Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Hermithood, 2022


I’m back in isolation, historically a comfort to spinster ladies and ancient crones. Literature is full of them. I need mention only Emily Dickinson, whose isolation was not quite as solitary as mine.

Men who choose it are often called hermits. We laugh at them in cartoons, hermits in ragged furs, sometimes sitting cross-legged like a guru at the top of a mountain. In front of a cave. Hermithood, to me, implies caves, dank smells, penury, intentional or otherwise.

Solitude has a more satisfying ring, being voluntary and longed for, at least some of the time.

Isolation may look voluntary, but it is compelled. And therein lies the snake in the grass. How can something be compelled when nobody is forcing you to do it?

Or maybe somebody is.

Recent figures in Fayette County show a rise in the number of Covid cases. I know of three or four people who’ve had it, and they were vaccinated, if not quite boosted. And yet the data themselves are unclear. No one counts results from home tests, for instance.

And which masks are effective? Almost nobody wears one, or correctly, if required.

I go into the PO and the person on duty wears hers around her neck. I go into an optician’s office where the fellow who’s coughing into his mask leaves his nose uncovered. Oh, he has allergies, says another employee. Did he test? Without testing, how can he know if it’s allergy or Covid?  

At the grocery store, customers are good about spacing out in lines, but they don’t wear masks. They’re not worried. When one man coughs into the air between us, I jump like I’ve just been stung. Not a voluntary response, I promise.

Hey, you’ll say, but she’s out and about. That’s scarcely Hermithood.

True enough. I venture into stores, double masked, looking like a fool, and I scurry out, Hobbit-like, as quickly as I can. I go on windy picnics with a friend; or sit outside at a restaurant on a mild day.

But I don’t go into crowded indoor venues where everyone is acting as if we have returned to our age of innocence, 2019 and before.

Do we, any of us, truly retain that innocence?

We may want to think normality awaits, shimmering ahead of us like a highway mirage. But isn’t it really an historical artifact, a place to visit, like Washington-on-the-Brazos or Winedale?

What is truly going on?

Sound bites float through the ether and stick like bits of pollen. Resignation copulates with optimism. Real information takes work to locate, read and believe. Real information like vaccination provides quicker protection for self and others. And quicker matters because it minimizes future mutations.

But we’re all so tired of worrying.

I should feel somewhat safe. I’ve been vaccinated and boosted—but the variant is more contagious by far than any of the familiar wintry banes that, for me, travel straight into bronchitis. And each year, the severity of the bronchitis gets worse. I am not alone in this.

For people like me, Covid—however “mild” the variant—would be a disaster.

As a result, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as wobbly, stepping forward into a new year, onto ground ahead that does not look solid, with a view that is anything but clear.

So, at a time when, as a new widow I feel most need of being close to friends and family, I am compelled in the opposite direction, toward isolation. I have to protect myself, even if it makes me look silly or cowardly.

It’s a Texas thing, I guess, to put oneself first.


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