That was then, this is now

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To the Editor:

We’ve come such a long way. If we knew then what we know now, would we have done things any differently? From unease to fear, to panic. New skills acquired. Mask making to learning Zoom, becoming all things to all: parent, psychologist, social worker, therapist. Wringing hands. If we ever thought we were screwing up our kids before this, we were certain of it now. “Mom, you’re ruining my life.” All in the name of keeping them safe.

Fast-forward. Shots in the arm and masks have allowed us to move from isolation to that first physical contact, first face-to-face. Whereas before we would not have dared to look someone in the eye lest they wanted more than we felt safe to give, we can now mingle with those who are like-minded in wanting to stay safe. We can live as we did before, just carefully.

Or so we think. We live on Martha’s Vineyard. A few weeks ago, husband Peter and I took a ferry ride to the isle of Nantucket. This was a big step for my guy who, mindful of being in his 70s with sketchy lungs, had hunkered down in a tent during the worst of COVID times. He set conditions for this junket. “I’ll go so long as we sit outside on the ferry, avoid crowds, and not dine in anywhere.” Perfectly reasonable.

What could go wrong?

That morning, we boarded the ferry and found outside seats. It was a beautiful day, and upon our arrival on Nantucket, we spent time exploring cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and outdoor dining. A delightful day that we hoped to repeat.

In great spirits, we boarded our ferry to return home. We found the same seats and chatted with people around us. One friendly couple (not from these parts) moved closer. Except for Peter, no one was wearing a mask, but most were observing a safe social distance. Not this couple. While the wife sat and chatted, her husband came closer and closer as he spoke, gesturing to make his points. So close that I could smell garlic on his breath. 

We had learned about COVID “breakthrough cases,” when those fully vaccinated are exposed but get sick anyway. By now, this friendly guy was feet away. “May I ask you a question?” I asked. “Sure,” he nodded. 

“I am just wondering if you’ve been vaccinated?” Silence. Then, “What?” He asked. Not the voice of the friendly charmer of a few moments ago. Now I’ve done it, I thought. Quickly, I slipped on my mask. “Wow,” he exclaimed and theatrically jumped back. “No one’s ever asked me that!” “Look,” I said, “just trying to be careful, and you’re a bit close.” He was smiling but not really, and people were noticing. “No, we’re not vaccinated.” Sheer instinct caused us to quickly rise and move three aisles back. He laughed. “Oh, they’re moving! They’re afraid,” he mocked. As if this was not bad enough, a voice from across the way called out, “You can come sit with us, we’re not vaccinated either.” Behind us, several people whispered, “You’re good, we’re vaccinated.”

I’d heard about scenes like this, like when you’re trapped at 35,000 feet on an airplane with nowhere to go. On this ferry, we were caught by surprise. Also, with nowhere to go. So we kept quiet. On one side of the boat, the anti-vaxxers laughed. Uproariously, as if getting ready to roast the missionaries. On the other side, the vaccinated, who whispered about what could happen next and how stupid people are. 

Our arrival to the Vineyard dock couldn’t come soon enough.

As we prepared to disembark, that same couple came over to us, and asked, “It’s all good, right guys? Come on, let’s high-five!” Their hands in the air. No response. More laughter. We’ve come such a long way. Or have we?

 

Linda Pearce Prestley
West Tisbury