“Growing dread and acceptance of the winter ahead is weighing on Americans’ physical and mental health and raising fears about debt and job security, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.”
A little girl with red rubber boots is walking with her mother, auburn hair and a lavender puffer coat, spots of color against the brown and green. along the side of the dirt road. The melting snow and May rains have formed rushing streams in the open ditches and depressions in the earth. The little girl lets go of her mother’s hand and stomps through the water, splashing happily.
I am approaching them, strolling. From a distance we smile, but we also move apart, to either side of the road. We exchange a few words of greeting and my body stiffens slightly. I am aware that, before we lived in a pandemic, we would come closer, we would be able to see the other’s eyes. Now, we hold back, there is almost a cage-like circling of two bodies wanting to be respectful but safe. I cannot believe that I must distance myself from this carefree and guileless child.
I live in the Adirondack Mountains, at the end of that dirt road, next to a protected wilderness. It’s a place which seems remote to city dwellers but to which, in the summer of 2020, the city dwellers came to escape the pestilence that has settled onto cities like ashes blown from a fire. In June, protests erupted throughout the country against a system that devalues Black lives. The fear of disease becomes intertwined with the anger and rage. I can no longer avert my eyes.
It is nearly winter now, and we have seen the first dusting of snow and ice-heavy branches. It is that period between paddling season and ski season, when grey is omnipresent, and darkness falls early. I huddle with my neighbors around a campfire- a dinner party al fresco in the cold and dark. Upon leaving, we stretch our arms in an arc and say “virtual hug, virtual hug”, finding a facsimile of what had once been courtesy and warmth. The contemplation of another season of this emotional isolation sometimes brings me to despair, which I try to swat away like a cloud of flies.
I must spend another season of trying to override my natural instinct to be close to others. It sinks in that I must learn to live with fear. You, my neighbor, my child, my friend, may be a vector of disease. I may be a vector of disease. I fear becoming sick, I fear dying, I fear making a loved one sick; I fear someone I love dying.