“Dispatch from a Pandemic: Michigan” by Wendy BooydeGraaff

Don Gaken

We Were All Okay With It

The recommendations varied. Some said to not go anywhere, get everything delivered, wear combat garb to the grocery store: facial visors, goggles, latex-free gloves. Others said, Nah, herd immunity. Still others decided it was our right to bear arms, by which they meant it was their right to take off their masks and exhale onto the public spaces and inside the capitol building and everywhere and anywhere and who gives a damn if a thousand more people die each day.

We were the ones living in a nice neighborhood with squared-off backyards and trees in the easements, the ones who stayed home and held Zoom meetings during the day and FaceTime cocktails at night. We saw each other mowing lawns and transplanting hostas. We didn’t put up our old dressers and golf clubs on the neighborhood Facebook page for sale, ten dollars or best offer, because we didn’t want to touch what had been touched. Everything was dangerous, everyone was dangerous. We didn’t visit our aging parents and we suffered with our burning gallbladders in silence because the hospitals were infested. We were strong and solid until it took too long. We started to believe it wouldn’t happen to us, though it had already happened to Alvin’s uncle and Clara’s brother and Ida’s colleague’s son. Flavia’s mom self-quarantined with her cough and her fever in the upstairs bedroom and we didn’t hear a lot because everyone was keeping physical distance and Flavia wasn’t much for posting personal business. We saw her last week, knitting under the maple tree in the back yard, so she must be okay.

We started going to the grocery stores in just a mask, no gloves or goggles, and meeting for cocktails outside around the fire pit. Some of us went back to work on A days or B days, and some of us stayed home working in the basement until a vaccine would be available. We biked on the trails and took walks together, one on the sidewalk, one on the curb. We held book club outside, and when it started to rain, we went in, because we were all okay with it. We felt safe with each other and we didn’t feel sick. We chafed at the discomfort of a mask around our ears and the condensation of our breaths bearding up our faces. We held outdoor graduations and drive-up family reunions. We rented separate golf carts and ate at opposite ends of the table. We believed the weather protected us, the sun gave us a sheen of Kryptonite, the wind washed our skin, the heat burned up viruses.

We decided the beach was safe and we went, in our groups of ten or twelve, or twenty, setting up pods of umbrellas and towels, the same as every year except this time, more space between pods, which is what everyone had always wanted anyway. We stood in line for ice cream, in clusters with spaces between because it seemed as if the unknown were the ones who’d get us sick. We didn’t know anyone sick, not really, so the fear became the fear of strangers which is something we were already used to and only had to amplify. We were okay with fear of strangers. We knew who the strangers were.

We started to feel comfortable, used to the ongoing uneasy feelings, only a smidge of uneasy left in us, and so when the news reported the latest incident of blatant racism, we turned our profiles dark and supported our friends who protested the police. We got outraged at what has been an outrage for a hundred years or more but now we had the time and the anger, and we forced ourselves outside en masse because we were angry, so angry, we didn’t know how angry we could get. We’d never protested before because we had our heads in the sand and we wanted to prove that we most definitely were not okay with it (we most definitely wanted change) though our pasts had proven otherwise. We learned names and spoke out on social media and read the books we’d meant to read two or three or five years ago, but our personal lives remained in our nice neighborhoods with the park right there. Our personal lives have shown that we had always been okay with it, with all of it.

We gardened and we turned off the news. We found a way of existing where we didn’t have to know who lived and who died, who fought and who resisted, and who did something that didn’t fit on the left or the right. We didn’t know how to categorize them because we were only used to two sides, the concept of a continuum yet uncreated in our minds.

We excused the young because they had grown up this way. We didn’t listen to the experts, only ourselves, our neighbors, the ones we saw right next to us because we knew each other, and our grass was cut on the weekend and the beans were growing in the garden and we were okay with it.  

–June 23, 2020


Wendy BooydeGraaff’s fiction and nonfiction have been included in Critical Read, Taproot Magazine, Great Lakes Review, Border Crossing, the Ilanot Review, and elsewhere. She’s from Ontario, Canada, and now lives in Michigan. Find her on Twitter @BooyTweets.