It feels strange, doesn’t it? The end of summer. The sun sets earlier, and a merciful cool sets in, but it is not the chill of autumn. Children troop by on their way to school bent over with those impossibly overloaded backpacks. Too soon. School should start in September.
The summer’s almost over. This time has always been liminal. Waiting for the new school year: What will it be like? Will my teachers be nice? Will I meet a beautiful girl? The promises of May and June have either been fulfilled or cancelled or more likely been delivered with a twist of irony. You did have an affair, but she called it off when you didn’t expect it. You took that epic road trip, but the treasure you found wasn’t under the rainbow after all.
I feel this season, this waiting more keenly now than ever. The vaccine offered the possibility of a return to life as we knew it. I remember the sensation of relief after the second shot: I’m free. The virus can’t get me, no sir. I’ve been double vaxxed.
And especially in June, we bathed in a hectic vitality. Everyone left home. We went out, and each individual seemed marvelous, worth of attention and curiosity. We used our outside voices, like a person going deaf.
HOW ARE YOU? COOL!! IT’S SO GREAT TO SEE YOOOUUUU!!!!
Strolling on Pearl Street Mall — the local pedestrian street in the center of town — was like a giant caress. Those new faces! And everyone so happy. They always seemed as interested and charmed by you as you were by them. It was like floating on a sea of dopamine.
That was June. Before the heat. Before the smoke from another summer of wild fires made Denver the most polluted city on the plant.
Before the Delta variant.
I guessed wrong. I thought another summer of love would explode, with a frenzied return to the fabled 1920s fueled by the rush to connect and the proximity to death. “Look, we have come through.”
It didn’t work out that way.
A surprisingly large number of my friends and family think that the vaccine itself is equivalent to the mark of Satan, as described in the Book of Revelation. Or, that wearing a mask indoors is like collaborating with the Sturmabteilung in 1938. How did that happen? I remember back in the day — oh, 2019 or so — when these people seemed practical and a little boring.
One guy told me his friends said the vaccine would turn you into a zombie. I guess he didn’t know that’s what television is for. Or that, actually, zombies are myth.
Another said the vaccine would kill your soul. I might’ve lost my soul in the late 1990s, or perhaps it was finally sucked out of me in a shopping mall when the background music played The Carpenters. I don’t know. But the last time I checked my theology and Plato, the soul is supposed to be a little more durable. If you believe in a soul, that is.
On the other hand, people returned to wearing masks inside of cars and outdoors on trails. So far, not even Dr. Fauci recommends this. Also: care doesn’t confer immortality. Both my parents were conscientious about taking precautions. They died. We all die. Masks aren’t voodoo charms.
I wash my hands thoroughly. Again. I leave the house with a mask. Again. In the midst of my own dismay, I remind myself of the 600,000 Americans who’ve died and the nastiness of long Covid, and then feel thankful I haven’t contracted the virus yet.
And I’m stuck Hamletizing. Again. Do I go or not? I miss watching movies and plays, and seeing live performers giving their all under stage lights in a ballet or in a band. I don’t care about shopping so much, and it’s quick: in out, done. But once again, you weigh the risks of being indoors for longer than, say 15 minutes. It’s not the worst burden, but it’s stale.
When I look around, I can tell the pandemic and the lockdowns have warped people. They’re wolfing down conspiracy theories or seething with rage at anti-vaxxers. All of us have grown awkward around each other. Only the Swedes seem to have factored in the social costs of lockdowns, but they didn’t manage the pandemic very well either. Still, those costs are real and maybe permanent. How much more damage can we sustain?
In the welter of confusion and uncertainty, the season will end. Seasons are bigger than we are and don’t care about our feelings. I’ll work hard to remain humane and as Stoic as possible in the face of things. No whiners, my dad said.
Perhaps that was toxic masculinity. I’m working on intoxicating masculinity these days, but that wouldn’t include whimpering or wailing. Not a good look.
Instead, I’m looking forward to crisp air, changing leaves, and even the coming winter. The fall sharpened by uncertainty and the undercurrent of dread. I’ll embrace that as best I can.
After all, what else can I do?