Last year around this time, my husband and I had an inkling that the pandemic was approaching. We saw global infection numbers increasing and people rushing to return to their countries of origin. Early cases showed up for treatment in Houston, but the Medical Center area seemed like a self-contained section of the city, removed from our day-to-day life. The full reality of this pandemic was far beyond the scale of our imaginings.
Our main concern at the time was whether to continue with our plans to board a plane to Mexico to help celebrate an octogenarian great uncle's birthday. We had an 11-month old in tow at the time, and due to the distance, our family had yet to meet him.
I remembering having a night out with friends at the movie theater (ah! those days!) and getting people's thoughts on whether we should cancel our trip. Even the most cautious waved us onward with the advice to be careful in the airports.
It's strange to think back to this week last year. We didn't own any masks. We walked into that airport with the general goals of staying at a distance from other people, and to keep our child from licking all surfaces in range. We were more or less successful at one of those goals, and we made it to our destination, embraced our family (hugs! how I long for hugs these days!), and enjoyed their excitement around our son.
We were in Mexico the week that the United States started cancelling flights and barring entry of travelers from certain countries. Would we be able to return? we wondered. Did we want to? We briefly considered extending our stay indefinitely and "waiting things out;" my husband and I had access to remote work, and we'd already packed the mountain of luggage needed to sustain our household. I don't remember what reason clinched our decision to return to Houston. My, what excitement we could have had, waiting longer and longer in a place not-quite-home!
We didn't know what to expect upon landing in Houston. Reading the news and the decisions other countries took to control spread, I had visions of patrols in the streets, urging people inside, but Houston was nothing like that. We flew in on a red-eye, so the airport was empty. We drove down a mostly-empty freeway. We returned to our apartment and empty fridge and set about putting structures in place to distance ourselves, to lock down, to isolate.
Now those structures have become so routine that they have displaced our other practices: hugs, movie nights, intimate face-to-face discussions, sharing food.
I am SO grateful for that trip, and for all the ones before, where we put in the effort to have the elders in our family meet and bless our son. I am so glad we did not push off those greetings and blessings for a someday. Those moments together are carrying us through this time apart.
Our son will soon celebrate a second birthday. In Texas this week, restrictions are loosening, businesses opening to capacity. People are getting vaccinated. The world continues to change. I have very few expectations of what birthday number two is going to look like. We phoned in his first one: grandparents on video, just the three of us eating a tiny smash cake. Since that first candle, our son has learned to walk, then run, and lately, climb. He's outgrown his crib. He's learned how to ask us to light candles for him, using words. He's a whole different person in the same body.
So am I.
So are we.
We won't know how this hug-less year of isolation and loss will impact our bodies and souls, how it will ripple out and impact our communities. We're still in it. There isn't a whole lot of time to pause and take stock. We have had to bear a lot and Just. Keep. Going.
So here I am, writing a non-conclusion, as there is no conclusion to this period. Instead, I will hold a bit of space in these words, looking forward and looking back.