Hi. It’s been a long time since we talked. I don’t care who you are, I miss you.
COVID is in the process of literally eating 2020, and seriously messing with that most basic of human needs – connection. I know, that sounds woo-woo, and so Vashon, but it’s true, it’s real – it’s science. OK, wait, don’t go there, this is not controversial: the pandemic has disconnected us.
At a small (less than eight-person), socially distanced (more than 6 feet), outdoor gathering (air circulating) this week, there was a good friend I haven’t seen in six months. She was so happy to be seeing people, she was bouncing. Now granted, I do have weird friends, but she was bouncing, which in body language meant: ‘yes, I’ve been going completely nuts’.
Gotta acknowledge the darkness of these days. Even in nice weather! Even in a funny column! Many of us have lost people, livelihoods, a sense of optimism. I go from grieving to freaking out, to numb, to deeply inspired that change is happening… Then rinse and repeat. Alone in the woods. We are missing the bejeezus out of each other.
Being so out of practice in normal, polite human interaction can be a serious liability. Last week I ventured out, and recognized (through mask and glasses) someone I don’t know well getting out of their car. I approached, desperate for contact, and for reasons that now completely escape me, said: “Have you been living in your car?” (Kevin!) When there was no response I inexplicably blurted, “Are you living a normal life?” Who talks like that?
Trips to the grocery store, normally a reliable haven of Vashon social life, become twisted, neurotic exercises in avoidance and shaming. Off-islanders, so easily recognizable when it doesn’t feel like the end of the world, now seem to exhibit public behavior as subtle as a honking kazoo. But it’s true — don’t tell me your judgy-ness of Seattleites hasn’t blown through the roof? WHY do they talk so LOUD?
So we retreat to our hovels. Then, for some semblance of normalcy, we create “pods” of close friends/family, deciding, apparently, that “Sure, it’s okay to infect them!” We stroll through the woods with said pod members, then come upon strangers, or even friends, and we suddenly treat them like lepers, over-dramatically diving into the blackberries. The low-level panic of it all!
And the little things, quaint Vashonisms we might otherwise indulge, seem hard to endure: the Prius driving 45 on the highway (yes, it’s a 45 mph zone, but COME ON!); the persnickety recycler who also needs to clean their car, slowly, with six cars waiting; the fact that the colorful birds aren’t visiting the feeder (stupid grey-brown birds!).
I don’t mean to make assumptions or pretend to know your business, but I bet you’re eating five as opposed to three meals a day, drinking, to be honest, more adult beverages than you would report to your parents if they asked, relentlessly indulging in embarrassingly banal entertainment. Maybe I’m projecting, but still, a hint of truth?
And just how many Zoom calls does it take ‘til you find authentic human connection? I mean, thank God our screens can preserve the sacred ritual of committee meetings, but really, can technology save us in our darkest hour?
Which brings us to my mom. Please don’t tell her I’m writing this, she’d be mortified, or gloating, both problematic. Either way, this doesn’t leave the island, okay?
So dad passed away six years ago, and mom, now 87, still gorgeous and crazily active, had very much resigned herself to a life alone. Out of the blue, last December, she got contacted by her college sweetheart, now a widower — WHOM SHE HASN’T SEEN OR HEARD FROM IN 67 YEARS. I know that was in all caps. It’s the boy she was “pinned to” (look it up) when she met my dad, on a summer ocean liner cruise to Europe. Girl has a flair for the romantic, she does.
Long story short (because really, despite my decision — having consulted neither a lawyer nor a literary agent — to publish this, it’s none of our business), she and the aforementioned old flame talk three times a day from the beginning of the lockdown. And early June, she up and announces to the four kids that she is moving to live with him in his fancy retirement community in South Carolina. What the?!
He used a friend’s private jet to fly her there, to be safe. For real. She brought one small bag of clothes. It’s been 3 months. They are, in a word, giddy, and utterly bonded for the rest of their days. It’s a COVID fairy tale. Life serves up lemons, and you make lemon chiffon and sorbet and candied lemon peel in chocolate sauce. They’re like teenagers in love, I’m not exaggerating.
You can’t make that stuff up. It’s amazing, delightful, hope-giving, and redemptive. And it makes me realize, the world of connection and love and surprise doesn’t die in a pandemic, dang it. It’s right there, right here. It’s in our minds, our hearts, our imaginations. And it’s what this island is made of.
Don’t despair, friends, we will get through this. Have each other’s back. Smile through the mask — we can totally tell.
Kevin Joyce is a local actor, musician, auctioneer, facilitator and trainer. Known for his humor, improvisation, original music and characters, Joyce works in collaboration with partner Martha Enson as the twin forces behind EnJoy Productions.