the beginning of the after times

Well, that’s it: the CDC must have had one too many White Claws this weekend, because the masks can come off for the fully vaxxed.

Unless you are on public transportation.

Or you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re a science-hating conservative.

Or you just don’t want to look like an asshole who doesn’t care about public safety. So I guess the masks cannot come off and I will be matching my masks to my outfits for a little while longer. (Everything I wore in Summer 2020 was black and white polka dotted for a reason.)

I still feel like we’re in the Beginning of the After Times. When we visualized this moment, back in the spring of 2020, when the first wave was subsiding, we thought we knew what the After Times would look like. We thought one day, the schools and theaters would open, the streets would fill with tourists, and NYC would throw the biggest party since VE Day.

Now, we’re not so sure what the After Times look like. The day to day life of Brooklynites seems to be coming back tentatively, as the city creeps up towards the halfway point of vaccinations. Some night, like tonight, I walk through Prospect Heights, and there’s a quiet sense of jubilation in the streets, like everyone considers it a small victory just to be out on a nice night in May.

I hope we don’t lose that sense of gratitude as we slowly inch back towards the normal pace of life in the city. The theaters and the schools are the last two major areas that remain either closed or reduced. But those will be both open by September: there are opening dates for Broadway now and the schools are holding parent forums on how to safely reopen at full capacity. (TAKE MY CHILD NOW NYC) The restaurants and bars have been spilling into the streets for weeks. The subway is going back to 24/7 and actually has people on it again. Everywhere I look, I see the city slowly regaining the sense of self that really only comes from its citizens.

Still, we’re not quite in the After Times. I’m not sure what will even define the After Times: will it be when we end the restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID? Or will it be when we feel like time passes normally again? Right now, I still don’t feel like time passes the same way it did in the Before Times. It seems to pass too quickly or not at all. My perception of time stops and starts in a way I haven’t experienced since I was home on maternity leave. I still have a sense of being disconnected from the world that causes me to either look up and realize it’s May 14th already, or wonder why last May seems like it was three years ago. Time is hard to measure right now because we don’t have all the little differences from day to day that we used to have two years ago.

I also won’t feel like we’re in the After Times until I’m able to go out in a group of people again without completely freaking out. I just spent the past twenty five years re-wiring my brain to not short circuit in large groups of people. But now, the sensation of being in a large group of people I don’t know is overwhelming. I feel simultaneously invisible and vulnerable, and it’s challenging to remain calm and present in a large group. Maybe this will change over time, or maybe it will vary with my comfort level with the environment. Would I be okay in a goth club because that is my habitat? Is this a wiring left over from a childhood fear of rejection by groups? Do I now have to put the time and effort into actually figuring this out and trying to calm my brain like it’s a spooked horse?

So, I walked home tonight, past clusters of people out carousing on Flatbush. I took my mask off when I got to Grand Army Plaza, so I could smell the greenery in the park, and so I could actually feel air on my face. And for the first time in a year, it felt like the After Times were actually approaching, and in fact, might already be here for some people. I expected that the After Times would be like the Day the Rain Stops in Vancouver, when we all agreed, usually in early April, that the rain had stopped. It would rain again, but the winter rain, the Long Rain, was over. Now, I’m realizing that we will not have a consensus like that when we come back from COVID. This is a once in a century experience, not an annual change in seasons that every Pacific Northwesterner is attuned to. There are still people grieving those lost to COVID, for whom the impact is forever. The symbolism and the milestones may also be different for everyone, as we look to regain the parts of our lives that are most important to us. But we’re at the beginning of the After Times now, and it’s a time of cautious optimism trending to all out joy I’m grateful to be here for.

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