No one really knew what we were in for, the toll it would take, the simple and profound pleasures that would be lost when the deadly coronavirus forced a virtual lockdown across the Bay Area and ultimately the country.
This week, it will be six months since restaurants and hair salons and schools and concerts and so many small businesses were first shut down. Six months since you stood in line at an airport. Six months since a stranger walking a dog offered a throaty “hello!” as you passed on the sidewalk, instead of darting to the other side of the street. Six months since you could really touch someone outside your bubble.
The shelter-in-place order issued across the Bay Area on March 16 has been modified a number of times, but still, it’s been six months since things were normal.
What do you miss the most?
For many of us, perhaps it boils down to this:
“I miss not worrying,” said Mahlet Fikre, 31.
The San Leandro mom worries about her parents in Maryland, and whether she should fly there with her 2-year-old daughter whom they haven’t seen for a year. “Should I go or not go? Will I get COVID? It’s exhausting.”
And it feels like these last six months of “COVID” time have lasted forever, darkened by racial divisions, record wildfires and smoke that paints the sky in apocalyptic hues, leaving us longing for just one deep breath of fresh air.
Demma Finn of Livermore misses “Spawn of Skatin’.” That’s her roller derby team. Contact sports are banned because of COVID.
“I miss being able to get out my aggression,” said Finn, who’s known at the roller rink by the nickname “Demmalition.” “If I have a bad day at work, I can go out and hit somebody and have someone hit me and it’s expected and enjoyed.”
But she also misses a tender touch. “I’m a hugger. I was born to hug people,” said Finn, 44, who works at Target. “So I have to keep my mental health in check with having to figure out different ways to connect with people. Just seeing eyes and masks really challenges you.”
Maya Olson of Walnut Creek misses her ’80s rock band, Site6. Not only is it banned from performing in front of a crowd, but three of the seven members can’t even practice together because of their age or health conditions. They didn’t even consider rehearsing on Zoom.
“I love being on stage and seeing people having a good time, dancing, singing along,” said Olson, who works in the health care industry and sang in the band on weekends. “It was recharging for me.”
Without it, she said, “low self-esteem kicks in. Now I’m like, who am I? I’m just a mom? I have to do homeschooling with my kids and work my butt off with my job and pretend I’m not an artist.”
Sometimes, it’s just the routine that has been thrown off, a daily ritual you didn’t realize until now how much it meant.
Ryan Sailor, 23, and Jeremy Barber, 25, used to drive together to work in season ticket sales at SAP Center every morning. On their way down 10th Street through downtown San Jose, they would stop at the family-owned House of Bagels.
“They’d see us at the back of the line and have our orders ready by the time we got up to the front,” Barber said. That would be two iced coffees and two cranberry bagels with strawberry cream cheese ready to go. He misses “having that feeling of acceptance and fitting in.”
The owners there made them feel appreciated, Sailor said. And when they arrived at the arena, “everyone knew us as ‘the coffee guys’ walking in,” Barber said. “We have our Folgers at home and it doesn’t really do the job.”
Along with what we miss, there’s a mourning for what might have been. What job prospects never materialized? What friends were never made at school? What lovers never hooked up on Bumble?
In the case of Carlos and Jo Anna Lujan of Alviso, there’s the 2020 Little League All-Stars tournament that Carlos never coached and their three boys never got a chance to play.
Jo Anna has homeschooled their four children for years, so the distance learning that has bedeviled parents across the country isn’t so much a concern. But no youth sports? That feels positively crippling. The Little League season has passed, but now there’s no Santa Clara Lions Pop Warner football team. Both 10-year-old Carlos and 8-year-old Joshua played.
“They had three practices a week, and every Saturday and Sunday in football season was go go go,” Jo Anna said. “I loved it.”
Not only does she crave the whirl of the comings-and-goings, but she misses the emotions she witnessed in their 13-year-old daughter, Haley, who played softball and their boys, including 12-year-old Kaeson, as they learned sportsmanship and brotherhood.
“The kids cry when they lose and they cry when they win,” she said. “They feel it.”
Without being able to watch them experience that, she feels something else missing, too, .
“I miss being prideful,” she said.
The anticipation of missing something in the future is also a downer. Halloween anyone? Los Angeles County is already discouraging door-to-door trick-or-treating. The candy and costumes adorning Costco and Target seem nearly criminal.
In Oakland, Beverly Davis misses her old life.
“I used to go everywhere, every place you can swim,” she said, including Aruba and Jamaica. Now, the 76-year-old is reluctant to go to Lake Tahoe with her children and grandchildren.
“They rented an RV to go up to the mountains and they invited me and I turned them down. It was really hard,” she said. Her grandson brings his newborn to visit her once a week, but she still holds back.
“I hold the baby but I don’t kiss her,” Davis said. “It’s kind of sad.”
No one has a deeper sense of longing than those who lost loved ones to the virus.
Both of Edward Hartwig’s parents, Richard and Mercedes, died within weeks of each other in April. He still lives in the Lathrop home he shared with them.
“I miss — you know — the little things, coming home and hearing certain shows on the TV that you expect to hear. My mom would be watching something on Univision, a soap opera, or my dad watching Fox News,” said Hartwig, 30, an industrial machinist. “The house is a lot quieter now.”
And he misses the smells, especially of his mother’s cooking, her meatballs or beef stew, that filled the air when he walked in the door.
“It’s definitely something I’ve noticed more recently since I’ve had to cook for myself,” he said, “just how much time, effort and energy it takes just to make a home-cooked meal. When you’re two hours into cooking something after a 10-hour day, it really starts to sink in.”
In Hayward, Jimmy Adamos misses the annual family reunion in San Diego.
It’s a Labor Day weekend event, drawing more than a hundred relatives, some from as far as the Philippines. Each year, each family gets on stage in the hotel ballroom, and introduces each new family member, whether a spouse or a newborn. Prizes are given to the largest families.
This year, the virus not only canceled all of that — it took the lives of an aunt and uncle in Los Angeles, who were the main organizers.
Adamos, 63, said without his aunt and uncle to lead the planning in the future, he worries the reunions “might stop forever.”
Maybe, just maybe, something positive is hidden in all of this longing and melancholy of six months of lockdown. Maybe it will all be revealed in the next six months with a breakthrough vaccine or drug, or even when the smoke quits obscuring the Bay Area’s postcard summer weather.
Mahlet Fikre, the mom who wishes she could just stop all that worry, is not giving up.
“I’m just hoping for clear skies,” she said, “and better days.”
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