Saturday, August 8, 2020

Lemons and Lemonade (or "The Silver Lining Around the Mushroom Cloud")

As always, names have been changed...
It's just about 5 months into this COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Massachusetts, which has done a great job of containing the virus, has entered phase 3 of reopening. On July 5th, I took the subway (mask on, of course) for the first time since March, getting myself the hell out of Quincy and going to Cambridge to go swimming in an outdoor pool. The outdoor pools are open (at lower capacity), and so is the gym. While going to the pool at the gym or an outdoor public pool is not a risk-free activity, I feel it is one of the safer risks I can take because chlorine kills the virus. I've also recently gotten to see one of my friends who already had the virus in April. He had a high fever, which indicates a strong immune response, and thus some type of immunity developed in the end. My doctor confirmed that right now he likely has some immunity, though we don't know enough about COVID-19 to know how long it will last. So I felt comfortable seeing him. I've also extended my social circle a little and hung out with my cousins, who came for a visit from Providence.

This pandemic is frustrating to no end. Until there's a vaccine, it's hard to know what the future will hold, and I dread this winter when people will be forced inside and given more opportunities to spread the virus. Even now in the summer I feel a little anxiety of what's to come next. This is one of the most horrible things to have happened in The United States (maybe THE most horrible?), with more casualties than 9/11.

That said, it is also one of the best things that has happened to me. Before anybody decides to twist things around, reads the wrong thing into my statement, no, I am not saying how wonderful it is that we have a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Rather, I'm saying that there's a silver lining around this mushroom cloud, a lemons and lemonade kind of thing that's happened to me in its aftermath. For one thing, I am doing a lot of writing. I'm well into writing a novel. I've tried writing many different novels over the years, but have had structural problems and have found myself stuck after writing the beginning, or have ended up writing a crappy draft. This time is different. What is also great about developing this novel is that I'm writing with characters I came up with at the end of 1996, characters who I've tried over and over to get a story out of but have been unable to. Until now. I think I'm really going to do it this time.

Additionally, stuck in full quarantine in March, April, and May, my mind started to wander. I thought back to the summer of 1997. I remembered my group trip to Israel, where I had an obsessive, autistic-style crush on a counselor named Chuck, and how I chased him around like I was Pepe LePew. This severely disrupted my experience and left me embarrassed about my behavior for years. I have had a few brief, superficial communications with Chuck over the years (ICQ, email), and we've been on Facebook together since 2008. We never kept in touch in any meaningful sense of the term. But with my wandering mind, I decided to message him. We had a good conversation, and ended up Skyping-- twice.

During our first Skype chat, Chuck and I hit it off right away and had some interesting discussions-- it turns out we have quite a bit in common, including a shared interest in brain science. We had a few good laughs about the funny things that happened on the trip in the summer of 1997. We also talked very frankly about my embarrassing behavior. I said, "Yeah, I had a thing for you and I had the subtlety of a hand grenade about it. I was embarrassed about it for years." Chuck shrugged, laughed, and said, "You were a teenage girl. These things happen. I'd like to think I handled it well, but I'm sure sometimes I didn't." I told Chuck that I gave him a lot of credit, that while he didn't always handle it well, he did the best he could for a young guy working in an era where autism was virtually unheard of. Having this discussion with Chuck was very cathartic and gave me a lot of closure that I never really had about that rough period in my life. He lives nearby, and I look forward to meeting up with him, and I hope to also meet his wife and two kids. This, of course, will probably only happen after a vaccine is developed, or when Chuck is at least more comfortable expanding his social circle during the pandemic.

Chuck isn't the only person I've reconnected with. I reconnected with Jonas, my counselor at Camp Negev and friend and mentor throughout my teenage years. Oh yeah, and my first crush. Yeah, I tended to get crushes on counselors... wow, what a dork I was! Anyway, he and I had kind of a falling out in the spring of 2001, and I haven't seen him since then. Our communication was limited to the occasional email and Facebook comment. However, we cleared the air about what happened back in the day (which I really don't want to get into the details of right now). At first, Jonas was not sure it was a good idea to video chat, but a month later, after hearing me on an alumni section on a camp podcast, he changed his mind. A couple weeks ago, we talked on Zoom. We had some good laughs about camp memories, and we filled each other in on some of what we've been up to over the past 19 years. Jonas ended by saying, "Let's stay in touch." He lives thousands of miles away, but the next time he is in New York City visiting his in-laws (which I suspect will only happen after a vaccine is developed, so I think we're talking about at least a year), I will probably head down there to see him. I definitely look forward to meeting his kids (I already know his wife; she went to the same camp).

I also reconnected with Amelia, a close friend from my age group at Camp Negev. Like Chuck and Jonas, we had been on Facebook together for years but didn't have much communication. We had a nice Skype chat and, like in my chat with Jonas, we filled each other in on what we've been up to over the past several years. She lives in the south, so it'll be a while before I get to see her in real life. I hope she comes up to Boston at some point. Or, perhaps I'll go down there. We'll see. If nothing else, we're just about due for another Skype session.

In short, because of this pandemic, I've been writing like a madwoman and reconnecting with old friends (Jonas and Amelia) and acquaintances (Chuck-- now a friend? Not sure how he'd classify the relationship from Skype alone). This mushroom cloud has indeed had silver lining, and I've turned some lemons into lemonade.

With all the horror stories that have happened as a result of COVID-19, it's nice to be able to hear something positive. Let me know in the comments if you have similar "lemons and lemonade" stories that have happened as a result of this pandemic!

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