This past Saturday I pulled into a large field filled with anticipation, dead brown grass and volunteers wearing bright yellow vests. As I pulled in they asked to see the code on my confirmation. A woman much younger than me scanned the barcode and told me which lane to pull in. She and her partner were discussing which Taco Bell they were going to hit up for lunch when they were done. I left my window down and eavesdropped as I watched the line of cars moving at a sloths pace, waiting to get this over with and out. I laughed to myself thinking, ” This teenager is volunteering here and just chit chatting with her friend like this is the most normal thing ever.” Thousands of people have died this past year, and here’s this smiling young lady talking about a cheesy Gordita crunch.
I think that’s pretty awesome.
Looking back, I wish I could have somehow ordered a big card saying, ” You have no idea how far this selfless act of volunteering at this vaccination site will change the lives of so many. Here’s some tacos and mountain dew. Thank you.”
I had no idea how this whole thing was going to make me feel. Last April I sat in my car parked in my garage while my kids watched Paw-Patrol re-runs and screamed. I screamed and I cried. I punched the steering wheel and I asked God, ” Why?”. Why? How could this happen? Tragedies across the globe have always seemed so far away. It would never happen to us. We’re American. We’re safe. We wash our hands and have health insurance. We’re fine. A few years back I was on the red line about to get off at Argyle in Chicago when I first heard of the swine flu. I remember looking around at the other passengers thinking maybe I shouldn’t hold the arm rail, too many germs. As the train pulled into the stop, I lost my balance and grabbed that rail for dear life so I didn’t crush the poor pregnant woman to my left. I never thought about it again until now. I had no fear, I believed that I was different. We were different.
We’re American damnit, we’re elite. We cure cancer! We purify our water! We wear Adidas sneakers and attend large music festivals. We do what we want, bro.
I wasn’t there to say goodbye. I wasn’t there to hold my mother or share her tears. I wasn’t there to see the people lined up and down the streets honoring the life of a man who served his community and family with humor and love. I wasn’t there to stand beside my grandmother as she stood bravely with courage that I have yet to comprehend as they handed her the folded flag in honor of his service as a Marine. So, I sat in my car and screamed. I couldn’t speak my emotions, there was this eerie internal silence that had muted me from the moment my mom called to tell me he was gone. I felt like I was choking for days until I just had to scream. Once in awhile one my kids would peak their head out the door and try to see what the heck I was doing. I’d pull myself together for the .3 seconds I would need to tell them to close the door I”d be inside in a minutes and bribed them with chocolate.
I sat alone. I no longer had a husband. I no longer had the support system that I thought I had in the past. I no longer had the privilege of hoping in the car and driving to the city to be with my family, because it was too dangerous at first. We had so much fear and loosing another family member was not an option. I had never been through anything alone like that. Everything was amplified by my impending divorce and the stale, slow burn of grief for things I could and could not see. I had this imaginary canvas in my mind that reminded me that life wasn’t pretty. It was a canvas splashed with black tar and shards of glass. It was the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to hang on a wall, it might have scared someone. It was the kind of thing that needed to be tossed in a bonfire, letting it go in the ashes and out of your life.
That was my experience with Covid. It took my Grampie from me. I can’t get him back. This past Christmas I stood at his grave with my grandmother and I told myself over and over to keep my shit together, because this poor woman does not need to see me cry like an idiot at her husbands grave. I tried to swallow it down. It was impossible and I realized that I had to let it out and I had to let it out with her. I had grieved without her a million miles away, and finally standing there with her, I wasn’t alone. We held each other close and I can’t explain why- but being there with her, holding hands, looking at the grave of a man who had treated me like I was a person that mattered in this world my entire life- the weight of it all just flew right off my shoulders. I asked God to just be with us and there was no doubt that He was.
When I found out I was eligible to get the vaccine I wasn’t sure I wanted it. It seemed too good to be true. What if it made us sicker? What if this was all some government planned bioterrorism take over? What if it turned us into flesh eating zombies? What if?!
I think I had quarantine brain.
My family back East and family in Chicago started getting it and I saw the relief in their faces through the phone. They were going to be ok. They were excited and hopeful that this shot could potentially put an end to this lonely, bleak time in our lives. So I said- screw it. Zombie or not, I’m getting it.
Which brings me back to that crowded afternoon in a field of people I had never met before who were volunteering their time to potentially save my life and so many others. Even though there were hundreds of other cars there, the line went fairly fast. I pulled into the area where the shot would be administrated. After I filled out the forms, showed them my license and let them know that the only thing I’m allergic to is elementary level common core math, the woman prepped my upper arm, put the needle in, took out a small piece of cotton and then said to me, ” You’re all set! Congratulations!”. As she put the bandaid on I could feel the salty tears pouring out of my eyes and down my cheeks. She looked at my face and said she was sorry. She asked if she hurt me. Did I need anything?
She didn’t hurt me. She healed me. That sounds pretty dramatic, but she did. I’ve watched my family going through grief and anxiety for an entire year. My sister is in nursing school and has always been incredibly selfless and kind. The constant looming fear that this disease could take another one of us down weighed heavily on her. She has one less family member to worry about now. I hope her load is lightened by those of us who have chosen to get this vaccine in a time of so much uncertainty and fear.
I finally had a momentary break from the heavy tears and I looked at this woman who was still holding the wrapper of my bandaid in her hand and said, ” I lost my Grampie last year. I miss him so much. I wish he had been here to get this for himself, but he can’t, so I will… This is for him.”
I’ve heard a lot about the side effects: Fevers, chills, body ache, fatigue, headache, gastrointestinal issues and more. The side effects I was unaware of started with a lighter heart, a hopeful mind and a sense of community knowing that we were all doing this together. There will still be extremely difficult issues worldwide, but in that brief moment after feeling so helpless for twelve months, I was finally able to contribute to the ever changing and evolving treatment and understanding of Covid-19. My contribution is smaller than a speck of sand but every speck counts.
I’m filled with so much gratitude for all the people who worked endlessly to be able to provide this brand new vaccine for all of us. They took the impossible and made it possible.