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After a year of hiding away, a return to normalcy feels ... abnormal

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The good news is my 84-year-old father has been vaccinated, so he can go to the public library again without worrying if it’ll kill him.

The bad news is I’m next.

I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I believe in science and look forward to getting the jab. The pandemic has caused so much misery, it’ll be a great day when the whole world is inoculated against COVID-19.

What concerns me — panics me, if I’m honest — is normalcy. I want this catastrophe to end, but there are aspects of the shutdown that I’ve come to appreciate, and the prospect of returning to pre-pandemic life is stressful. I quarantined to stay safe, but now it feels like a way of life.


I’m lucky, I know. I’ve been able to work from home. I‘ve been required to. For years, I was out several nights a week for work, and I enjoyed it. To suddenly be confined was weird. But I adjusted.

I developed new routines. Lying on the sofa is a big one. So is lunch at 10 a.m. And don’t get me started on deodorant. I haven’t used it in 13 months. I haven’t seen it in 13 months. And no one’s noticed. Or maybe they have. Either way, quarantine-me doesn’t care.

And that’s the issue. A lot of stuff I used to do I don’t bother with anymore. Like clothes. For months, a gray Calvin Klein T-shirt and joggers have been my wardrobe. Gray goes well with anything, especially more gray, so that’s what I’ve been wearing: a groutfit. I’m supposed to put on proper pants and a suit coat now? Hmm. Even a collared shirt seems like a big ask.

Then there’s my car. In the early days of the shutdown, I missed it. I’d see it out the window and wish I had someplace — any place — to go. I’d fantasize about taking a road trip, being like Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider.” Nah. What was I thinking? I don’t want to drive. It hurts my back and gas is expensive.


I adapted to my new reality quickly. Like a caterpillar that vanishes into the vegetation to camouflage itself, I’ve become indistinguishable from the furniture. Except for the occasional Zoom call, I can go weeks without being seen. You think I’m going to forsake my sofa for a crowded bar just because I’m vaccinated? Even if I did, my social skills are shot. I shudder at the thought of small talk, of someone asking what I’ve been up to. I’ve been talking to my dog! Unless people are prepared for me to pat them on the head and say “who’s my good boy?” I think I’ll be staying home.

I’ve become more self-reliant. I’m no Jeremiah Johnson, but I’ve perfected coffee and I can fix a fine old-fashioned. (The secret is the bourbon-to-bitters ratio.) What else is there? Do I miss the $5 macchiato at Peet’s in Harvard Square, or the Merchant’s Handshake at The Baldwin Bar? Maybe, but I’m OK fending for myself.

I’ve also discovered I like saving money. I get excited about the 5¢ deposit on empty bottles the way most people get fired up about their 401(k). And, for better or worse, I’ve generated enough empties to make Def Leppard proud. Cha-ching! I know I’m supposed to be spending money, not saving it, but there are only so many gray T-shirts I can buy.


It’s possible I’ve gotten smarter during the shutdown. With so much alone time, I’ve actually read The New Yorker, not just watched issues pile up on the ottoman. (I recommend Lawrence Wright’s cheery 40-page piece, “The Plague Year,” about how America botched its virus response.)

Solitude has enabled me to read and watch so many things I’d missed or neglected. And then there are podcasts. In the before times, I rarely listened. There’s no way I would have rambled all around the Middlesex Fells Reservation bingeing “In the Dark,” a towering achievement of reportage and storytelling. I don’t want to give that up.

Best of all, though, was the time spent with the kids. Exiled from college a year ago, Julia was home until late fall, when she left for school in England. Beckett, who’s 16, has been here throughout. Our family has lived all over each other, like Charlie Bucket’s bedridden grandparents in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Michelle and I got to know our children — and them us — in a way we never would have if a deadly virus didn’t upend our lives.

So, yes, I’ll be getting the jab, joining the 100 million or so Americans who’ve already been vaccinated. I’m excited for my father, who’s looking forward to finally walking into Forbes Library to get that copy of A.N. Wilson’s “The Mystery of Charles Dickens” that he reserved. Me? I don’t know. I do pine for Stephen, who used to cut my hair. Stephen and I took our time and talked about everything. He was expensive, but excellent. White hair is hard, yet Stephen always managed to make me look more like Jamie Lee Curtis than Phyllis Diller. That’s a reason to go out, I guess.


Like that caterpillar, I’m sure I’ll emerge at some point, but I’ll be different. Because I’m not the same.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at Follow him @MarkAShanahan.