When Is a Hug an Assault?
Rethinking Norms with COVID-19
I hugged my friend goodbye. What was I thinking?
Whatever it was, I wasn’ t thinking enough. The patterns of our normal lives have changed. As senior citizens, we no longer meet at restaurants for lunch or at each other’s houses for game nights or potlucks. I knew this. And I knew why.
The virus had hit our area hard and too many of us were already gone. Lockdown isn’t required in our red state, but we live it all the same.
Most of us were single. If we had children, they lived far away and weren’t allowed to visit for fear of contamination from the world outside of our small bubbles. Even our most dear loved ones are only seen occasionally on a Zoom screen. It’s heartbreaking to watch grandchildren grow up, knowing they see you only as a character on TV.
As weeks of isolation become months, those of us who don’t have pets because we like the freedom to go out of town on a whim are seriously considering the value of cuddly lap dogs. Going on a road trip and dealing with gas stations, takeout food, and questionable hotels is too much to contemplate. The friends and family we might go visit are in the same situation and likely wouldn’t welcome us into their own limited bubbles.
We bend enough to meet occasionally at scenic spots outdoors, bringing our own lunches and placing our folding lawn chairs six feet apart. We enjoy reviving our sense of community as we take pride in protecting each other by social distancing. Being able to see and hear friends live and in person gives me a happy feeling that seems rare these days.
One day we gathered to bid goodbye to a friend who was moving to the Coast. We laughed and cried as we ate our lunches, remembering good times before the coronavirus took over our lives.
“Do you remember when we all went to Charleston?” “That restaurant with the oysters that made you sick….” “Last Thanksgiving when we went to Pack’s Tavern….” “When Ellen’s dog threw up in the car…” “The concert in Boone…”
Memories tumbled out fast and furious, as if they needed to be verbalized before they disappeared forever.
It was cooling off as the sun hid behind some clouds. We packed up to leave, each heading to our individual cars. Carpools belonged to the before time.
I was parked next to Ellen. Impulsively, I grabbed her in a goodbye hug. She was moving hundreds of miles away, and I probably wouldn’t see her for many months. It just felt like one loss too many. No, I wasn’t thinking. We had been eating, so we didn’t even have masks on.
I felt her stiffen and looked at her face. She smiled weakly and said, “You’ll have to come visit when things aren’t so crazy.”
I realized my faux pas and quickly backed away. “Yes, I will,” I said, as I ducked my head and turned to my car.
We all got in our cars and drove away, making sure to allow some distance so we didn’t hit each other backing out. I felt like I had made a huge mistake. What if she got sick from that brief encounter, right after she moved to a new place? What if I got sick?
When I got home I texted her an apology I was overcome and I wasn’t thinking. I’ll miss you. Have a safe journey.
No problem, She texted back. Don’t be a stranger.
After all, what else could we do at that point? Neither of us had been tested or showed symptoms, but we had contact with other people when we went to the store, the doctor’s office, the dentist, or wherever. We just hoped for the best, in the back of our minds knowing COVID was sneaky and unforgiving. We had seen it happen, both locally and on the broad national stage.
Famously, the White House sees it all the time. During maskless ceremonies and get-togethers Senators, judges and White House denizens were seen on TV hugging others or sitting next to children a few days before they tested positive for coronavirus. Many super-spreader, mostly maskless election rallies that flaunted capacity rules took place a week before spikes in local coronavirus cases.
This is not a joke. Over a thousand deaths a day is worse than any war we have fought.
The President was eager to be out in front as a “wartime president” until the statistics got so bad that he just started ignoring the virus, hoping it would go away. He continues to do so, leaving the mess for the next guy to clean up, even as he refuses to admit there will be a next guy. We need a leader who doesn’t live in a fantasy world.
Hopefully, Thanksgiving will be a nice day and I’ll be able to join my friends for another outdoor lunch, eating a takeout turkey dinner plate. If not, we’ll toast each other on Zoom. Maybe in a few months we’ll be able to get shots that reduce our chances of getting the virus to one in ten.
One in ten. Maybe I’ll get some more masks.
Mary Morrison is the author of Looking for the Lioness. The sequel, Lioness Unbound, will be on Amazon in December, 2020.