I am counting/gasping under my breath and refuse to look up the impossibly steep bank of stairs: at step forty-five there might be stars in my peripheral vision. On fifty-five I hear birdsong. I bend my head, inhale deep into my boggy lungs and keep trudging up the cement behemoth that runs parallel to the elevators to Terminal A. I am alone on this mission, a few others sensibly gliding up into the terminal, hips cocked, phones out, on the soundless escalator. It is 5:30AM and for a brief moment I wonder with wry amusement if the birds are me losing consciousness. It dawns on me at number sixty-seven that I am hearing my daily programmed wake-up alarm on my phone. Wouldn’t it be nice to still be in bed.
I do not have the energy to stop, reach and search my bag to turn off the alert. The priority is to push myself after weeks prone, so muscles liquid I exhale — seventy five, seventy-six, done — and look around at the top, grateful I am not an EMT statistic and pleased I never once grasped the railing. I plod to the Starbucks line. This is the new normal, suffering the extremes.
After almost two years of wearing a mask I might have all my covid vaccinations but not one ounce of resistance to everything else floating around that humans are breathing on me. My cold was all the worst of the worsts — infected everything from the neck up. Yeah, me. I lost all sense of taste and smell immedietly, and slippered around my midsummer garden unable to smell the first peonies or the explosion of June roses.
Gone are the days of a simple cold or simple travel. Here are the days of determination, chaotic security lines and not a hope of curating my life in a straight line. I head to Seattle when there are barely tolerable airfares and I am in good enough shape. I pack hankies of the cotton embroidered variety. I mask every minute in the airports. People are over being happy to be together and do everything rudely this summer; stand too close, talk too loudly, sneeze into the open air. I drop my bag, wipe my brow and order a shaken espresso. Steps, alarms, travel, writing. Coping, breathing, breathless. It’s good to be back.
After two years of fear I find I am fearless.
My ticket and health are hard won. The peonies and roses await me in the Pacific Northwest, though I have still not regained smell or taste there is still hope. I have not fainted, just the opposite — just hurrying to get ahead of these decent days, straight up if need be.
Catch me if you can.