By Ruth McKee
When the chime on my phone sounds at 6am, I am still in the middle of a deep sleep. It’s been over a year since I’ve had to wake up this early, but today is my ten-year-old daughter’s first day back at “in-person” school in over 400 days, and she insisted we wake up at this hour, even though her bag is packed, her outfit laid out on the floor, and it shouldn’t take her more than 30 minutes to get ready.
We pull up at the school early and a gray-haired lady in a face mask asks my daughter for her “daily pass,” confirming she’s had a recent negative COVID test and is not currently experiencing symptoms. The woman tells my daughter to go inside and wait for someone to show her to her classroom. It’s a new school she started attending in August, and she has never actually set foot on campus before. “But first,” the woman at the gate says, “Say goodbye to your mom.” My daughter hugs me and I snap a photo of her outside the big new school. As she walks away, my heart twists in a way it hasn’t since I dropped her at preschool. It’s been so long since we performed this ritual, I’ve forgotten what it’s like.
Back at home, there is an alert on my phone from the community safety app that I subscribed to early on in the pandemic. In addition to telling me why that helicopter is currently circling overhead, this app has been my go-to place for the daily COVID news for the past year. On the app, I watched daily cases in the county rise from 1,000 in October to 15,000 in January, and then drop off, to 300 or so this month. I’ve checked these numbers each night, as one does the weather, to know how to plan the next day. But lately the alerts tend to be more about crime and fires, with COVID news receding into the background. This morning it’s a traffic accident, that old kind of city weather.
My husband comes home from dropping our son off, and we marvel about the fact that we’re alone in the house together, for the first time since last March. But there is no time to celebrate because I need to get back in my car and drive to a pharmacy where I’m scheduled for my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. I arrive at the pharmacy and check in on my phone, joining a line with two-dozen others, snaking around the inside of store, remembering to stand six feet apart. The line moves quickly as we’re each ushered into a cubicle in the back, given our shot in the arm, and told to wait at the store for 15 minutes to ensure we’ve had no adverse reaction.
Sitting in the waiting area, I look around at these Angelenos, from all walks of life, who have come today to get their free shots from our somehow-now-functioning government. It is still a shock, in many ways, that things have turned around this quickly. Just as it was a shock, in the winter, that things got as bad as they did. But here we are, on a warm spring day, able to dream about summer road trips and backyard barbecues. My husband and I have even made plans to eat at a restaurant again, in two weeks’ time. Outdoors, we think, but with people all around us, we’ll finally lower our masks and enjoy a meal.
But for now I grab a to-go salad from the place next to the pharmacy and get back in my car, again. I take surface streets home, unable to stomach getting on the freeway for the fourth time in one morning. The trees along Ventura Blvd are blooming, pink. With so many things unlocking here I wonder if this is the last entry I will send to this journal. On the radio, the news is about the spike in India, the daily death tolls rising to previously-unseen heights, the lack of oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds, the crisis still unfolding. Right away I’m reminded how fleeting this unlocking might be.