Disney on Ice. That was the last public event I went to before the world changed in March 2020. If I’d have known what was coming, I might have assessed my options more closely.
Of course, it wasn’t something I was doing for me. My kid, my friend’s kid and the little girl — a foster child living with neighbors — we took down to the Charleston Civic Coliseum Thunderdome (I’m never going to get that new name right) had a good time. In fact, the girl nearly tore my arm off in excitement when Mickey and Minnie Mouse appeared. It was like The Beatles landing in the United States. I wasn’t around for that, but I’ve seen the news clips.
It was March 7. Attendance seemed light. The word “coronavirus” had been circulating for a while, but a lot of us didn’t really know what to make of it yet. Within six days, West Virginia schools would be dismissed — believed, at the time, to be a temporary measure. Sporting events had been canceled. Not long after, words like “lockdown” were entering the lexicon, and a governor we’d hardly seen over the past three years was appearing on television daily.
Like everything else, it took COVID-19 a while to really make it to West Virginia, thanks, in part, to an early lockdown. In those fledgling days a year ago, the picture across many parts of the rest of the country was grim.
So, here we are, a year or so later, with close to 530,000 of our fellow Americans gone, more than 2,300 of them West Virginians. Cases seem to be dropping, there are enough vaccines to have everyone inoculated by the end of May. All of this, hopefully, will be over soon.
It’s not something I imagine I’ll relish looking back on, for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I had to stay in a parking lot while my wife was inside a medical facility undergoing chemotherapy, then surgery, then radiation and, now, the homestretch of maintenance chemo.
Before one of her treatments in February, we ate at a great restaurant near the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center in Columbus. It was the last meal we’d eat inside a restaurant for months (and we’ve only done that one other time since). That particular restaurant in Columbus closed its doors for good over the summer.
I agree with the public health rules and guidelines that were put in place. I’m still a strong proponent of them. That doesn’t mean it’s been a barrel of laughs for me or anyone else.
So much other stuff happened — and is still happening — in our lives and in our country, with the pall of the pandemic hanging over everything. It’s a bit hard to process. I keep thinking of it in different phases, depending on what the season was, or what my son was into or how my wife was doing. I’m sure there’s still a phase or two to be added to the list.
But my basic takeaway, as I shared with someone over the phone several months ago, remains the same: Living through something historic can really suck.
When I first made that declaration over the phone from my back porch, the woman I was talking to agreed.
“I know!” she said. “I don’t want to be asked 20 years from now, ‘Well, what was living through COVID-19 like?’”
I couldn’t even answer that question now. While it seems to be winding down — and I sincerely hope and pray that trend sticks — it’s not over yet. It’s not safe to stick our arms and legs outside the vehicle. The world’s worst ride has not come to a complete stop.
In any case, I think it’s going to be years before we really understand what hit us, and how that’s affected and shaped us as individuals, as a country and as a planet.
Trying to analyze it now, it just seems a jumbled mess in my mind. A year has passed, and yet it doesn’t feel like it. Then again, in some ways, it feels like much longer than a year has gone by. Things are fuzzy, but distinct. The world stopped, but kept going.
What is it like living through this pandemic? Let’s ask ourselves that in March 2022, when things are hopefully very, very different.