I went to Hobby Lobby this afternoon (that statement in and of itself is weird to me considering how long it’s been) to take some things to be framed for the house. I arrived at the counter and Barbie, oh sweet Barbie, of the Kingston Pike Hobby Lobby had no idea what she was getting herself in to.
I gave her the prints I wanted framed — one was gifted to us by our sweet downstairs neighbors, a painting of Nola’s beloved carousel. The other, by the same artist, was a painting of the side of the building we lived in with the clock tower in the background. We chatted for a few moments about the sentiment behind the prints; she asked polite questions (like a good Southerner…warms my heart) about how long we had been in town, what brought us here, etc. etc.
She worked up my ticket while we continued to make small talk. She pointed to some paper I had laid on the counter behind me and asked me if that was something I wanted help with too. Once I had seen the cost of framing the two prints, I had already decided against framing the other piece of “artwork” at the moment, but then she asked me about it. I replied and said, “Oh it’s silly. I think I’m just going to wait.” She assured me that it was not silly and especially it was not silly if it was kid’s artwork. “I’ve framed many pieces of kid’s artwork,” she said, “I figured that’s what it was, seeing the back side of the paper.” I confirmed to her that it was and just sort of stood there — afraid to say much more. My eyes welled up with tears and a moment that I’ve been expecting to come for literally weeks and months, came…in the middle of the framing department at Hobby Lobby, 2 weeks in to life in a new city.
Emotions are funny like that. Often we anticipate them, but we can’t just conjure them up out of no where — not real ones at least. We sit and we play the “what if?” game and often try to imagine the best and the worst and the emotions associated with those scenarios (maybe that’s just me). But never, never can I conjure up the rawness when I am Thinking about something. For weeks, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath and then, all of a sudden, it hit me.
She handed me some tissues, in a very appropriately socially distanced manner, and told me that she was mad she couldn’t come give me a hug. Cruelest part about these times, right? I gathered myself and she asked if I was okay and wondered if it was the kid’s artwork that had caused this visceral emotional reaction.
I pulled up a picture of Nola on my phone from March 22. In the picture, she’s smiling as big as can be, holding the beautiful rainbow we had painted to hang in our window for all to see at the very beginning of the darker quarantine days. I told her that for for 134 days that rainbow hung in the window of our apartment, overlooking the Rose Kennedy Greenway, accompanied by a second sign that said, “Everything Will Be Okay”. I told her that I looked at the backside of that rainbow every.single.day for 134 days and that sometimes I thought to myself it was hung for us, not necessarily for the passers-by, because, in the darkest times there were no passers-by. She remarked that she couldn’t imagine and, that if it wasn’t for not being able to see her daughter and grandson in Canada and the mask required at work, she might be able to forget COVID was even going on.
I’ve thought a lot about that over the last 2.5 weeks. Processing life events and traumas often takes time and stepping away from the situations in order to gain perspective on how a certain event affected you or others. I’ve wondered aloud to Austin and Catherine and Gretchen and Faith and Rebekah and my cousin numerous times why and how others (friends, loved ones, general populations outside of the northeast) escaped the literal fear and anxiety that was present every time I opened my eyeballs in March, April and May. I think I get it now.
Here in my neighborhood there are people out and about. People are walking or biking or jogging. They’re playing in their yards or sitting on their porches. Everyone is ‘distanced’ because their property allows for it. You drive around town and while obviously there are some businesses that are closed or have decreased hours, the traffic is still the same and the shuttered buildings aren’t really in your face, because you’re just driving past them. COVID isn’t as intrusive here unless you happen to be provider working directly with COVID patients or someone who has been sick/had a family member or close friend ravaged by the disease/in close relationship with a provider. It isn’t up close and personal.
I told Barbie that it was up close and personal for us and any of those living in an urban setting. At one point, later in March, I went out on the balcony at mid-day and I heard birds. Actual birds. It was beautiful and eerie all at the same time. Weeks went by when I could’ve counted probably less than 20-25 people who would walk by on the sidewalk. And those people that were walking by, were wearing masks. I went from hearing constant noise to silence, save a random car here or there or an ambulance. The highways were empty. Stores were dark. Streets were deserted. We lived in a condo building that was a block over from Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall — that place was so vibrant. Street performers, outdoor dining, shopping, tourist groups…all the things. And then one day, it was literally a ghost town.
We could not go anywhere without a reminder staring us in the face. I think about what my cousin said — he continued to run (when he could) through Brooklyn during the lockdown and often ran by refrigerated trucks outside the hospital. Can you imagine that? I looked back a few weeks ago at the data from April. I had quit watching the numbers then. It was just too scary. Too scary because I didn’t want to think about my orthopod husband having to manage respiratory disease. Too scary because at the time it made everything feel claustrophobic. But I went back to look and it was bad. There was a lot of death. There was a lot of sickness. There was just a lot of everything. And, the threats to us felt very real. Perhaps in hindsight to me personally they weren’t as bad as they felt at the time, but the danger was there for many and continues to remain.
The air was heavy and palpable for those few months. I was so jealous of all that I knew that were able to go OUTSIDE without a mask on and feel safe. IF you have had that luxury this entire time, you probably have no idea how much of a true luxury it was. And I am thankful to now be in a space where social distancing outside is easier than it was.
I showed Barbie the rainbow. It’s faded and worn. It looks like it has been through a lot. The colors that were once so vibrant have all faded and lost their shine. The paper is yellowed and sort of brittle. But, the rainbow remains. It is steadfast. It is the promise that everything will be okay and that we can rest in the promise. I told her I feel a lot like that rainbow after the last year — she told me she thought the rainbow as it is now, is even more beautiful than the one that we started with.
Perspective. Take it. Appreciate it. Be graceful and kind and patient with one another. When you laugh at those that are “afraid”, maybe ask them about it instead. Because this just skims the surface