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  • Writer's pictureErika Nichols-Frazer

I'm Kind of Afraid to Go Back to Normal

All week I've been looking forward to my fully-vaccinated grandmother coming over for dinner. I love cooking for people and having them over to our home and I haven't done either in over a year. Plus, I haven't gotten to spend much time with my grandmother all winter, when outdoor socially distant gatherings have been hard in the Vermont weather. I've been looking forward to the intimacy of a hug, of taking our time eating good cheese and a homemade meal together. But nature had other plans. Gram was supposed to come over Friday evening. I'd spent much of the morning cleaning - the first time someone would actually be in our house in many months and that was just the guy who installed our heat pump. A few hours before she was due to come over, a torrential downpour and Herculean gust of wind took out our power and tossed our grill into the yard like it was a piece of plastic. A downed power line blocked our driveway so no one could come in or out. Obviously, we had to cancel. Not the first time something uncontrollable has gotten in the way of our regularly scheduled programming in the past year.

The way we gather has changed significantly - cautious, tentative. There was another instance this past summer of our plans to safely get together with friends being thwarted by an act of nature. We were having an outdoor lunch with a few friends, drinking beers, before building a fire in our backyard for the afternoon. My husband took a swig of his beer and felt something in his mouth. And then it stung him on the inside of his lip. A wasp had found its way into his IPA. His face swelled up instantly and we had to call off the fire. It seems we're not meant to socialize anymore. And, mostly, we haven't. I've been grateful for the handful of times we've been able to hang out socially distanced and outdoors with friends.

There's a lot I've been grateful for in this pandemic. Both my husband and I have been able to work remotely and our financial situation has not been significantly impacted. We don't have kids or other folks we need to take care of and figure out childcare for and supervise in remote school, etc. We were able to get a fair amount of cross country skiing in before the snow melted. We've been able to spend more time with each other and our dogs; we take long walks with them most days. We play a lot of games.

Fully remote working has allowed me to balance my two jobs, freelance gigs, and writing/editing my own books. I took a second job as a Developmental Editor at New Degree Press last February and had planned to work remotely one day a week for the first few weeks so I could handle everything. I was nervous about making more permanent arrangements to help me juggle both jobs, to advocate for myself and my time, and make it work. And then COVID took care of that for me. Being home all the time, I was able to balance my writer/student meetings with my nonprofit work, edit an anthology, write a book that's coming out next April, finish another. How am I going to manage all that if/when I have to go back to working eight straight hours a day, three days a week, when I have to spend an hour a day driving, three hours a week to drive to/from and attend therapy? How am I going to concentrate on one thing all day? How am I going to deal with interacting with co-workers - and even strangers! - daily again? How long will it take before I'm comfortable standing near people?

In short, while there's so much I look forward to about things going back to something resembling normal, there's also a lot I'm afraid of. Don't get me wrong; I can't wait to eat in a restaurant, to order a cold draft beer, to play soccer and hockey with my friends, to see live music and host parties and feed people. To travel. To hugs. But I'm anxious. Having to be social all the time again? Having to put on pants and wake up earlier and drive every day? Having to face the big, scary world outside of my little bubble? Do I even remember how to have a real, in-person conversation? For all its curses, this year has offered some blessings, too. A time to reconnect with my husband, to get closer and rely on each other, more time and space to write and work, endless Zoom meetings, many of which were with far-away friends and family I wouldn't normally be able to see. Soon, there will be no more excuses to stay home on our own. Soon, we'll have to go back to the world. Do I even know how anymore?

Fortunately, my grandmother is coming over for our re-scheduled dinner tonight. My husband and I will be eligible to make appointments for vaccines in a few weeks and things may be kind-of-sort-of back to normal-ish by the summer. The excitement and nervousness are all wrapped into one big tangled web of emotions. There's still so much unknown. But, for now, at least, I get to give my grandmother a hug.

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