Too Late To Hide
Mary Lou Sanelli
First published Summer 2020
I’m afraid I was one of the “selfish Seattle people” who went outside to take in, no, breathe in, that glorious sunny Saturday back in March.
It’s no excuse, but like everyone, I was worried and afraid. These feelings drove me out the door, onto the streets, which seemed less dangerous than the anxiety within the walls of my home.
I dressed quickly, never taking my eyes off the light of day, moving in a different direction than the one I was supposed to follow.
I solemnly pledged to keep my social distance. And to smile at everyone.
The Northwest in its earliest days of spring is like a gift extended for surviving winter. There is just something about the increased sunlight that makes life feel good.
No matter how bad the news is.
No matter if my sister, a nurse in New York City, tested positive and needed an inhaler, antibiotics, and steroids to see her way through.
She is feeling better now. But we worried. Oh, how we worried.
For one thing, she had Rheumatic fever as a child. For another, she’s been a smoker for as far back as I can remember. The wine is poured, the cigarette is lit. The conversation intensifies, the next cig is lit. And so on and so on.
Before she got sick, we poo-pooed the hysteria. We called Corona “a new chew toy for the media.” We compared the nation’s numbers as if they proved something: 30,000 dead annually of other flu viruses. 68,000 dead of opioid over-doses in 2018. 15,000 dead by gunshot in 2019. 700,000 people with AIDS have died since the beginning of the epidemic. Said how we, together, were the perfect-storm of epi-centers: “You live in New York. I live in Seattle. We’re Italian. Oh mio dio, we’ll be shunned.”
And when my friend Ken wrote, “We can’t stop living because we are afraid of dying,” I grabbed onto his words like a rescue. As if there had to be a rescue.
I think the funniest thing I said to my sister, and by that I mean when we were still provoking laughter that made us feel righteous, is what I said after she cried, “You would think I’d be more afraid of the virus. But I’m more afraid of the men running this country.” And I said, “You would think there is a correlation between sheltering-in-place and sex, but there is not.”
We said these things. We meant these things. We didn’t know what was what and we felt it was our duty to question everything. It is our duty to question everything. Accountability is the fundamental root of our democracy—or it will be again, with a bit of luck. Besides, I’ve never been all that good at groupthink. And worse about believing the 24 hour news cycle.
But after contracting the virus, my sister had serious trouble breathing. And like the streets around us, our doubts grew increasingly silent and empty.
So when the sun finally came out (the sun!), a lump formed in my throat. I Had To Get Out. As soon as I was in open-air, my body seemed to relax one nerve at a time.
I crossed through Seattle Center and hiked up to Queen Anne until I found what I was looking for: earth.
Green, irresistible, earth.
So many lush leafy things. Their scent filled every part of me. Relief tore through me like the sun through the clouds. “You can’t know how good it feels to get out of my tiny Belltown condo!” I shouted to the first man I saw standing in his yard.
“Yes I can,” he said in a tone that convinced me condo-living was a subject he knew well. “I used to live in a condo.” His smile was graciously warm as he spoke, as if we were old friends. It was all I could do not to walk closer, but I knew better. He went on, “I was even board president for a while. But there are always those who are trying to oust the board president. Most people were perfectly nice. Even the ousters were perfectly nice. To my face.”
I felt like I was listening to a story shared in the most necessary sort of way, for intimacy's sake. All for me! I hung on every precious word. I said I agreed with him. Which was easy. Our last board president moved clear up to Edmonds he was so mad for being voted out.
We purposely did NOT talk about the virus, this I could sense in the way we talked about anything else. But avoiding a subject and ignoring it are two different things as we all know.
For another minute, I just stood there thinking that years down the road we will look back at these months as another time in history when the fragile balance between questioning and resigning, patience and panic, freedom and restriction, had been upended. When everything got too quiet too fast and it was too late to hide and the world completely changed.
And with that, I waved goodbye.
I thought of popping by Trader Joe’s just to see and hear other people, but I was fine with my one blessed interaction. I felt better. More grounded.
Blessed. Better. Grounded.
This makes for happiness now.