I find myself backing up, stepping away. I want to say too close or give me some space. I want to grab a mask. The mask mandate at work lifted when the CDC told us to relax a few weeks ago. The pandemic ended, at least for the vaxxed.
That first week, nothing changed for me. When I picked Sophie up at school, she had covid. I didn’t quarantine, I wore a mask. I wore it all day driving home from Vermont. I wore it around the house when Sophie came near. And of course, I wore it at work.
I became self-conscious. As the only one in meetings still wearing a mask, I could hear their thoughts. Ugh, is he going to wear that thing for the rest of eternity? During conversations, I alone had the muffled mask sound. When I tested negative at the end of the week, I ditched my mask.
So stay outta my bubble, I’m tryin’ to breathe over here.
Yesterday, someone read Social Distance. Some of my blog posts get read almost daily. I’m used to seeing them pop up on my stats page. Not Social Distance. No one reads that one, not even me. I couldn’t even remember what it was about.
I wrote it two years ago, a few days after the country shut down. I just finished a trail run. I couldn’t believe how many people I saw hiking the trail I ran. Getting into my car, couples and families strolled past me on the road. The park was full, for the first time ever. I expected to have the park to myself. With the world collapsing around me, I saw a glimmer of hope. No sports to watch, no malls to shop, no restaurants and bars to hang around, people decided to give nature a try. I finished my blog post with:
Maybe when the coronavirus is an ugly receding sight in our collective rear view mirror, some of those people will choose against shopping or TV sports and go out for another hike on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
When I wrote that, I had no idea it would take two years to get to this point, but as of right now, the virus is receding. Are people still out in the park? No, that only lasted three months.
In those first few months, bikes sold out. Nationwide, all the bikes sold. Not just the cheapo models from Walmart and Dicks, but in bike shops too. First the five-hundred-dollar bikes, then the thousand-dollar jobs, and finally the bikes that go for five gs. But by mid-summer, the riders were gone. I rode loops in the national park by myself. Professional grade bikes slumped against the garbage cans in garages all around the country.
I don’t miss all those people in the park—I prefer to be alone—but I think it’s a shame. People heading outdoors was one of the few upsides of the pandemic.
And now, after years of masking and social distance, I seem to be ruined. A woman came in my office last week to ask some questions about a report. She stood next to me, I sidled away. She came closer, I stepped to the side. I catch myself doing this almost every day. My bubble—my personal space—was exaggerated before covid. Now, it’s expanded. I simply don’t want to breathe your air. So back off.
I’ve read countless articles about the ‘lasting effects of the pandemic.’ When I see that phrase, I think of long covid and disrupted learning for school kids. I think of all the restaurants and shops that went out of business, and of course, all the people who died. But I suspect there are countless subtle changes that will affect all of us for the rest of our lives. Will I ever sit in a packed movie theater again? I doubt it. I didn’t like to before. Now it strikes me as a pretty effective torture the devil might implement in hell.
Many of us introverts felt antisocial before the pandemic. After spending months and years alone, will I be able to bounce back to my old, insufficient social baseline, or has yet another barrier formed? If the pandemic is truly over, I should start inspecting my behavior for new undesirable habits. I take half the showers I used to, and I only shave three times a week now. I still can’t decide if that’s good or bad, but it’s a pretty big change.
I think it’s too bad that people flocking to outdoor exercise isn’t one of the lasting effects of the pandemic. But given my inclination towards antisocial distance, it probably suits me fine.
Ove the last two years, what changed about you?