Mark and I speak of the Before Time with awe, in hushed voices.
The time when things still seemed normal, whatever that was. When we thought nothing of packing ourselves into a crowded movie theater to see the latest film, or of going out to dinner afterwards and breathing the same air as a hundred other restaurant-goers.
Before the pandemic-related words invaded the language – masking, anti-maskers, double-vaxxed, triple-vaxxed, anti vaxxers, boosted, pfizer, moderna, mrna, protein spikes, aerosolized droplets, and so many more.
It seems impossible that we will ever go back to that time, which seems strangely innocent now. Or at least we were.
And yet, something must come next. We can’t live in this twilight forever, under the shadow of the virus.
It won’t always be like this.
So what comes next, and how do we get there? I’ve started calling it the After Time, that semi-mythological period when the virus recedes, and we find a way to live with the wreckage and start building something new.
Mark and I are still wearing masks. Until a week or two ago, so was most of the rest of Sacramento. It was like a shared pact, a promise to take care of one another through the crisis.
Then the mask mandates were dropped, and suddenly it seemed like we were the only ones still wearing them.
Stopping to pick up something to take home for dinner the other day, I experienced my first mask shaming. Some twenty-year-old jerk saw my (admittedly ugly, but who cared two weeks ago?) N95 mask, and said “Nice mask, dude.” And no, it was NOT a compliment.
In an instant I was back in high school, being made fun of by the cool kids. It was so sudden and unexpected that it took my breath away, and once I had a chance to think about it, it made me really angry.
Was he an anti-masker? Or just an asshole? I will never know. But it’s clear that things have shifted. Our positive test levels are low again in Sacramento, back to where they were between the Delta and Omicron waves. People are eager to get back what they lost, and angry at those they think are standing in the way.
I want that too. Really, I do! I am sick of our self-imposed exile, of considering every single move we make when we’re outside of the house. Yesterday, for the first time since November, we sat inside a cafe to study Italian. And it was okay, though I was still nervous about it. It felt normal.
And so… the After Time.
It’s coming, whether it’s this month, or June, or next year. There will be an After, just as surely as there was a Before, whether we are ready for it or not.
One thing I’ve learned these last two years – we have to accept that many things are beyond our control. But it’s equally important to figure out what we can control, and it helps keep the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness at bay.
So I’m taking steps to claim a bit of the After Time as a writer. Just before the pandemic, I’d been planning to start attending sci-fi/fantasy cons, to meet agents, make contacts with fellow writers, and become a part of the larger SFF community.
BayCon, a sci-fi/fantasy con in the SF Bay Area, is staging an in-person con in July, the first since 2019. I talked it over with Mark, took a deep breath, and made reservations last night.
It’s a huge step, one I’m not at all sure I’m ready for. And it’s cancellable, so if another wave hits between now and then, I can retreat back into my safe haven with Mark.
We also booked a table at a local outdoor pride event in May with the Queer Sacramento Authors’ Collective.
I’m betting on the After Time – choosing to breathe a little hope in the face of war and climate change and disease and despair. It feels good, even if it makes me a little dizzy to dream again, and to consider the possibility of future joy.
Are you ready for the After Time? What steps are you taking to prepare, and to embrace it when it arrives?