things i wish i’d known before the pandemic came

In late January, I landed in Boston and stood in line at Dunkin Donuts for coffee because it was early in the morning and I hadn’t slept on the flight and I was tired and grouchy and I still had to catch a bus back to Portland. Behind me was an airport worker with a mask on, and as I was waiting for my order the woman behind the counter, who knew the worker, said, “What’s with the mask?” And the man said, “Unloading planes from China today. Don’t want to get the coronavirus.” I kind of wasn’t sure if the dude was serious or if he was being racist because the Dunkin Donuts woman was Chinese, or if I was maybe just being an asshole for suspecting the dude was being racist because who knows what it’s like to be pulling luggage from an airplane in January for a living and who knows maybe the vague threat of coronavirus was more serious among airport personnel than I had been led to believe. It didn’t really matter, so I got my coffee and I got on my bus with the woman I had gone to Puerto Rico with, and we sat across the aisle from each other on a mostly empty coach, each of us with headphones on, because we’d decided we hated each other on that trip and were practicing an early version of what has since come to be known as “social distancing.”

In time, I suspect, we’ll come to learn that by the time of that miserable bus ride, coronavirus had already arrived in the United States and the first domino had already fallen and so on. Some genealogy of the pandemic will be written and it will be excellent and we will come to know exactly how and when and why and whence and whither and whodunit and all the rest. We will learn about the failures and the missteps and the heroics and the sacrifices and the tiny gestures of good faith and the gross malevolence and the banal neglect and the altogether too human choices that will lead to wherever this ends up going. With this knowledge we will maybe be better about things like being decent and kind to one another while we are still here living and breathing and despairing and loving and feeling our feelings. Or maybe we will not. There’s really no way to tell right now.

And so I am afraid, and even though I know that it’s okay to be afraid nobody said I have to like it.

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