelled kind of Thanksgivingish but I confess to cutting corners: Stove Top stuffing and gravy from an envelope. My husband and I gave thanks for our family’s health and for each other. My husband mentioned casually that he never much cared for turkey anyway. The pandemic bringing the truth to light. Personally, I thought his timing was a bit off but that’s just me.
As an afterword I bring forth last Christmas. We found a fake tree and a mess of lights in our basement from years past. No sense in going to the trouble of a real one for a companyless house. Then I checked the weather on my hardly-ever-right weather app. It promised a warm and sunny Christmas Eve. I took a leap of real faith. Voilá! Christmas outside. A borrowed fake outdoor tree and lots of frozen hors d’oeuvres later (I wasn’t going for making an outdoor dinner), our family had a Christmas.
I vowed to keep my indoor Christmas tree up until all my family and friends were vaccinated. Easter saw my very serviceable fake tree remaining fairly upright and in place, decorated with (plastic) Easter eggs. Easter dinner was served on the deck and plastic Easter eggs filled with candy left over from Halloween were scattered about. That’s when I learned about seagulls.
Either seagulls don’t discriminate or they aren’t very bright. A convention of seagulls congregated on our deck the next day and pecked empty abandoned plastic eggs to shreds. Then they spotted the tree-eggs through the window and, en masse, made an attempted attack on the tree.
“Enough,” said my husband. “Windows are expensive.” It was reason calmly stated and I had to agree. The eggs came off and the tree came down. By then family and friends were vaccinated.
This coming Thanksgiving, I will again be spared P.T.S.D., but this year for a different, and much happier, reason. My daughter-in-law is doing Thanksgiving. I get to bring corn pudding and a trifle. I also get to hover around the frequent subject of my undoing. I will offer sagacity and wit even though word has it the turkey will not be roasted. It will be fried. Brave new world.
We can only hope.
Carol Creel lives in Montauk and New York City.