As businesses around the city open their rolling doors and more New Yorkers walk maskless, it may be easy to have COVID slip from our minds. But trust, we haven’t steered clear from its path just yet. Last week, cases nearly doubled in New York–so we’ll see when and if this op-ed’s headline ages well.
But for what it’s worth, the looming possibility of us returning to our quarantine days does not trump the freedom many have longed for since March 2020. It’s the hope for better days that many of us hold onto, or at least, I have learned to get a grip of.
At the height of the pandemic, death was knocking at the door of those closest to me. My uncle, Chente, was a deliveryman who biked the city’s streets when the lockdown first started. As avenues became lifeless, so did he when his fever soared and he could no longer breathe on his own. Once he checked into Bellevue, we pretty much lost contact with him personally. It didn’t help that I couldn’t go one day without seeing Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings, wondering if he was going to be part of the latest death toll. Until one day, on Apr. 22, he was. And the last time I would ever see him was in a black urn.
Early on, Chente’s passing legitimized COVID-related deaths for me. For a time, I even wondered how long till the next family member would pass. And I lost hope that a vaccine could pull us out of the dirt, and help us get back to the lives we once complained about on a train ride going uptown with a friend. But that feeling of being “at the end of the line” didn’t last long. And strangely enough, it was thanks to COVID itself.
Late last November, my pops started coughing and sneezing. Then a few days later, my mom did too. Next thing you know, I’m hitting it off with a COVID contact tracer on the phone, talking about who I saw in person and what symptoms I’m exhibiting. Looking back now, it’s almost funny how long I took to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as the tracer went through each COVID sign. I would pause and think, “Well, I did have a tickle in my throat, but I mean it wasn’t that sore.” But sooner rather than later, my body ached, and my mind went into the numbness of COVID fog.
Though physically I was drained, I pushed myself to at least not be emotionally exhausted. I mustered the energy to interview people and write stories, which helped occupy my mind. But as I laid in bed for most of the day, without a single thought in mind (side effects of “the fog”), I observed all that was around. The little things that I did not notice when I was well and kicking suddenly magnified.
It was in these moments that I realized life is not too bad after all. Even in the shittest of times, there are always things to appreciate. Even in a pandemic, there is still hope.
Now with about 11 million New Yorkers fully vaccinated, as of press time, it seems that many are not letting the ongoing pandemic rain on their parade. But when we inevitably see the day where COVID dies down, I wonder if all our memories of quarantine hardships will go down with it.
Will we forget the 4.16 million recorded COVID-deaths and counting? Will we forget the crippling time where healthcare workers had to wear garbage bags as PPE? I sure hope we don’t. We don’t have to miss it, but we should not forget the lessons we’ve each collected in our time living with a deadly virus. But for now, let’s safely enjoy the progress we’ve made and wait for the better COVID-free days to come.