When the Touching Ends

In the past, when the touching ended, it was a sign of a crack in a relationship.  No more intimacy? Trouble in paradise.

But now, there now is another reason, and it’s deadly.

I remember a conversation with my mom- in the 1980’s, before I came out – in the early days of HIV/ AIDS. After reading all the early media frenzy, she expressed concern about the touching of people with AIDS. Thinking about it now, I think it was – I hope it was – an innocent inquiry. And I am glad, that on that one occasion, the conversation did not become an argument but instead I’d replied from my heart, “God, it’s so sad! The person is dying in hospital but can be given no comfort. No hug, no kiss. Not even a gentle hand squeeze, vital in the time when all humans need this the most.   As I recall, she’d said nothing. Or the conversation had just fizzled out with no more comment.

I had not known then, that her sister’s son, my cousin, was gay. That the two sisters had discussed this – as mothers who worry about their children will – with concern, in hopes of making their children’s future easier, wish only for their children to have an easy or easier path. 

So (logically?) to not be gay- to steer them towards a bump free road.

But is there such a road?

I started this piece as I’d thought of the party (small gathering) I will not attend tomorrow. I’d lost sleep over the decision of whether to go or not. See, one of my closest friends will have her first child in a few weeks. This moment in her history will be welcome, but not celebrated as it once was. So many things no longer get celebrated as they once were. And I ask myself, will they return? 

Some of them, like a baby shower, a party for a new mother, I hope so. But others, like offices filled with staff, their time spent jammed on freeways, driving cars to get to work, I hope not.

Here in Amsterdam, there is a new rule to say that when offices finally open again, those who must travel on a bus or tram to get to work, will not be allowed in. That confused me. Then the light bulb: Of course! Everyone uses bicycles to ride to work. So, no problem. But…some also drive to work in cars… so that’s not good. Not for the climate crisis. The people taking public transportation – a good thing for the climate crisis – will not be allowed into the offices. Not yet. Another new rule to prevent the spread of the virus.

As it is now, the staff see each other online only. As a friend pointed out, “A year ago, this would not have been done at all.”

And with these times come also choices, but the choices have changed. Like the one I had to make today: whether to go to a party to celebrate the coming of a new child.

I’d felt like a traitor to not go. My friend has few friends here- her friends and family are in another country. 

True, she has the family of her boyfriend – new for her – but even her ex colleagues, she sees little of, now that she has been out of work for so long. 

As I’ve seen in this city, people come here, live for a few years, then move on. Most of my friends have gone. It gets lonely. 

So I felt a traitor to not go tomorrow.

But the fact is this: I have a pre-existing immune system glitch.  For me to be in a group can become dangerous for me, right now. For more than a year, I’ve been staying inside, keeping apart from people, wearing a mask, doing all I’d been told to stay free of this virus. 

But I guess I hadn’t really absorbed the fact of, the danger of, this virus. 

Until yesterday, when I’d spoken to another friend. His sister and mother had been diagnosed with corona. They caught it from an acquaintance who’d not told them of the symptoms they had. Suddenly the sister (with similar existing medical situation to me) had been hit severely with the virus. One minute she’s fine, the next she’s in intensive care. 

“It hit that violently,-“ he’d told me. Then, “I’ve never seen anything like it…in the hospital, people lining the corridors in beds, gasping for breath.”

The image of a fish out of water, gasping for air, and the picture of my mom, right before she died, popped simultaneously into my head. That portrayal of her had been years ago. At least I’d been able to touch her, hold her hand. She had been able to touch her children, be physically comforted by the kiss from her husband.  

That image of her last breath has never left me, though at times I’ve tried to push it away.

It’s just occurred to me that the headline of our era is: 

I can’t breathe. From Floyd, from the climate crisis, from a global pandemic.

But now? Can I just push or swipe away the images I’d rather not see?  Reading online the stories of groups of people catching the virus, when they’d thought, “Ohh…, its just a small group for an hour or two,-“ 

Then all of them catching the virus and so many not recovering.

I’m glad my friend took the time to phone me and tell me of this crisis, this shock that has come into his life and his loved ones. Helping me to hear the reality of this pandemic. Hearing his words, “It’s so heartbreaking! She (his sister) had been getting better, with daily walks. Now they found her lungs suddenly filled with damage that may never go away. The time it will take for her to recover will be so long…” I finished the sentence in my head, ‘…If she lives.’ 

Jesus. Yes, this scared the hell out of me, which is a good thing. Will I read yet another story of “A gathering” somewhere in the world, that was responsible for yet another surge in outbreaks.

Ten steps back. Again.

He’d said, “Just when we were so close to this 3rd wave of virus outbreak ending, this happens! It’s not fair.”

And it’s not. Because the person they’d caught the virus from had not only been irresponsible in their behavior but had kept secret the symptoms she’d felt when she’d invited them over. Dangerous secret from an adult!

And with all the virus deniers, the vaccine refusers, who, really can you trust?

People shrug and think, ‘Ohh…its just a small party, a quick gathering…I’m sure no one has the virus, right?’ I’d thought, ‘Oh…it should be ok. This is what I’d been telling myself about the baby shower. But is that true? How safe was it to believe?

Then thought, ‘Besides, what sort of friend would I be NOT to go?’

This line has gotten me into more trouble and scrapes , more dangerous life threatening situations than any other line in my life. Things I will not repeat here. 

Suffice to say, the line was used inappropriately here, out of guilt. Perhaps in the past I had also used it wrongly, but today I had to consider choosing for myself. That should be easy for me, right? No kids, no partner. No problem, right? 

I considered this:  Now that my illness has finally stabilized, my energy increased for the first time in 5 years of fatigue. After more than a year of staying inside, wearing a mask, no travel, no socializing, no films, theater, restaurants, leaving my home only 2 times a month for groceries, disinfecting the packages, and seeing friends and family only online, will I now take the chance to get this virus, now that it is so close to ending

When we finally have a vaccination, have in our sights to almost have this virus conquered?  No. I can not.

At least in WW2, there was a physical enemy to rebel and fight against. The Nazi infiltration. At least the physical act of refusing to obey could be seen. And also get you killed.

The sneaky people who stole from their Jewish neighbors could not really be pointed out, at the time as traitors, right? It was only history that tagged them as such. ‘…And besides,-‘ I told myself, ‘-You never know what you’ll do to survive a war, until you’re in one, right?’

Well I know now, here, what to do to survive this war. Have the vaccine shot. Wear a mask. Don’t go in groups until we are told it is ok to. The government is not some Nazi regime to overthrow or obey. This is a virus, a physical threat that is real, violent, deadly.

This is almost over for christ sake. Stop making it into a fucking political, constitutional rights issue!

Learn the lessons – the few that survived – from the past. From the 1918 pandemic that lasted too long.

I don’t like being told to be grateful, either. 

But yes, I am grateful there is a vaccine. I had the shots. No problems. 

I’m grateful that more people have not died – YET. 

We are heading towards a finish line of what could have been – and still could be – a horrific crash of the worlds population. 

I told the baby shower goers that instead of attending, I would join them online, along with the family members who lived in other countries. Celebrate this way. I’m grateful this technology exists to keep people together.

It had not been there during the years of HIV/ AIDS. Most of an entire generation died from a disease that went barely noticed by the U.S. President.  The last U.S. President had also not noticed this virus, nor cared. Some things never change. 

Time to get real folks.  It’s time for us to protect each other. This is a pandemic, not a cause.  If you want a movement to fight, fight the climate crisis. 

Foot note:  From the screen snap shots I made of the guests at the baby shower, I created a book for the new baby. In it, some people are shown wearing masks, and a lot of people online from other countries. The new child will learn from his first book the times he was born into.  Hard times and times of hope.

Print of the above image is available for purchase from this link: The Kiss

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