A Different Swamp

The week the world began to panic about COVID-19, we were in Houston visiting my in-laws. We drove straight home to El Paso, not wanting to have any contact with potential super-spreaders before we could hide out in our house for a while. “A while” turned out to be about fifteen months. This week, we are finally back in Houston squeezing all our (fully vaccinated) friends and family in person.

If anyone you know has complained about maskne, or breaking out from wearing a mask, I would bet my Biden Bucks they lived in Houston or anywhere in Florida. It is moist, I tell you. It’s hurricane season, and while there are no hurricanes in the area for the moment, there is plenty of rain and humidity. The difference between El Paso and Houston might as well be the Sahara and the Amazon. Our kids are freaking out, thinking their drinks have a hole in the bottom because they leave puddles on the table, but it’s just condensation, which we do not often experience in the desert.

Catching up with other parents is basically impossible. We went to see my family members north of Houston, and with five kids in the pool, it was hard to chat with the other adults between, “don’t cannonball on top of your cousin!” and “wash your hands and face before you jump on the furniture!” Tonight, we had dinner with lovely friends who have three kids roughly the same as ours, and let me tell you, you haven’t truly lived until you’ve taken six kids to a restaurant. We packed them all into a booth thinking it would contain the chaos, but one of my kids left with a shoe full of applesauce, and another with blood dripping down his leg. I can confirm our friends are both alive and appear healthy but other than that I have no idea what’s going on in their lives.

I stole away one glorious evening to see my sister and a dear friend from college for dinner, and it was amazing to hear an adult speak uninterrupted (except by me, because I don’t remember how to talk to other humans). But still, a couple hours after a year and a half apart? It’s just not enough, especially when it comes to people you really care about. I want to know about their lives, their highs and lows and hopes and dreams. I want them to tell me everything and I want to take notes so I don’t forget, so that the next time I see them we won’t have to waste a single minute.

Unfortunately for all my relationships, I hate talking on the phone. Absolutely loathe it. Even Facetime, which is a tad less horrible, is impossible in my house. My daughter takes squeals if no one is talking to her, or my son steals the phone to show Grandma his block tower, and I haven’t even gotten in an update on the day’s dust storm. The most we’re able to share right now is, “I’m fine, you?” “I’m fine.”

Truthfully, we are probably not all “fine.” The world stopped for over a year. Millions lost their jobs, or had to reinvent their jobs from home, in many cases while providing full-time childcare and then assisting in full-time online school. Businesses closed for good without fanfare, unable to stay afloat without customers. People moved and didn’t get to say goodbye to their loved ones. Women gave birth alone wearing masks, skipping baby showers and visitors in order to keep their babies safe. Frontline workers, both medical staff and the indispensable folks that kept our cities running through lockdowns and testing and treatments and research and vaccine production and statistical updates and news cycles and empty grocery aisles. Over 600,000 people died in this country alone.

Medical procedures and checkups were put on hold to free up beds for the sick and dying, so it’s important that we make sure we are indeed “fine,” at least medically speaking. So get to the doctor and the dentist, because you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself.

But after that, it’s okay if you’re not fine. It might be a while before we even remember what fine felt like.

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