For months, I imagined what freedom, post-pandemic, would feel like. For many more months, I couldn’t imagine freedom at all.
When lockdown began 13 months ago and we were all shut inside, confined to our homes, wiping down groceries that were delivered, disinfecting the mail, scrubbing our hands every five minutes, peering at the world through closed windows, all of us prisoners of something we could not see, I thought: I never imagined this. I never anticipated a virus that would change our lives.
In my lifetime, I’ve feared war, famine, killer bees, a nuclear meltdown, and tsunamis. But a virus that would shut down the world? It was never on my radar.
I remember watching “A Quiet Place” pre-pandemic and loving this movie, which was about a lone family trying to survive in a world taken over by creatures that annihilated every living thing they heard. To stay alive, this family could not make a sound. The scuff of a bare foot on sand, the rustle of a paper, a single word said in a whisper? And the creatures won.
It was cat and mouse for 90 minutes and I loved every scary second. A few months into the pandemic, I tried to watch this movie again. And couldn’t. Because human beings were the mice this time, not popcorn-eating spectators.
June, July, August. Summer was a kind of respite from isolation. Outside, masked and 6 feet apart, at least we could be together. My son and his family drove up from New York and stayed in a relative’s empty house because they couldn’t stay with us. It was the hottest week of the summer. We sat outside, 6 feet apart. Talking. Laughing. Fanning ourselves. Chips in separate bowls. Never sharing. Never touching. Never hugging.
Fall came. Then winter. And it was cold and dark and the number of people dying of COVID-19 skyrocketed and there was news of a variant strain and a mob stormed the Capitol.
But hope was on the horizon. There was a vaccine. And there was an election.
The first thing I will do after I get my vaccine is … This is the game I played in my head for months. I will hug all the people I haven’t been able to hug. I will fly to Scotland — maybe the whole family will fly — because my son and his family moved there in January, and more than anything I want to hug them. I will go with my husband to a restaurant. Indoors. I will take my friend Katherine to the Red Wing and we will split a fisherman’s platter and drink beer. I will drive to Maine and visit my friend Anne.
Mid-February, I got my first vaccine. Twenty-eight days later, I got my second. And 14 days after that? My husband and I were on a plane, flying not to Scotland, but to Florida.
Florida was never in my plans. But someone we love needed us. So off we went.
I imagine that what I felt going out into the world, after a year of going nowhere, is only a microcosm of what a person locked behind bars for a year feels like when finally set free. I was hesitant, nervous. How much had changed? How much had I changed?
I was comforted by the sameness of Logan Airport — the same physical building, the same process of checking in, the same routines, the same long line at Dunkin’ Donuts.
But the airport felt different, too. Security was tighter. People were quieter. Flight announcements included not just flight and gate numbers but a repeated reminder to wear a mask, to social distance, and to wash our hands.
Takeoff. Looking out the window. Bottled water. Packaged snacks. It was a dance I knew. I relaxed.
In Florida, our hotel felt safe — breakfast was bagged, hotel staff didn’t make up the room every day, and sanitizer and plexiglass were in all the usual places.
But outside the hotel? “masks required” too often meant “masks suggested,” no one was wiping down anything, and hand sanitizers at buildings’ entrances and exits were in short supply. If I hadn’t been vaccinated, I would not have felt safe.
We drove home through Georgia and the Carolinas, and in every place we stopped, it was the same: No hand sanitizers for the public to use and few masks to be seen.
On a Saturday night at Murrells Inlet, a wooden boardwalk in South Carolina, live music spilled out of bars packed with people drinking and singing and dancing. And I thought: It feels just like before.
Only it isn’t before. And it isn’t, not yet, after. The United States is one country. But we are not united even when it comes to a plague that has killed more than half a million of us. Being vaccinated has given me the freedom to see this, not through someone else’s lens but with my own eyes. And I am deeply troubled by what I see.
Beverly Beckham will give a free Zoom talk at 2 p.m. on April 25. The program is presented by the Friends of the Needham Public Library. Register by visiting tinyurl.com/5a4r7v2s, and a link to the Zoom presentation will be sent two days before the program. Her column appears in the Globe every two weeks. Read more at beverlybeckham.com.