This Is Why I Cried

I wasn’t expecting to cry.

On a gray afternoon in February, with paperwork in hand, I eased my car forward in the Hyder-Burks Pavilion parking lot. My window was rolled down. My sleeve was rolled up. Hypodermic needle in hand, the angel poised to inject me–and, yes, I will always and forever think of the Putnam County vaccine crew as angels–said, “This will feel cold.” Then she stuck me. And I burst into tears.

Not because the shot hurt. It didn’t. I suppose the tears were simply eleven months’ worth of bottled up stress and confusion and frustration and grief finally coming out. There was light at the end of the tunnel, though I knew I wasn’t home free just yet. The coronavirus was still out there and it could still get me. I had another vaccine ahead, perhaps more if booster shots are necessary. And until herd immunity is achieved, none of us is completely safe from Covid-19. But at least I was a rung up on the ladder to normalcy, whatever normalcy means.

I hadn’t figured on getting a shot that day. My age group wasn’t yet up to bat, but a friend had suggested I register with the health department anyway so that my information would be in the pipeline. Just in case.

At 11:45 on that gray Friday morning, I was a couple of miles from home, walking Kamala and listening to a podcast on my phone. When a text message dinged, I ignored it at first. The podcast was engrossing. But something told me I ought to go ahead and read it. THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT HAS EXTRA VACCINE, it said. IF YOU CAN BE AT HYDER-BURKS BEFORE 1:00 TODAY, REPLY YES.

YES!!! I replied. Then I hightailed it for home as fast as my legs could carry me.

Less than an hour later, the shot was in my arm. I waited the requisite 15 minutes before leaving the parking lot to make sure I had no adverse reaction. I didn’t. Now what? I dried my happy tears and spent the afternoon calling friends and family members to tell them I’d joined the partially-protected-from-Covid club. The ones who’d already had their shots promised we’d soon party in person again. I tried hard not to gloat when sharing news with loved ones who hadn’t yet been vaccinated. Among members of both groups, the same question kept coming up.

How do you feel?

Well…my arm was a little sore. But I had no aches or fever or fatigue. I knew, though, that they weren’t really asking about my physical symptoms. How did I feel emotionally, now that this long pandemic journey was coming to an end?

The answers are complicated, particularly now that I’ve received my second vaccine. I feel relieved and grateful that I’m unlikely to contract a serious case of Covid and that I almost certainly won’t die from it. I feel excited about traveling to see my children and grandchildren. Someday soon, I’ll probably be brave enough to have coffee with friends or eat in a restaurant. I’ll meet with my book group and Sunday School class in person rather than on zoom. I might not be reaching for hand sanitizer quite so frequently. I’ll quit leaving my non-perishable groceries in the car to decontaminate for days on end.

But I won’t stop being responsible. I’ll stay out of other people’s personal space. I’ll wash my hands. I’ll keep wearing a mask for the same two reasons an immunized friend recently articulated. First, I’ll wear it in memory of the millions who have died of Covid-19. Second, I’ll wear it as a sign of solidarity and respect for those who aren’t yet able to receive a vaccine. Their time is coming. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

(March 20, 2021)