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Dancing with Strangers

My parents have taken up birdwatching. It is spring in the Maple Dale valley and because of that the trees have come alive. My mom keeps a notebook with all the birds they see fly up to the feeders outside our kitchen windows. This morning while she was making her tea I heard her say to my dad, “Did you see the Red Breasted Grosbeak has a partner now? I saw them eating together this morning.” If you’re standing at the sink, peeling onions or washing dishes, it’s the perfect vantage point to see the winged creatures, hanging out in our Crabapple tree or clinging to the bird houses. It’s also the perfect spot to watch the creek across the driveway bubble and sing, or in flood season, well up to the banks, bursting at its edges, waiting to spill over and fill the yard with swirling brown water.

I started writing this post from the backseat of my car. It is a used car but new to me, bought with my first loan back in January after the sage green 2003 Subaru Outback my grandpa gave me finally coughed out it’s last mile. That car took me everywhere I needed to go in high school and through the years since. Countless trips to Milwaukee and Chicago, multiple trips to the Twin Cities and even a weekend whirlwind adventure to Canada. This new car is much shorter and much less sentimental, but it’s mine and I’m proud of the fact that I have it. Corona lockdowns started a month after I bought it, so it hasn’t seen much yet but it makes for a good quarantine office for now, and as soon as we can we’ll hit the open road.

I drove circles around my hometown before settling in the parking lot of the high school I didn't even go to to write this. I’m not sure why I chose this parking lot to write in. I drove past exes' houses and old haunts, but with this town, everything is an old haunt. Maybe that’s why I chose this parking lot: because it doesn’t hold as much weight as any other place here. Built just above the high school track and football field, all my memories in this particular area are fun: soccer practices, home games, wins and losses but never low energy, always just my best friends and I tearing up the field with tireless young teen hearts racing against the clock, counting down to the final goal.

I haven’t spent much time alone lately, which is what brought me to my car today. Between quarantine in my apartment with my best friends, to coming back to my family home, I’ve been around people every day for the past few months. This is good but still a little weird. My year in Berlin was a year of solitude, more nights spent alone than with someone, and I got used to that. Both are good, and they both take adjustment.

It’s weird to be in this town and not hug my friends. To have it be early summer and have no Saturday morning Farmer’s Markets, no groups of kids in the parks, no backyard barbecues or front porch gatherings. In a place of such loud and vibrant community, it is lacking right now, all of us at least 6 feet apart, fear front burner in our minds.

It’s weird to not go to the bar I used to work at and hug everyone. It’s weird to pass friends in the food co-op and have to stand apart as we ask each other how we are. It’s weird to stay home so much, not hop from house to house. I miss house parties. I miss laughing with a group of friends. I miss dancing with strangers. I miss going to bars. Not even to drink, just to watch the bartenders make drinks. I miss the openness with which we would look at each other. I miss holding the door for people. I miss not being worried about my hand’s touching the cashier’s when I hand them my money. I miss sitting in coffee shops for hours. How weird is it that before this all started, we all went to a coffee shop to sit for hours and didn’t even realize it was the last time? I don’t even remember the last time.

I miss not being afraid of every surface. I miss getting back in my car and being able to fix my hair without using hand sanitizer first. I miss sitting in other people’s living rooms, having dinner at other people’s dining tables, passing plates of food to each other without a second thought about it.

I miss when my phone didn’t auto suggest “quarantine” everytime I started typing a word that started with the letter Q. I miss driving with a carful of people. I miss wandering aimlessly in Target on my day off looking at things I don’t need. I miss touching things at the grocery store. I miss touching my friends faces. I miss airports and travelling and planning trips I can’t afford to go on and simply not going because I can’t afford it, not because it could kill people.

As always, I am beyond privileged and lucky to be saying any of this. No one I know has died from this. It breaks my heart to think about the fact that where I am thinking of things I miss, hundreds of thousands of people in this world are thinking of people they miss. We are all living this time differently. And unfortunately, even in my sweet little town, many people are living their life like nothing is going on at all. I know a few people personally who just don’t believe in the pandemic, as if a worldwide virus is a matter of opinion, as if we will ever be asked to do less for our society and our fellow humans than stay home and wear a mask. As if skipping the gym or a haircut is causing anything even remotely comparable to the oppression that millions of people feel every day in a corona free world. Now all I can think when I see someone not wearing a mask is the fact that they must not know anyone who has died from this. They must be lucky enough to turn away and continue their day like it hasn’t taken over 92,000 lives from our country in a few short months.

This time is huge and scary and impossible to comprehend. Even when we have a vaccine, even when we can all take our masks off and hug each other again, nothing will be the same. We will hold a collective memory as a people of the time when we had to yell to our neighbors from across the road. And yet, life will go on. New generations of children will be born and grow up and take tests in history class about the Covid-19 Pandemic, and it will be to them what the 1918 Influenza Pandemic is to us: just an unfathomable time to learn about and history’s trajectory to look at. All I hope for them when they learn about this, is that they take more from this then we have from our own history. That they shape a world worth returning to when the masks all come off: not one that needs to be altered completely when we bare the skeletons of the systems that we have built that have failed us.

I miss you world. I miss hugging you and seeing you and touching you and not being afraid of you. I hope to see you soon, but for now I’ll be here, doing my civil duty from the safety of my bed.

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