Non-Fiction

The Vaccine

Photo of three unmarked vials with clear liquid inside them arranged around each other on a white table. One is laying down with another rested on it.
Image Source

Content note: this piece is about the COVID-19 pandemic.


I walk up to the hospital. There’s a line with a sign that says “COVID VACCINES”. I get in it. A woman lines up behind me and starts coughing. I inch forward. A nurse hands me a medical mask. “You can take off your mask and put this on or put this on over yours”. I put it on over. The mask I wore already has two layers and a filter, so now I have four layers of mask. It slides into my eyes. I fix it. It slides into my eyes again. I am ushered into a foyer, and a nurse with a mask and face shield screens me for the first time. I have to ask her to repeat herself. It’s loud with all the people milling about, and I can seldom hear anyone who wears a mask. “Has anyone in your household been ordered to self-isolate?” I lean my ear towards her, unable to maintain social distancing and our conversation. After a bit of repetition, we settle that my answers to all her questions are no. I am ushered forward again and told to follow the pink dots.

I am grateful for the pink dots because it’s overwhelming inside with nurses, doctors, admin staff, and patients everywhere. I am no longer used to being in places so full of people. I’m thankful for the double masks. I follow the pink dots and am told to stand on a circle. “No, not that circle, stand on the circle at the end”. I walk towards the circle at the end when someone with a tablet beckons me over. Sorry, circle, not today. I hold out my health card, and they do not take it. They don’t take anything from you these days. My details are read off the card and typed into the tablet, and I am screened once again. Then they ask, “Why are you getting the vaccine?” I wasn’t expecting this question. Why are any of us getting the vaccine? Not sure of the appropriate response, I just say “Work”. I give them the name of my agency.

I am told which door to go through. I have no autonomy. I’ve become compliant, turned into putty. Another nurse asks me to stand on another circle. Someone else is told off for standing on the wrong circle. I enter the doctor room. Their names are posted on each tiny cubicle. Dr. This, Dr. That. I see an older woman getting vaccinated. A doctor is explaining to her that the vaccine is not a substitute for social distancing. I follow the line and move to a new circle because it seems to make sense, hoping I’m not doing it wrong. Everyone is terribly close together, but there are screens everywhere to prevent virus particles from floating into mouths and eyeballs. I am sent to cubicle six. My doctor’s name is John. I feel a sense of familiarity, like I’m always encountering doctors named John, though I don’t think this is actually the case.

I sit down and neither of us speak. He is looking at his tablet. He asks for my name, and I tell him it’s spelled with an I. I’m screened for the third time. I still don’t have any COVID symptoms. I am told that this is not a substitute for social distancing and wearing masks. I tell him I understand. I get the evil eye because I am a young person. I swear, Doctor, I’ve been good! Doctor, doctor, I have an anxiety disorder. I’m a hypochondriac. Trust me, I’ve been good! I am given a choice of arms and sacrifice the left one. “Do you consent to the vaccine?” “Yes”. God, yes. It’s quick, painless. “Well, that’s it, you’ve been vaccinated.” “Thank you!” “Go over there. You will have to wait for fifteen minutes to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction.”

I am directed to a hallway where people are lined up and waiting on chairs between screens. They print out my ticket and tell me I am allowed to leave at 12:21. I hear the nurses tell others that they can validate their parking at the welcome desk. I left my ticket in the car. Damn.

When allowed, I exit the hospital with a little more autonomy (though not a lot). I use sanitizer before I leave. I’m not protected just yet. I get in my car and begin the hardest part of my journey. I don’t go back in to validate my parking because I believe that would disrupt the order of things. Just a few people out of place in there could throw everything into chaos, and then I may end up on the news: Local vaccinations stalled by careless redhead over parking dispute. The person in the car in front of me struggles with the parking meter, but eventually, the bar rises and they are free.

I drive into place. The person ahead of me left their ticket in the machine. For some reason, I pull it out and try to put it back in. Then I try with my ticket. Then I try with theirs again. Then mine. There’s a car behind me. I realize then that the machine is telling me to stop putting the tickets in upside down. I put in their ticket again. It tells me it’s already been used. Duh. I put mine in again. It says I owe six dollars. We’re getting somewhere. I pull out my credit card and tap to pay on the contactless “tap to pay” spot. It beeps. Nothing happens. The car behind me pulls into the other lane, pays, and leaves, which I am grateful for. I don’t need a sustained witness. I tap my card about six more times. I begin tapping my card all over the meter. Sometimes it beeps, sometimes it doesn’t, but otherwise, nothing happens. I will die here.

I have to call for help. I press the green “call for help” button. A voice answers.

“Hello?”

“Hi, um, I’m trying to pay with my credit card, and it isn’t working”.

“Have you tried putting it inside the machine?”

“Like where the ticket goes?”

“Yes”

OH”.

Thank goodness there were no other witnesses.

“Thank you!” I say. They hang up.

It accepts my payment, and I leave. As I roll out of the parking lot, I say to myself, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. Not the vaccination, just the parking.

I was impressed with how well-organized and efficient they were, like a well-oiled machine, easily able to handle my chaos. If the hardest thing about getting vaccinated is leaving the parking lot, that means they’re doing something right. Thank you to all the frontline workers, the nurses, doctors, screeners, and admin staff, for working long and hard all year to protect fools like me. Your services are essential and greatly appreciated.

Semi-Fiction

You’re Cutting Out

Photo taken through a chain-link fence at night of dark water, a building, dam, light post, and dark sky.

We dropped—released the movie. We didn’t drop the movie. It’s not an album. Sorry, I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. I know it’s ridiculous, but you’re cutting out again. Sorry, what? I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. Oh, it’s probably my internet. My internet sucks. Is it my mic? It could be my mic. Is that louder? Is that softer? Is that muffled? Sometimes it sounds muffled. Yeah, so…we released the movie and it went well, but we have a lot to learn for next time. What will you do next time? Well—

Sorry, you’re cutting out.

…I realized they didn’t want to be my friends because I had to try so hard, and you shouldn’t have to try that hard with friends. Sorry, what? You’re cutting out again.

Over the last year, I learned who my friends really are.

Over the last year, I dove for my heart in the dumpster.

Over the last year, I—

What? Sorry, you’re cutting out.

Damn, really?

Okay, let me whisper something in your ear. There’s a trick to that in noisy places, you know. We’ll have to request they turn the music down though because your ear isn’t anywhere near me. You can message the host about that in the chat.

But…you cannot whisper.

Oh, why?

Because, and this is absurd, you’re cutting out again.

Snippets

Red Mug

Photo of a wide red mug held by the handle against 70s-style wallpaper with a yellow flower pattern.

Content note: this piece contains references to death and the COVID-19 pandemic.


I pour myself a cup of coffee in a red mug from the place they started taking me when I was a baby. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the place with the hill where I ran, tumbled, and lost my ice-cream cone. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the place where I sobbed hysterically and they gave me a new one. I pour myself a cup of coffee in a red mug with a white outline of an opened-mouthed fish jumping out of the water. This is my mother’s mug. She hates fish, but she loves where it’s from.

My grandparents loved it too, and now they’re gone. It’s just my mother, my brother, and me. We also lost my dad, but I don’t know how to talk about that succinctly. Sometimes, I feel like he was never really with us. His body came to that place, but I’m not sure if he ever did. Except, perhaps, for that time when I fell, but the memory is foggy. I think he helped me up and took me back for more ice-cream, so maybe he was there after all.

I’m not here to write about my dad. I’ve done enough of that.

The coffee is hot, so I have to keep my sips small. It’s rain-snowing outside, and there’s a pandemic, so that place is currently closed. I think it will survive though. The owner has money to burn. I trust they’ll keep it running and warm.

It was near there that I found a purple book in an outdoor lending library, part four of a mystery series that got me reading again. I left my mother and grandmother early that evening to read a hundred pages while rocking gently on a patio swing. I didn’t stop until I lost the light. The next morning, I told my grandmother about the story because she always liked to share what she was reading. She used to give us stories of faraway places and times and people in rich detail.

I haven’t seen my extended family since she died. That was the last time she brought us all together. That was the last time we were allowed to be together.

I was given a tarot reading over a year ago that told me I will find what I’m looking for eventually, but it will take a long time. I’m on the right path, but it twists and winds. I accept this. I have to. My grandmother was interested in my path. Her life was coming to an end, she said, but mine was just beginning, and she was curious about where it would lead. What will I make of this life? Where will it take me?

I can’t answer that yet, but I’ll share the story with her one day.

For now, I sit typing at my computer with a red mug half-full of cooling coffee. I write about the past and the future. I write about my family. I watch the rain fall, and I let the music play. It’s February. It’s been a hard year. I have a little hope growing inside of me, but I can’t place where it’s coming from. Maybe the coffee.

Semi-Fiction

I’m Tired of Dates

Photo of a tree trunk shot from below going up into a blue and cloudy sky. Branches are naked except for a few leaves. Branches from a coniferous tree are visible in the top left corner.

Content note: this piece contains several references to the COVID-19 pandemic.


On our pandemic date, we walk with masks around a snowy park. We run into an old teacher of yours and make polite conversation. Then we fall into the snow. It takes us on our separate paths. Our trains pull into different stations. We’re looking for something we won’t find here. Not at this time, not in this place, not with each other.

I try to find easier ways of doing things, but nothing gets any easier. I am exhausted. I haven’t stopped working. My wrists ache from typing. My days off aren’t that at all. Sometimes, I think about giving up this way of living and pursuing what I love. I think about it abstractly because abstract is better for fantasy. When I try to pin down the details, they flutter away. These butterflies are alive. They can still fly.

I still don’t know what kind of writer or what kind of person I am. I want to read a book called The Courage to Be Disliked. I want to be courageous. I want to publish my book, but I’m terrified of putting my story out there. It’s painfully vulnerable, and I don’t know if I could stand having it picked apart. I need to figure out how to separate myself from my story. Can that be done?

I watch another trans person come out and I almost cry several times. I think about voice training again. I think about binding. I think about growing my hair out. I think about cutting it off. It’s good I’m not trying to access healthcare right now. I can rarely get a hold of my doctor.

The routines I create save me and crush me simultaneously. The rules are necessary, and I hate them (but also not really).

My house has a big window, and the man who builds my shower tells me I need curtains to keep warm. Blankets, even, if I can find them. I buy shower curtains at the grocery store. Nothing else is open.

I say when the pandemic ends and my date says if. I should text them, tell them I’m not cut out for this. I’ve tried. Trust me, I’ve tried.

I find meaning in everything, and I am usually wrong about what things really mean.

Identity is troublesome and fleeting. Identity can be expansive or reductive. Identity can be as hard to pin down as a live butterfly and as painful. Why are you trying to pin this poor creature? Why am I?

I talk to the gods almost every morning. It’s helping.

I play music in the background to make my writing feel more profound. I have never done mushrooms alone. I want to. I am curious and afraid. They would give me a way to go somewhere without having to travel anywhere.

I’m tired of these kinds of dates: of glowing screens, video chats, and socially distant walks. Even without the restrictions, however, I think I’d still be tired of them. There’s something distinctly unromantic about dating.

Time is a precious resource and it bleeds out of everything. I’m trying to hold time in a cheesecloth. I bought margarine because butter is hard and because butter runs out. Margarine is, apparently, not good for you. Frankly, I don’t care.

I’m tired of dichotomies. I’m tired of routines. I’m tired of typing.

I begin in pieces, in parts. I begin where my date ends. I begin in motel rooms. Cheap, seedy motel rooms that are surprisingly clean. I begin to write, to really write, and I begin to feel better.

Semi-Fiction

After

Photograph of a glowing yellow outline of a heart hanging in a window with window panes in front of it. Outdoor window frame with a dusting of snow around the window. It is dark outside and all illumination comes from the heart.

I’m on a date and it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but I’m grateful because I get to be around other people and meet a new person. There won’t be a second date, or maybe there will, just because we’ll want an excuse to go out again. That happens a lot these days. I look into this person’s eyes as we speak and I don’t see a potential partner there, no, but I do see a human, and I’m enraptured by the beauty of another human being’s non-pixelated eyes.

I’m at a party and the music isn’t any good and the beer is swill and the people are just okay, but I’m having the best night of my life because I get to be around other people and some of them are new and that is amazing. We’re shouting over the unfortunate music and no one is listening. Our eyes and voices are animated. You’d think we’re all high, but only a few of us are. Someone tells a joke that isn’t very funny and we all fall over laughing.

I’m walking around a mall looking at the pretty lights and colours even though I hate malls, but I’m having such a lovely time because there are people, people everywhere, and I have no reason to be afraid of them now. As I move, I catch bits and pieces of mundane conversations that are made interesting by over a year of isolation. I go into stores and don’t buy anything and the shopkeepers smile and say hello. I get an ice-cream cone and sit on a bench in the centre of it all and breathe in the stale air with a sigh of gratitude.

I get on a bus and then a train and both are delayed, so it takes a long time to get to my destination, but I’m not irritated in the slightest. I’m going somewhere, somewhere I’ve wanted to go for ages. I watch pavement disappear and then I leave tracks behind. The buildings grow taller, taller, taller until they enter the mist. The train arrives at the station and then we must wait to walk down the stairs because of the crowd that pours out. I am overjoyed. The city is a place of fun again, not fear, and I can come here for a day without worrying about fatal consequences.

I’m sitting in a cafe writing and the noise is actually helping me work. It was difficult to find a chair. Lots of people go out for no reason now. The seats are uncomfortable. I’m typing away on my computer. My latte is burnt and lukewarm and delicious. I’m happily writing nonsense. Someone bumps into my table, spilling my drink and disturbing my focus. I love them for it. “Sorry!” They say, reaching out a hand to steady my situation. I smile up at them. They smile back.