I fantasized what it would be like when I finally got vaccinated. (This was 8 hours into the maddening search for a working website, an open phone line, someone responsive to the frantic desire that had come over me as soon as I heard that My Category Had Been Called.)
The day before, I had been like every other citizen over 75, slightly impatient but calm, waiting my turn. I was still breathing in the fumes of hope since a vaccine had been approved and was going to be available, sure that I would get mine soon enough. The end was in sight.
Then, overnight, it became like the early March hunt for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, a zombie apocalypse, immoderate, without reason. Soon enough was not good enough. It had to be now. Immediately. Or what?
And thus, I, and many of my co-Category peers were plunged – we plunged ourselves — into an irrational, hysterical, definitely competitive race to get an appointment for a vaccination. And each shot I took at getting a shot only to be shot down felt as dangerous as death, instead of just a small delay in what was just a small first step at relieving just some risk of catching this particular virus.
“Relax. You’ll just have to wait a little longer. Don’t get crazy,” I told myself and others, but that didn’t stop me from trying that website that didn’t work one last time eleven times, or from filling out the same on-line form again and again, even after the page had expired.
In my fantasy, the day I got my first dose would be like the day after I got engaged when I tried not to flaunt the diamond ring, but couldn’t help it. Would I refrain from “flashing” — taking my mask off for a second to offer a peek at my naked lips? Of course, I would be a good citizen and continue to mask and socially distance, but with a new feeling that I was doing it for others, because I myself, was safe, marvelously safe, eminently safe, obscenely safe. Safer than you.
The element of competitiveness is subdural, but it is there, under layers of other things more evident about how frantic we begin to feel when a lot of us want the same thing and there may not be enough of it to go around. And to add to it, we are all feeling such a deep weariness after a year of isolation, distance, of living in a hugless universe. And, having been so brave for so long, the child in us is more than ready for a reward. And thus many of us lost the will to wait.
The “rollout” has been confusing, spotty, sometimes unfair and irrational. Last week, I was on an eight-hour marathon: computer searches in vain, telephone numbers that didn’t work or didn’t help. One NY website listed a phone number which, it was promised, would begin making appointments at 4 p.m. I held on and listened to an endless loop of “What The World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love” punctuated by “Please hold on, your call will be…” from 4:00, until 6:30, when I was abruptly disconnected. Numb from ear to ass, too tired to be mad, I walked away from the madness, scrambled an egg and promised myself that I would not get caught up again. I would wait patiently or impatiently, and it would be a matter of a few more days or weeks, before I could revel in my fantasized feeling of safety.
But of course, I didn’t sleep, and I was up and at the computer again very early the next morning. When – lucky me– a friend told me about a local pharmacy with 100 doses giving first come -first serve appointments. (Now I know how Jeopardy! contestants who are slow on the buzzer must feel.) With shaking fingers, I typed the link and filled out the form. Everything seemed at stake.
Unlike in my fantasy, once I had the vaccine, I had no urge to gloat, and in fact, I feel guilty that I scored when people I know and love are still waiting. But more to the point, I see (as I have seen before) that the feeling of safety is a chimera, or a fact just slightly out of reach, one emergency away, one pandemic removed from today, and we only get to feel safe in our fantasies, because the truth is, life doesn’t work that way.