Pandemic. Civil unrest. Political blood sport. Nosedive of an economy. I put on five pounds. Four on a good day. Really, only three. But it feels like twenty.
Everything about life is heavy these days. Emotionally heavy, financially heavy, even the weather is thick with humidity. Time has slowed down to a crawl, mostly because we can barely keep track of it. We put on a pretense of normal, just like everyone else. But we all know it’s an act.
August has always been a pivotal month for me, in the truest sense of the word. As first a student and later a teacher, it marked the official end of summer and the beginning of the school year. My birthday is in August, and my early memories were of a sort of last hurrah. Afternoon picnics at my grandparents’ trailer, sweet corn kernels mushed in my teeth. Once we started the long drive home, it was all downhill from there.
I never dreaded the education part of school, but the nervousness of new, of social interactions, of making friends that took years to cultivate, those I felt deep in the twisted innards of my stomach. I didn’t mind the learning – that part was easy. But the people part. That was hard.
And here, now, on my birthday during a pandemic, during the only time in my life when it’s socially acceptable to not be around anyone, the people part is still the hardest.
We visited with friends the other night. A couple we knew to be as careful as we’d been. But still we sat six feet apart with military precision. When nearby kids dove in to pet their dog, we all stiffened. You can’t DO that. Who DOES that?? Eyes darted around. Something that would have once seemed so innocent was suddenly secretly terrifying.
It was a symbol of the larger school debate that had been raging for months. Schools MUST open. Schools CAN’T open. The gray mushiness that had forever embodied formal education was suddenly black and white, each side out-demanding the other. Doctors hedged. Journalists opined. Parents anguished. And teachers, well, nobody cared what they thought.
The part of me that used to be a student, used to be a teacher, used to be a school child’s mom, felt nauseous on behalf of all of them. I don’t know what the right answer is, but there sure seem to be a lot of wrong ones. Experiments had proved as much. A week-long camp had infected 80 children. An elementary school had been forced to close mere hours after opening. Business as usual was simply not an option.
The part of me that’s free of it all tried to shake the anxious thoughts from my mind. But they snagged like flies on the spiderwebs of past experience, only mussing up the fragile order I’d worked so hard to create.
I found myself longing for the past to an extent I hadn’t before. I’d always appreciated it, but in a nostalgic sort of way. Now I missed it, forcefully. The sticky summer days, the oppressive heat, the long drive to my grandparents. The afternoon picnic to celebrate my birthday, sweet corn kernels mushed into my teeth. The ride home and the stomach knots of nervousness. The years when the only thing I had to worry about was whether or not I’d make a friend.
Those years are gone. Replaced by a pandemic. By a school year that hangs in the balance of certain uncertainty. By five pounds that hang on my emotions like a weight. Or, maybe only four.
I know we’ll get through it all eventually. We always have; we always do. Through the stomach knots and school supplies, through the nervousness of new. Through the hardest part, the people. The wanting to be close marred by the anxiety of actually doing so. Deep down, it’s all the same. For as much as we may feel changed by the process, the process never changes.
It’s just another August, and it’s all downhill from here.