On May 16, 2021, the CDC posted the following notice on its website:
- If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.
- Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
- If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, (what the fuck is wrong with you?) find a vaccine. (Feisty interpretation, italics and underlining—mine, not the CDC’s—although I’m pretty sure it’s what they were thinking when they wrote this!)
In the middle of May, a slightly chunky African-American grandmother awoke from a Rip Van Winkle state of somnolence feeling lost in time and space. She had existed in a Covid-19 pandemic for what she calculated to be approximately 456 days of semi-isolation (the semi being with her darling husband). She’d done practically nothing, gone practically nowhere, and seen practically no one without being socially distanced, double masked, and brandishing a Lysol Disinfectant can as if it were a Colt 45 permanently taped to her right hand with mounds of Duct tape. Now she was being told by her government to get out there, remove her mask, put away her wipes, and welcome the world with open arms—as long as those she hugged were vaccinated and scrubbed down with hand sanitizer (the grandma added this last requirement to be on the safe side) .
But how was she to know who had been vaccinated? She didn’t know about anybody else, but after the Trump years, she didn’t trust some of her fellow Americans as far as she could throw them (approximately 74 million of them to be exact). The fact that so many of them were anti-science, anti-Covid vaccinations, and pro-conspiracy theories was disconcerting to say the least. Many of them were still lying about the results of the Presidential election so how was she supposed to trust them to follow the rules as she emerged from a year-and-a-half lockdown? She thought to herself: “The Republicans were crazy as Hell before the lockdown—now they’ve completely lost their minds during the pandemic. It’s going to be like the wild-wild west out there.”
“On the other hand,” she thought, “do I even want to mingle with the masses again? They weren’t that great before I went into hiding.” To be very honest with you—she didn’t really like most people. I mean she liked her family and friends, but she didn’t suffer fools lightly so why bother kicking it with people she didn’t trust? (She’d already announced to no one in particular that she wouldn’t be returning to the canasta club because it was full of Trump Republicans, and she had no grace for that crazy shit anymore!) Anyway, unlike some people, she hadn’t minded the lockdown that much. She missed seeing her children and grandson, but her family had really made that Zoom thing work like a charm with vibrant, transparent conversations, birthday parties, and an all-day Christmas celebration. The 64-million-dollar question for her was how to “re-enter” the world without getting damaged or killed. Should she? Could she?
Every time our septuagenarian grandma read the news, Americans were hurting and killing each other—acting like fools—as if murdering their fellow human beings was their raison d’etre. Mass shootings every other day, horrific road rage incidents, and countless violent encounters on airplanes spilled forth like raging lava from an erupting volcano. The world hadn’t gotten any better since she’d been in hiding. It seemed meaner—hellbent on destroying everything and everyone in its mean-spirited path. Instead of being grateful that they had survived, many people (especially the MAGA hats) were mad as hell, and they wanted to hurt others just for looking at them crossways or asking them to wear a mask or get a shot.
“Maybe I should just stay in my house where all is peaceful and serene,” our Grandmother thought. “After all, I’m old and I don’t need much. I’ve got my man, a wine cabinet, Netflix, a century’s worth of books, and our groceries can be delivered. I’ve given Amazon so much money during the pandemic, I’m on a first name basis with Jeff Bezos. If Amazon doesn’t have what I want, I’m sure Jeff will reward my loyalty and go to the moon to get it for me.” The compromise made her happy for a nano second, but then she remembered her children who lived on both coasts, and it made her sad. She desperately wanted to see her children, her grandson, and granddaughter to come (she had to be there for that birth!), but the thought of getting back out there to mix it up with crazy-ass strangers was exhausting. Getting on a plane to go anywhere would force her to engage with any type of person at any moment who might erupt in mean-spiritedness and craziness. No, it would be better to have the kids come to her—best to stay put and stay safe. The pandemic seemed to have messed with people’s hearts and minds, so if our grandmother stayed sequestered, she reasoned, then she wouldn’t encounter any of this mayhem. Stay home, avoid people, and consequently avoid the mess.
Then one day, an unhinged White house painter arrived at the sequestered grandmother’s house.
Mema had previously reasoned that if she was going to stay put and have her family and friends come to her, then she might as well get the house spruced up for their homecoming. So, she called an affable and efficient painter she’d used for a few years, ascertained that he had been vaccinated, and made known her wishes.
At first, things went along as usual. A few pleasantries were exchanged (“How’s your wife and kid?” “How’s your husband?) which were normal. However, the painter did make an inappropriate comment about how the grandmother (old enough to be his mother) didn’t look her age and he knew why. “That’s because Black don’t crack!” said the White man with glee as if they’d been lifelong drinking buddies! Mema wanted to tell him that he didn’t know her that well to make such an inappropriate crack, but she decided to cut him some slack because she figured the pandemic had zapped a portion of his brain and his manners. The contract was agreed upon: deposit paid upfront and rest of total paid upon completion of job—as always. The grandmother paid the deposit and went on about her business.
Soon it became clear that the pandemic had zapped not only the painter’s manners but also his business credibility and his civility. The White painter went from an inappropriate racial stereotype, to falling behind on the job, to demanding more money before the delayed job was finished (the grandmother said, “no Dude, I’m no fool—read your contract”), to the pièce de résistance. When the grandmother kindly asked when the delayed job would be finished, the White painter (young enough to be her son) turned on the Black grandmother with raged-filled eyes and angrily barked, “What business is it of yours when we finish, ______” (the word “Bitch” was not audible, but the grandmother heard it loud and clear as if it were a cacophonous thunderclap, sucker punched into her heart by Zeus).
“Post-pandemic anxiety in the flesh,” Mema thought. “Road rage on my own property—is anyplace really safe?” she asked herself as she swallowed her anger, quietly defused the situation, and slowly backed away into the house to call her husband. Needless to say, the painter lost a major job we had planned with him for the future as my husband went into his own post pandemic-rage and declared: “That man is not allowed to step foot on our property ever again!”
Mema could tell that once the words came out of the painter’s mouth, he knew that he had blown it—overstepped his boundaries. The grandmother truly wished the painter had apologized. If he had, she would have forgiven him (but by the grace of God go us all, right?). But she watched as his pride hardened his heart, and he sullenly slumped off toward his truck. Why did the painter say what he said to our sweet, chubby little grandmother? Was it because she was a woman? An old woman? A Black woman? Would the painter have spoken to a man like that? Spoken to a White man like that? Mema couldn’t answer any of those questions, but it showed her something very significant about her own life: Nowhere and no one was totally safe against the post-pandemic anxiety of their fellow man. She determined that she was anxious too, but hiding out in her home was no panacea. “Hell no! I won’t stay at home and miss out on what little life I have left” the grandmother said. On that note, she decided to summon her courage, leave her house, and visit her children, grandchildren, and friends as much and as often as possible because the old woman realized that she couldn’t control the attitudes and reactions of others—she could only control her reaction to them. And so, armed with an extra layer of grace and brotherly love, Mema booked her plane tickets and set off for New York City and Seattle to hug and kiss her babies… and their babies.
INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES FOR STAYING SANE IN A POST-PANDEMIC ANXIOUS WORLD
“Now that the world is reopened, we may see less patience, more irritability, less stress tolerance because people have been trying to hold it together for so long. Even though they are finally able to ‘relax,’ they remain on edge because the effects of the mental stress over the past year do not go away overnight.”—Dr. Crystal Clark of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“The differences we have on this planet are real. They’re profound. And they cause enormous tragedy as well as joy. But we’re just a bunch of humans with doubts and confusion. We do the best we can. And the best thing we can do is treat each other better, because we’re all we got.”—President Barack Obama
Eleanor Tomczyk is an author and a satirist who is an award-winning voice-over performer. In 2011, she created the blog, “How the Hell Did I End Up Here” which features mostly satirical posts that have thousands of readers around the world—although she was recently banned in Pakistan (for real!). Tomczyk’s three books were featured in a recent book festival: “Monsters’ Throwdown,” “Fleeing Oz,” and “The Fetus Chronicles—Podcasts to my Miseducated Self.” Currently in her 70s and living life like it is freakin’ golden, she is a consummate storyteller and much sought-after motivational speaker. If you don’t believe me, just ask her!
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