Part One: The beginning
A Quilt Guild comment of, “You mean, IF you go to Europe,” in reference to Covid and my upcoming trip to Paris and Portugal was the first inkling of how life changing this thing was going to be. I laughed, a joke I thought.
By mid February we had nailed down our plans for Europe. Plans were confirmed. Our hotels, flights, museum passes and dinner cruises. Websites were visited, international phone calls made. Decisions made. Dates set. Money exchanged. Plans were solidified, flights purchased, hotels booked, an itinerary made – reservations to dinner cruises on the Seine, passes to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Marseilles. I researched public transportation, sought out great restaurants, noted which ones needed reservations, all the details of a once-in-a-lifetime romantic dream vacation.
And yet, that “IF you go to Europe” comment haunted me. Not Scott though. He has this sunny personality, and a “It might be tough, but we can make anything work” attitude. I on the other hand can focus a lot on the “what if” scenarios. (We make a great team by the way) By February, the news was full of stories about China and Italy, but so far there were only 12 cases in France, none in Paris, only a few in Portugal where we were scheduled to stay with friends and soak up some Mediterranean sun. Scott kept telling me it would be fine. Me? I wasn’t so sure, but I wrote my sub plans anyway.
We were scheduled to leave March 6. Our bags were partially packed, I had my thief resistant backpack ready to go – all it needed was hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes for the planes and airports. The weekend before, February 29th I was a little shocked to discover that none were to be found in Ketchikan. Shelves empty. Every store. That, and hints of toilet paper shortages were a bit of foreshadowing. Again, I brought my fear of Covid up with Scott…. reports were getting scary. At that point numbers were increasing in Europe even though a relatively short time had passed, just weeks. Italy was completely shut down and there were reports of turning away patients. By this time I was getting frantic calls from my daughter Sarah begging us not to go. But Scott was not worried. Worst case scenario he thought, “We just hang out in Portugal an extra week, they were doing great, Covid wise, no cases yet and we will be in small town, less chance of infection.”
The next morning, Sunday March 1st, five days before our flight, Scott woke me up. He had been reading the news. Standing in the doorway he told me, “They closed the Louvre….” His voice trailed off. He was admitting defeat.
I knew the answer before I called her, but when my sister-in-law Sarah Jane said, “Honestly, I would not go, not now,” we pulled the plug. It was just the grayest feeling. We sat in our pajamas and spent the next four hours on websites, on the phone with customer service reps and calling our friends in Portugal. We read the fine print about refunds and returns. None of it seemed too hopeful. The loss of money seemed astronomical, but we realized the cost couldn’t be a consideration.
That rainy gray Sunday lasted forever. In the middle of the decision making, Don Mitchell, a friend, knocked on our door with a petition for us to sign, we invited him in out of the rain for a cup of something warm. “Coffee?” I asked.
“Tea please” he replied. Distractedly I poured him a cup of coffee and set it in front of him and the look on his face was so strange that I knew something was up. “What’s up?” Don looked sooo uncomfortable,
“I don’t really drink coffee,” he said. Oh God. I quickly got him tea and explained how distracted we were. Then Scott and I started pelting him with our situation, all the pros and cons, the agony and the cost of cancelling, everything. He just sat and took it all in. I am sure he was squirming inside and regretting accepting our offer of tea, but he was such a good sport.
Over the next week, we watched as desperate airlines did abrupt policy changes. They were offering free cancellations. Of course we had canceled our plans about five days ahead of this and had to fight… fight… fight to get the same offers. In the end, Scott stuck with it and money was put into “wallets” to spend at a later date.
Meanwhile I went I went to work and informed my principal that I would like to put off my personal leave days until next fall (boy was that wishful thinking!). We canceled my sub for the week. I had been saving leave days for two years and had enough to tag onto the end of my spring break resulting in a nice long vacation. School was normal, we counted down the last few days until Spring Break and concluded with the annual Read Across America “Green Eggs and Ham” event. As always, it was a blast, the kitchen crew playing music and mixing up ham and eggs just green enough to call them green, and just pale enough that the picky eaters might eat them. When we were done, I was exhausted and ready to go home and start Spring Break.
It is weird. Now. Looking back. That exhausting day was the last day I would be at school with kids that school year. Sometime during spring break the Governor closed schools across Alaska. We were put on extended Spring Break, first one week, then another and I want to say another. Over the next few months we resumed “online school,” but that is a whole other blog post!
Other events that signaled a “last” included a small dinner party we held March 7, the night we would have been touching down in Portugal. A friend and her husband who were going to house-sit/ cat-companion for us came over for an informal dinner. We visited merrily until well after midnight. Just like a lot of things, I did not realize this was the last dinner party we would enjoy for a LOOONNNNGGG time.
Another “last” was going to a play. Since we were in town, we decided to attend the local production of….. well shoot, now I cannot even remember. It was an eerie feeling being in the lobby, the superintendent of schools was there and I congratulated her on making the call to suspend school, yet here we were, milling in the lobby, socializing, laughing… masks farrrr off in the future, no hint of six foot distancing. And in the middle of this mix was Covid – Ketchikan – Patient – Zero. Patient Zero joked with us as he took Scott’s credit card, ran it and handed it back. Two days later when the first case of Covid was announced, and everyone was asking “Who?” Patient Zero dutifully put that question to rest in a heart felt FaceBook post. Soon there were 12 more cases, all stemming from Patient Zero. And even though all cruise ships we canceled, we started getting tourists and numbers increased. Over time we stopped paying attention to who had it, and stayed at home.
Staying at home that spring I…...
*Planned a long distance birthday for my dad who turned 85 during the epidemic. (85 flowers. 85 cards and messages of love from near and far)
*Put a box of cookies every week into the mail for my grandson.
*Became a Zoom master.
*Finished 5 quilts….. FIVE!!
*Sewed nearly a hundred face masks and delivered to the hospital.
*Did innumerable puzzles. As a matter of fact… we are STILL doing puzzles!
12 Months. 12 LONG months have passed since that off-handed comment. I think back to “The Beginning.” Those first news reports. The first hospitalizations. Deaths. And it all happened. So. Fast. I cannot remember the last time I went to a restaurant. A movie. A dinner party. The holidays passed with no Nutcracker, no parties, no church. A yet, comparatively, those are the small things, the inconveniences. The tough things, the scary things are the loved ones who have the contracted the disease. Friends who have been sick. A neighbor, hospitalized for nearly a month, and is fighting, fighting.
Yes. Over this long year we cancelled a dream vacation. Several other vacations in fact, camping in California, a baby-shower in May and others. And over those long months my fear increased. At first it was a super long lense, focused on my Dad and his wife Linda. Both so susceptible. And that fear really grew as horrifying numbers increased. And my globe-trotting Mother-in-law, while hale and hearty, fell in that worry zone as well. And I will be honest, I worry about my entire family.
Just last week though, fear began to give way to hope. On social media, friends began posting pictures of themselves getting vaccinated. And Last Wednesday a new president and vice-president were elected who will believe the science, who will make a plan and begin to heal this country, literally in regards to Covid, and metaphorically with respect to social issues that are dividing our nation. I will make new plans, new vacations, I will hug my dad soon, get on an airplane and travel somewhere warm, and while it will require patiences, it gives me so much hope. And when I get my vaccine, and when my Dad and Mother-in-law get their vaccines, when my family is vaccinated, I can start to put those plans into action, go down and hug those I love! My grandson. My dad. My Mother-in-law. My sweet daughters. I can breathe a sigh of relief and say, “We made it!”