I am not throwin’ away my shot

I got the phone call. I never thought I’d feel emotional over a phone call. I’d been conditioning my family for weeks to answer every call. I know, I know, I said, it probably IS just a warning about our car’s expiring warranty. But, it could also be the call we’d been waiting for – the one from the Chickahominy Health Department – so we answered over and over and over. And yes, our car warranty did expire, multiple times. We were also eligible for a free four night stay in several glamorous locations. And, no, I didn’t have a home for sale in Raleigh. This was not James/Shakira/Chubby’s. And then there were the responses to Hello? of Who’s this?, which I always find an odd way to start a conversation that you’ve initiated. But, my family did humor me and take every call – prepared to do so for months as we had no real clue as to when THE call would come.

And then, randomly, on Saturday, it came. The call we’d been coveting. The call we’d been rehearsing and practicing. Just agree to anything! Whatever it takes to get the appointment!

I tried not to panic. I knew immediately it was the health department – in the split second between not hearing the sound of a pre-recorded message and hearing the “Ch” in “Chickahominy,” I knew. Remain calm. You can do this. All this angel from injectables heaven has asked for, so far, is your name. And that was it, yes, this is Jyl and then okay, let’s set up your appointment. What? Just like that? Wasn’t it too early? I’m wasn’t even sure my people had risen to the top of the list yet – the very basic bunch who are not very essential (by health department standards), who are blessed with great health (knock on wood), and who have not reached a certain age (though I’m making progress).

Just agree to anything! Whatever it takes to get the appointment!

And I did, though in my typical unending nervous chatter, the projected 9:00am appointment was claimed by someone else and I was moved down the ladder to a 10:15am slot. Stop talking, Jyl, before you lose that one! This poor woman does not need to know about your trip to Disney!

I stalled my quick decision to hang up to ask about my husband – a non-member of the basic bunch who really should be in an early group. Was his phone going to ring next? Could I just save someone the trouble and schedule his appointment as well? Oddly, his name was not showing in that day’s call list. And, it seemed the information given to these blessed dialers is minimum as neither myself nor the woman on the other end of the line could guess as to why they’d gotten to me first. Was it my ties with the government through my position at work? Was it my organizational skills? Did it have something to do with the Underground Moms Network? Had my ability to nag finally qualified me for something? Had Mom Vision at last been deemed essential? I went on to explain that my husband was, in fact, immuno-compromised but that I was, in fact, the house manager. Serving that role, I’d named myself the Person Who Registers The Household For Vaccinations. Maybe that was the confusion? No, was the response – your name came up next, not his. I don’t mean to brag…but…they picked me first.

In the end, I secured a reservation for two – scheduled just almost a year to the day after our brakes were slammed.

And maybe that’s why it’s a bit emotional.

Maybe that’s why, when I let this poor soul carry on with her list, I danced through the house to find Rich, air-high-fiving my way down the hall, as trained by social distancing. I blurted quickly whatever you’re doing Monday morning, cancel it! and then explained why – earning a real life high five with actual contact. We said to each other a dozen times over the next thirty minutes I’m so excited! In between the celebratory jumps, we started reminiscing, an obvious by-product to the inkling that maybe ‘this’ was finally ending.

Where were we a year ago? Was it really just a year ago? Are pandemic years like dog years? On the calendar it says 12 months but in reality it’s 948? One year (and two days) ago we marked the first trickle of positive cases in the state of Virginia. I remember getting the news flash across my phone and immediately texting Rich, saying, it’s here, no need for further explanation. It was as if we’d been tracking UFOs for months, wondering when the aliens would disembark while low-key freaking out about what it would mean for us. In the months prior, we’d heard blips of a virus overseas, somebody ate a bat?, but hardly listened because it was so far away. Then it started spreading – each blip bringing the positive cases geographically closer to, well, the west coast. Gosh, I hope they don’t catch it, I’d think, convincing myself that California was really far away. I can’t remember which came first – a quarantined cruise ship floating around the Pacific Ocean or positive in Oregon – but it was then that I felt the first rumbling of butterflies in my stomach. Did I say butterflies? No – those are reserved for fun things, right? This didn’t sound like something to look forward to. Maybe maggots was a better word…crawling around in my belly. But it would be over soon, I thought.

Has over soon finally arrived? Can I start accepting hugs from strangers? Will the positivity rates cease to be the daily headline? Will I come to a place where I’ve forgotten that feeling of pending doom that forms, Pavlovian Style, when I hear those first three notes kicking off the Today Show?

A year ago (and one day), we had friends in town for the weekend, planned weeks before and with zero thoughts of maybe we should cancel. We didn’t know maybe we should cancel would soon become the suggested mantra of 2020 – until it was forced beyond a suggestion and became a requirement. We laughed in the weeks that followed about that – how we’d gotten our visit in just under the wire. How it would likely just be a few months before we could visit again. Months? If only. Two weekends defined the before and after. One with friends in town, the next with life spinning quickly while grinding to a halt. During the days in between, it was a surreal string of Is this really happening? What is happening? What is going to happen? Is this really going to happen? We carried on for those five days – the kids heading off to school each morning, Rich to New York City, and me working from home. Okay, yeah, no change there, I’d been work from home for a decade before this all happened. But I had my regular tennis matches, my standing workouts, my meanders around Target.

As I left my Friday workout (3/11/2020), I turned the car on and found myself in the middle of a breaking news story. What are they saying? What’s canceled? What are they saying? It was the pre-amble to March Madness – conference tournaments – one of my favorite times of year. And it was over. That is the moment I remember the most. Is that weird? To take it all semi-seriously and as something in the peripheral of my life until I learned that I would not, in fact, be spending the weekend glued to the ACC Tournament. Hello? The drive home was about thirty minutes – during which time the list grew, tournament after tournament shut down, players and fans sent home with little explanation and no prediction on when they would be back. Okay, no biggie, I’m sure they’ll get it square before the big dance.

And, now, a year later, it’s closer to square. The ACC Tournament about to start, leading into a big dance that never happened in 2020. Certainly a trivial state of the union – whether or not fans have something to be fanny about – but because it was what really slammed the reality door for me last year, yes, it does feel like full circle.

And maybe that’s why I’m so emotional.

Because when I put on my game day socks this week it will be with antibodies at work. Because I will happily watch round one from the couch, with a possible headache and mild fever. Because I’d take a not mild fever at this point. Because the bookends of the last 365 days are one where everything stopped and one where everything began. Because as the wife of someone who is immuno-compromised and as the daughter of two at risk parents and as the mom of a child who was trying to have a normal final year of high school and another child who was trying to have a normal final year of middle school…because of all that – it wasn’t just me that I worried for. As a mom, your place in the fretting line is after all those you care for. First, you make sure they are okay. And while my husband primarily handled the buying of the things, I primarily handled the monitoring of the emotions. We came at protecting and preparing from all angles – adding a box of how do we make this seem normal to our cart. The making things seem normal bit is not the normal bit. Somewhere over the last year, creative activity thinking became part of our daily life.

Dear lawd, why am I so emotional? Why is a shot bringing tears to my eyes? Why is my stomach doing weird flips that I can’t even identify as happy or nervous? Are those butterflies or maggots? What is happening?

And then it was done. Shot one.

I wanted so much to feel a weight lifted. I want to feel a calm when I wake up tomorrow. I want to look at my kids and say it’s going to be totally fine, we are rounding the corner. And the poke in my arm should trigger some of that, right? But it’s also been so long since I felt unburdened and calm and that it is going to be totally fine – well, perhaps I was expecting a bit much on hour four of vaccine number one. Maybe I would feel better if I doing a minute-by-minute scan of my body. Do I have a headache? Does my neck hurt? Am I hot? Butterflies, maggots, or nausea? Do I feel tired? Maybe I would feel better if, when that magic call came, I’d remembered to ask about my child’s vaccination.

A year ago (and three days), the kids came home with loaded backpacks, arriving about thirty seconds after another phone call came – a recorded one saying hey, so your kids are about to walk in the door and we’d like you to keep them home for a few weeks. Rich and I both knew that it wouldn’t be a few weeks. We had hopes that they’d be back to school just after spring break. We had no idea that spring break would come and go – taking with it the rest of the school year. We had no idea that all plans we’d made for 2020 would creep closer with a giant MAYBE attached to it. We consider ourselves very lucky – as a whole, most of our plans went forward with minor and masked modifications. We have dodged serious illness, yet had to console those around us who hadn’t fared as well. We eventually stopped wondering when this would wrap up and just settled into a life of hand sanitizer, minimal contact, and a Covid Pod.

Why did this shot making me so emotional? Why was the thought of re-entry to normalcy nearly as jarring as the idea of a total nationwide shut down? Is it because I cannot even even remember what normal is? It’s like we’ve been living with those aliens for a year now, following their every move through a slat in the blinds, a weird television show playing out in front of oh, are they finally packing up to leave?

What do we do if they leave?

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