My first indoor dining of 2021, after approximately one year and two months and two weeks, give or take a few days, was at the Hard Rock Cafe at the Houston International Airport,
which wasn't exactly the sparkly First Indoor Dining Experience I had been envisioning, but it was either that, or fast food. They didn't have menus. How it works is you aim your phone at the QR code card on the table and the digital menu pops up. You can even order from your phone too, so no need to bother the mask-wearing server. I had a salad, and then it was back to masks on and a wait at the gate.
Some of my fear and anxiety, constant companions over the past year, two months, and two weeks, is slowly starting to fade away. But for a while there, it was getting dicey. The complex series of risk calculations before every excursion out of the house -- one mask? two masks? at work, at the grocery store... The reassessments after encounters-- wait, did I get exposed when I picked up the to-go order and that other customer waiting was coughing up a lung... is this tickle in my throat allergies or am I three to five days away from full-blown Covid and possibly killing my family--
It's hard to feel normal and what is normal anymore? On the plane home, the guy sitting in the row in front of my husband and me has a meltdown. All I can see is the back of his white-haired head,
but he's bobbing it a lot, indignantly. He's paid for the seat beside him and he wants his suitcase to sit on it and he can't understand what the flight attendant is saying with her mask on and no, he won't pull up his own mask because he's drinking his beverage and he won't let the flight attendant seat anyone else next to him. One by one
the flight attendants attempt to deal with him and I can feel my blood pressure rising. Within a few minutes, all of the flight attendants are standing in our row, hovering over the man, and standing with them is the passenger they've brought up to sit beside him, another white man, who's got a weary look on his face, like, come on buddy, give it up, you're not gonna win this one,
the white head stops bobbing. His shoulders sag. The other passenger takes his seat beside him. One of the flight attendants leans across and wags his finger in the man's face and says: "No more warnings about the mask, sir." Another wag of the finger. "Resistance is futile."
Situation resolved. My husband and I laugh relieved laughs under our breaths. I type Resistance is futile in the note feature on my phone. I keep sneaking peeks at the man's white head. I can almost hear him thinking, When did the whole world change? A while ago, I want to tell him. You just haven't been paying attention. In San Francisco it was 65 degrees when we left in the morning to catch our flight. In Ohio it's a sticky 82 degrees when we walk to our car in the dark. My first day back to work is the next day,
only a week gone for vacation, but over that week, everything is different. My library branch is open. No more walk-up window. People can just waltz right in. Masks appreciated, says the sign on the window, and nearly everyone wears them. It's a habit for most of us now. I'm fully vaccinated, I keep reminding myself. It's okay. It's going to be okay.
But maybe after one year and two months and two weeks, give or take a few days, it's sometimes hard to believe it. Welcome back! I say to the patrons as they come through the door,
the ones I knew before the pandemic and the ones I've gotten to know through the walk-up window. Welcome back! A little girl stops in front of the plexiglass that surrounds my desk and looks at me, frowning. Have I been here before? she says.
I don't know, I tell her.
Her mom shrugs. I don't think she remembers.
Well, then, I tell the little girl brightly, Welcome to the library.