In a way, March 2020 was filled with firsts. It was the first time I had been to an AWP (Association of Writing and Writing Programs) conference within driving distance of my house. The first time my new-to-me car went on a road trip. The first time I was staying in the nicer, flasher hotel instead of the discount hotel several miles away from the convention site.
And it was the first time I knew, in my gut, that traveling, and it’s freedom, was going to be difficult to come-by. At least for the foreseeable future.
I adore traveling and I’ve been lucky to travel on other people’s dime. That trip down Interstate 10 to San Antonio wasn’t any different. Except that I almost didn’t go.
I left at the last possible minute to the conference. We had heard about the Corona virus and that some folks, who had lived off a cruise ship for several weeks with it, were staying on an army based near San Antonio. One of them was released early and had visited a North San Antonio mall. This was before we knew how finky the virus was, how many lies it can tell and how it beats logic at every turn.
What I did know was this — my mother had just beaten breast cancer. And she was recovering but her body was open season for invaders. I knew that if I got it, I’d survive. I’d survive it, maybe barely. But she wouldn’t. Across the globe, elderly populations were dying out, the obituary pages reading like a book of the dead.
“Go,” my doctor said. “Have a good time.”
She must have known what was coming. She must have known this would be the last time I’d be able to travel and have that freedom that keeps my anxiety at bay. She must have known the exposure to this would heighten with each passing month. She must have known that this is what I would need to hold on to until the end of the pandemic times.
And I went. And few people did which was perfect since it was easier to social distance and to wash hands to to breathe. AWP can be chaotic. Too many people. Too many panels. Too many places to go and listen and participate in. But the San Antonio AWP was just right.
The intimacy of it was the last time I’d feel part of a bigger group. Everything after that would be Zoom, and “can you hear me” and spotty Internet that wasn’t spotty before but was paint-drying slow now. We noticed how dependent we were on technology and leaned into it.
My moody hotel room. Circa March 2020
Did I say 2020 was filled with firsts? It was also filled with lasts — the last hugs (conscious), the last face-to-face bookish conversations with near strangers, the last time I asked a question in person, the last time I felt safe enough to be within 6 feet of a person. The last time I was part of a reading face-to-face.
Here we are, one year on, and there’s so much that isn’t back to the former normal. In fact it’s so far away from what use to be that I don’t even recognize a time before. I call them the before-times. Before everything. Before firsts and lasts.
It’s enough to make me think what will the after times be like?
Are we in the after times yet?
Only time can answer those questions. I, like I always do, just pose them and think them through like a broken down philosopher too exhausted to keep going.
And we still keep going. One year on. Hoping the traveling and the feeling of freedom returns.
Here’s to one year down and hopefully with an end in sight,