The other day I noticed my cat sitting in the doorway between my bedroom and the hall. I am superstitious out of habit and old comfort. I don’t like lingering in in-between spaces. My old penchant for fairy tales taught me that those were the places where spirits passed back and forth and where bad luck was picked up.
Right now it is like the world is standing in a doorway. There isn’t a clear line between “before COVID” and “after”. We are in the scariest of liminal spaces: the kind without boundaries.
It’s strange to see from where we are that the size of this space is different depending on where you are in the world. The Internet allows (forces?) those of us in the U.S. to look with envy on the rest of the world emerging, taking big unmasked breaths, smiling with their whole face, giving hugs and drinking in restaurants with real-life friends and going to school and playing on playgrounds. It’s like a fog has lifted, and it was because when they were deepest in it, they followed what they’d been taught to do as children when they got lost: sit down and stay put and wait for someone to find you. And here we are, bound to others who stubbornly wander deeper into it looking for the edge but only getting more lost.
For those of us who try to listen to good sense and “do what we are supposed to do”, it is profoundly frustrating to watch on the sidelines while many of our compatriots insist on being exemplars of stupidity, emphatic that face masks are infringing on their civil rights. When they are personally affected by COVID, many of them will say they ‘had no idea how bad it could get’, the same way many who voted for Trump have come to say. But I wish that instead of dragging us through the mud with them and then saying they didn’t know it would be so dirty, they would look to the people who continued to shelter in place and wear masks even as their communities reopened around them. Those people have gone to personal expense to do what they feel is responsible and right because they know it can get bad. How did they know? It wasn’t rocket science. They just listened.
Many of these are the same people who have made political sacrifices with their vote, who voted to put the least-harmful person into power even though it didn’t align with their vision for a better democracy or a better life for themselves. This camp represents many of the Black women I know. They are accustomed to approaching social and political problems with this kind of pragmatism, to making sacrifices they wish they didn’t have to make in the hope of preventing a racist electorate from eating itself.
The last four years — to say nothing of the last four months — have been at least as dark as those people said it would be. No one should have been the least bit surprised by it. There was no evidence to suggest that the detainments and family separations and immigration bans and corruption and nazi sympathizing were even remotely out of character, nor that they were worst of it. In the last four years, I have been aggrieved, sad, disappointed, furious, frustrated, indignant, and wished people dead, but one thing I haven’t been is shocked. It’s a grim routine. The only thing we can’t see coming is the end.
In my therapy session this week I had confessed that I was fearful about how much worse things would get and not knowing how much longer the worsening would go on. She said, “there’s no going back to ‘normal’ after this, but there will be a new normal… we don’t know how long it’s going to be, but one way or another, at some point, this will be in the rearview.” I believe that. I don’t know what it will look like, and I don’t think we will know we’re on the other side until we get enough distance between us and this moment. Hindsight is 2020, so to speak.
In the same session I also tried to articulate how much dissonance I felt between trying to work and write and carry on when things in the world around me were so dark, how I found myself wondering what the point of any of it was. She just said, “we do it because: ‘I’m still here.’”
I am still here, so I walk in the mornings; care for my body by taking my medications and not skipping my physical therapy exercises; tidy the apartment, take a shower, cook and eat with my family; chat with my husband, snuggle with my son and my cats at bedtime; go to work, try to help my team, do what I said I would do and nothing more. Drink a cup of coffee in the morning, a cup of tea or a whiskey at night. Write myself down. I’m still here, not knowing the shape of ‘here’, exactly, but just in it, with you. For a second, I’m not in between anything at all.