It’s rather rare for me to answer the phone while eating lunch since 95 percent of the calls coming in are for renewing the factory warranty on my six year old car, or that sometimes twice daily check-in from a medical supply company so concerned about the workings of my C-PAP machine.
I was raising a spoonful of the delightfully creamy mushroom soup with flecks of wild chanterellas toward my mouth when the phone rang. A delightful and late Christmas present from my son, now of Bergen, Norway, with packet instructions fully in Norwegian. My soup was straight from the microwave, warmed from the original batch from the day before. Even post-microwaved it had gained seemingly more flavor than from when I had made it on the stove.
Next to the bowl was a half meatloaf sandwich. I had made the meatloaf for dinner the night before and felt rather ingenious when my experiment of running Mary’s favorite taco chips with the limey seasoning through the food processor to create my own “bread crumbs.” This added an interesting zing and taste to what might have been an otherwise bland loaf of ground pork and hamburger. A heaping tablespoon of Hatch’s red and green chili mix surely helped, too.
Flipping open the phone caddy I noticed it was a local number. Since those car warranty and medical supply people are so adept at using phone numbers from all across the nation, including ingeniously tapping into our local prefixes, I answered with groomed trepidation. My voice surely lacked great vigor and warmth. Perhaps even a bite of soup or sandwich might have been in my mouth for I didn’t expect to actually say anything. I’ve learned to quickly hit the little circularly X to end those sneaky robos.
Patience on her part was most rewarding, however. She was kind enough to see through all that posturing and asked if this was truly me, which I assured her I was by offering the last four digits of my SSI to gain her full trust. It slowly dawned on me that she was calling about the shot. Meaning, THE SHOT, the one promising life and a possible sense of normality.
This was after spending much of the previous afternoon trying to figure out how to register online for something called “My Chart.” This was part of a rampant rumor mill. So many avenues. So many dead ends. It was just last week I had gone to the local clinic and left feeling as if there wasn’t much of an option. Not locally. Supplies and politics being what they are. Mary has worked extremely hard and creatively to get us lined up, and even found a way to get her brother assigned a shot slot. Due to a rocky night of sleep she was wide awake and ready to get us registered for the lottery by 5 a.m. When I came down a couple of hours later on Tuesday, she said, “You’re registered!” Could I have felt more relieved?
Short lived, however. This morning My Chart wouldn’t recognize either my user name or password. Calls were made and patient instructions were provided, which didn’t work. Links sent via email didn’t help either. Surely my slumped shoulder saunter to the studio this morning could have been used as a portrayal of defeat and hopelessness.
In the last half of my morning I grudgingly began organizing some of my 4,000 cell phone images into various files, a job that would have made my daily Covid “to-do” list had I ever written one. Pictures dated back to 2014, which is one year longer than the car that supposedly needed a new factory warranty. Wonderful memories that included three trips to Budapest, a birthday trip to five European countries, another long trip to Southeast Asia and Australia, a couple to Norway, one each to Alaska and Nebraska, plus two round about winter drives to the southern U.S. Mixed in were a bunch of musical events, studio happenings and numerous exhibits … basically the story of my life for these past seven years — only one of which was during the pandemic, a time where I was fortunate to hang an exhibit. This was the extent of my “wall time,” so many hours were spent in the prairie and woods working to further my art. Yes, it was a creative time, for what else was there?
Ah, yes. The pandemic. Covid-19. A time when hugging died. A time when sitting indoors for meals at our favorite dinner spots was no longer possible. A time when Zoom and end-of-driveway visits filled our necessary social needs. A time of political turmoil when hopeful BLM protests and racist terrorists threatening our democracy filled the news, when a man named George Floyd became an unintended martyr for racial justice. A time of political unrest fueled by lies and ugly campaigning on all levels.
We separated ourselves into groupings of masked and unmasked, and we hunkered down as individuals and family units as we learned new ways to survive. If we had family on death beds and ventilators, or in senior care centers and group homes, we weren’t allowed to visit. Those who needed us most could not be held nor comforted with either words or touch. More than 450,000 have now died in the U.S. alone … with more people dying each day than were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack. Never had our nation been so bonded as it was back then, yet we allowed the coronavirus to drive us apart in all ways. Our country has become the Sarajevo of the new century, dividing us as neighbors, family and friends. Perhaps forever more.
“Yes,” I said when she asked my name. “This is me.” We verified the necessary contact information and those last four digits of my national identity. Had I had a recent vaccination of any sort? Symptoms of Covid? Was I available to have my vaccine administered tomorrow afternoon? Since I was on speaker phone I simply stared at it laying between my bowl of soup from a son who remains forbidden to visit and half a meatloaf sandwich, unable to believe this was going to happen. That there might be an ending.
I thought of my mother and her constant worry and trepidation 70 years ago when the crippling and deadly polio was the fear, and of how she cried tears of happiness for what seemed like hours when we got our sugar cube of Salk’s vaccine. I had wondered how anyone could cry over happiness? Now I could feel my eyes tearing up, and the lump in my throat, and a sudden relaxed gasp as if air had suddenly escaped from a tightly stretched, full balloon. And, I cried. I cried tears of relief and happiness. Just like my mother had.