I haven’t written about COVID, other than to encourage people to get vaccinated and wear masks. What could I say that hasn’t already been said? That I was sad or lonely or full of despair? Boring. I feel your eyes glazing over now. So, I didn’t write about that, but I did write. I published two books in 2020, and I tried to keep busy.
I was lucky, after all. I had a house, a puppy, and as a writer I could isolate easily at home with the means to have grocery delivery. Every single day I reminded myself of my privilege. Lucky. Lucky. Lucky. I forced myself to believe it. But every day I missed my test pilot husband more than I had in the 20 years since that fatal plane crash. I couldn’t stop thinking about the millions dying of COVID around the world and the grief I knew their families would experience. I wanted to save them their grief; I wanted people to act responsibly during the pandemic because I didn’t want people to go through what I had. Sometimes I would take the puppy for a drive in the car and we’d see maskless people going to shops and restaurants. “Finnegan,” I’d ask my Norfolk terrier puppy, “don’t they know there’s a pandemic?” I continued to look on in horror and the more I read about anti-vaxxers and anti-science types, the more I knew, really knew, that this would go on for years. I was so angry.
I missed my daughters to the point of obsession. I dreamed of seeing them and how I would hug them and never let them go. Without meaning to, I lost over 10 pounds in two months. Every day I wished for a vaccine and the end of the pandemic. I felt sorrow for my friendly little puppy who had no one but me.
And so, 2020 closed for me as I sat alone on my favorite holiday, on the worst Christmas of my life. But I was lucky I repeated through tears. Lucky, lucky me. 2021 began, full of despair, but with a tiny spot of hope that this would be the year we kicked COVID to the curb and I could see my daughters.
Then, at last, a vaccine, but my excitement faded quickly when it appeared I would be last in line to get the shot. Late summer, perhaps? Another half a year of not seeing my daughters? I would wait in line for my turn. I would not, under any circumstances, try to skirt the line and get my shot before others. I said it and I meant it. My younger daughter had just moved to another state, all alone, and was struggling. I was desperate to get to her. Then I did a selfish thing.
A friend told me about a way to get the shot early. If I volunteered at the state POD (point-of-distribution center for the vaccine rollout) I might be able to get a shot if I worked at least 30 hours and there were left-over vaccines. It wasn’t cheating, the friend insisted, you have to work for it. I hadn’t really left the house in a year except for walks with Finnegan and curbside pickup and vet drop offs. Was it safe? I would be helping with registration, traffic control, and other outside duties at the drive-up vaccine center. I would be required to wear a mask. I would be helping my community.
In early February I started my shifts. To my surprise, it was fun. I hadn’t been out of the house for almost a year and the freedom itself was exhilarating. Finnegan, of course, was quite distressed when I returned 7 hours later. Finally, after working 30 hours I received a call from the POD. Would you like to get the vaccine today? I rushed in and stuck my arm out, gushing my thanks, tears streaming down my cheeks. I would be able to see my younger daughter, whom I could tell from our phone calls, really needed me. After my shift I booked an airline ticket, carefully calculating times from the second shot and how long I’d have to wait to be protected. I added a couple more weeks so I could continue working at the POD because others usually quit as soon as they got the vaccine. Nope, not me. Barely a week after getting the shot, my age group became eligible for the vaccine, but I never regretted my work at the POD.
On Monday April 19, 2021, I boarded a plane with Finnegan. Final destination: my daughter Daisy and her dog Lupin, at the rental home in Delaware. Flying was tense, uncomfortable, and a little scary. Yes, I’d been vaccinated and was wearing an N95 and a face shield, but every flight was completely booked, and the airports were more crowded than I’d remembered seeing them. Despite that, my insides were singing because soon I would be hugging my Daisy and I would never let her go.
Daisy met us at the Philly airport. She’d seen Finnegan when he was a tiny puppy, just weeks before COVID grounded the country back in 2020. It had been one year and two months since I’d seen her. I watched anxiously for her car as Finny and I waited on the curb in front of baggage claim. And then she was there, rushing from her car and hugging me and crying over Finny and hugging me again. I had intended to stay for two weeks; I had a return flight booked.
The following evening Daisy asked me not to leave, and I cancelled my return flight immediately. She was struggling, didn’t like Delaware, and wanted to move back to Orlando. I believe she was suffering from her own form of grief over the loss of a job she loved as a zookeeper, due to reductions in staffing because of COVID, and her beloved little home. She’d done her best on the sale and move, and I was proud of her. Along the way she had been taken advantage of and likely lost a considerable sum on the sale of her home, but I was determined to help her get back to Orlando. I didn’t understand this fascination and love of Florida—a state I truly did not care for, but I love her and her sister more than anything on the planet, so I was going to help her get back.
While we looked online for houses in Orlando and I made daily calls to agents, she looked for a new job. I was thrilled to be a “snowbird” at last. Southern Arizona is miserable in the summer and I was quite happy to spend it in her rented townhome, in a quiet little town 20 minutes from Joe’s house. Yes, that Joe. Whenever things were wrong, we’d joke that we should drive down the road and tell Joe about it. Everywhere I went, people told us they knew Joe or their kids had gone to school with Joe’s kids, or some such thing. My daughter started to smile again and jokingly said when she got “back home” she would tell people she knew Joe too. She took me on grand adventures when she wasn’t working in Wilmington, and we laughed and talked and hugged and I was happier than I could ever remember being since Eric had died. I’d been diagnosed the previous year with high blood pressure and was on meds. I had severe anxiety, forcing me to curtail my political and climate activism, but I was happy for the first time in a long time.
I saw fireflies in the summer evenings. I dragged Daisy outside to see them too. She drove me to Hersey, Pennsylvania, to see the light posts shaped like Hersey kisses. We went to a restaurant for the first time. Before Delta, we went to several. I went to a mall for the first time in well over a year—the biggest one in the northeast. We went to the Jersey shore and Rehoboth Beach and saw horseshoe crabs. I ate potato knishes, and I helped Daisy film her search for the Jersey Devil as part of her cryptozoology hobby. I chased after the Brood X cicadas.
I stayed in Delaware until July when I had to return to southern Arizona for minor surgery. No idea how that hole in my retina happened, and being a redhead meant the skin cancer was just more of the same stuff I’d had most of my life. The monsoons hit my city with a vengeance and as a result my house had two serious water leaks that required mold remediation and tearing down of walls. As I write this, one room is still missing two walls. I rushed to get things done in my home so I could return to Delaware. We had found a small house in the Orlando area, so Daisy really was going home.
I was back in Delaware in August, arranging movers and all the other multitude of things involved with a move, including the breaking of the lease on her rental. The landlord was kind, and we struck a deal that worked out well. I cleaned and scrubbed and agreed to allow the house to be shown in return for not being responsible for breaking the lease early. The deposit was all I lost and the landlord had it rented in a day. During that time, we flew to Orlando once to look at a house that fell through, and then at another house that also fell through. Daisy flew down alone another weekend while I stayed in Delaware with the pets. The market was insane, and we quickly realized we would be doing a considerable amount of compromising and paying well above the asking price. Renting was even more insane than buying. There was nothing available.
The house finally closed, and the myriad of broken things required a steady stream of repair people and a considerable amount of money. From the real estate agents to the owner, the lies overwhelmed us both. I spent most of my days in August and September and October dealing with repairs—the roof, the plumbing, the floors, the water heater, all the appliances. The movers came in late September and we both drove down to Orlando in separate cars on Friday September 24; Daisy in her car with the dogs and reptiles, and me in Eric’s Miata with the guinea pig in a small carrier on the seat. Daisy is a kid who says thank you frequently, with genuine sincerity. I will probably tell her for the rest of her life that helping with the movers and the house was not that big of a deal, but that drive was. Through rush hour traffic in Baltimore and D.C. for 16 hours in a sportscar that made me feel like a bug on the road, I drove in a state of heightened alert because, as I repeated to Waffles the guinea pig, Daisy will not be okay if I get in an accident. We both arrived in Orlando safely. Many thanks to Eric’s wonderful cousin Linda for putting us up in Richmond at her lovely home so I could break the trip into two parts.
By mid-October, with the exception of the roof, most of the major things were done on Daisy’s house and I felt I could return home for a while. Daisy had a job, she seemed happy, her house was now in good working order. We had gone to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, and to Disney, and out to eat, and shopping. We tried to be as careful as possible, always wearing our masks, and we both received our boosters. But we knew we might be tempting fate just a bit with our shenanigans. Daisy had COVID before she moved to Delaware (before the vaccines were available), and she is adamant that she got it while being outside. She was fairly sick for about 5 days and missed 14 days of work.
My older daughter flew to visit me in October when I returned home. Oh, did I hug her! It had been two years and I was so grateful to see her. She could only stay for a few days because—and I am so proud of her—she is now a small business owner, doing hair and makeup for weddings and other events. She is my happy child, always smiling and making others feel good about themselves. Positivity radiates from her, and people stopped us everywhere we went to chat. She always had a smile for them.
In November I returned to Orlando. At this point I had been on more than 11 flights since April 2020. They never became less scary or more comfortable. Flying was a thoroughly miserable experience, but I was excited to be seeing my daughter again as this would be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas together in 6 years! She had always had to work on holidays. We were going to the Christmas Markets in Germany and Austria, a trip we’d planned for years. Originally the trip (paid for in October of 2019, well before we’d ever heard of COVID) had been booked for December of 2020. The travel company Tauck rolled the money to December 2021, and we were looking forward to our riverboat cruise down the Danube. Alas, the trip was cancelled by Tauck the day before I boarded a plane back to Orlando. Tauck refused to refund 10% of our money and couldn’t roll the money to 2022 because—get this—they’d sold out every spot and no more were available. I am fighting to recover my $1,400, but it is not looking good. I also lost money on nonrefundable train tickets. I have been posting on social media about companies like Tauck acting badly during the pandemic. Please do not travel with them.
Lufthansa would not refund our expensive international flights, which took place as scheduled. However, they did allow us to change the tickets. We had two days in which to do it. Daisy and I, in a panic, decided on flying in to Paris in June. It was that or lose a whole bunch of money. We are tossing around possibilities for our trip, but we realize anything could happen with COVID and so are prepared to change our flights again. Daisy wants to go to Gabon to see her beloved mandrills; there are direct flights from Paris. I am trying not to get my hopes up and will be extremely careful about booking anything that is not refundable. I discourage Americans from booking international trips because the situation is so fluid and there is a potential for considerable loss of money. Better to stick with trips here at home.
This was the situation when I arrived in Orlando in late November. Our Christmas trip was not happening and we were both desperate to go somewhere, anywhere. We both love traveling and we were determined to take a trip. It was reckless, what we did. We both knew it, but rationalized our decision. The new roof was being installed and we did not want to be home for that noise and mess. All the airlines were booked so we couldn’t go anywhere that involved flying. We already had a boarding appointment for both dogs at the posh Disney pet hotel for very specific dates. We needed a trip we could drive to.
It was Daisy’s idea. I’m putting the blame on her. She’s the one who found the trip. Everyone has to be vaccinated, she insisted. It says on the website, she reiterated. You get a bracelet saying you are vaccinated. You eat dinner with vaccinated people. You have to get a negative COVID test just before the trip. You must submit to a health check. All employees are vaccinated. The trip was the exact time we needed to go, and it only involved a one-hour trip. To the port.
I know. I know. You did NOT get on a cruise ship, did you?? Yeah. We did. Royal Caribbean, to be exact. And here is what happened. First of all, we did not get COVID, and yes, we wore our masks on the ship. Some did. Some didn’t. The cruise ship “Harmony of the Seas” was at about 50% capacity. We had both been on cruises before so that part was quite nice. We paid less for this cruise that I’d paid for any others over the years. We went to St. Maarten and St. Thomas and a private island called Coco Cay. We had fun though we remarked endlessly that of course someone on that boat probably had COVID, despite the precautions. It turns out we were right, but I have no details. Would Royal Caribbean tell us? Two other ships that sailed at the same time had dozens of cases, as did a Carnival boat. A little digging revealed that almost every cruise ship does. We got lucky.
We returned and had a lovely Christmas; perhaps the very best one I’d had since Eric died. We got on a Zoom call with her sister and some of the rest of the family. Daisy spoiled me with a gift of an amazing day in Discovery Cove, where we went the following week. We laughed and floated down a lazy river and watched otters and snorkeled with fish and rays. We ate amazingly good food and wore wet suits and teased each other about all sorts of things.
The flight back home, the day before New Year’s Eve, was uncomfortable as always. With Omicron sweeping the country you’d think people would be exercising caution at the airports. No. They were not. From TSA agents with their masks around their chins to gate agents fiddling with theirs, to passengers completely abusing the rules, it was a free-for-all. The Orlando and Houston Hobby airports were mobbed. Every seat was taken on both flights, and there were delays. I feel lucky to have gotten home at all, considering what others have gone through this past week. It was a thoroughly wretched experience, but at least there was one little boy who enjoyed it. Finnegan fits in a carrier under the seat, and he absolutely loves flying. He’s a curious little guy who enjoys the people, the bustle, the attention, the excitement. He does this darling head cock that melts hearts. Every day I love him more and more. I could not have made it through the pandemic without him. Did I mention he came to me in late January of 2020 with ringworm? I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say it involved 5 months of daily laundry and bleaching, vet visits, expensive meds, and trips for me to the dermatologist (I caught it twice). We’ve been through a lot together.
I’m back home for awhile but already looking forward to whatever June will bring. Until then I plan to keep working on my daily Dutch language lessons, read a lot of books, hike, wear my mask, and search for some new volunteer work in my city. Don’t forget the Tucson Festival of Books on March 12 & 13. I will be at a booth on Saturday the 12th at 2:30 for about 2 hours. Come visit me. I will have a free raffle, special book pricing, and really cool green bags.
When Daisy and I were in Discovery Cove on one of the last days I spent with her in 2021, she turned to me and said, “I like going places with you because you’re so much fun.” I feel the exact same way about her. I began 2021 in such despair and ended it by living with her for half the year. My older daughter is still a bit horrified that I’m the mom who never leaves. But it was good to be needed in 2021—by my community when I was working at the POD, by my daughter, and by my sweet little Finnegan.
Happy New Year, friends and readers. Stay safe. Be kind. Let’s hope this new year brings you some joy. As always, thank you for your support of my writing.