I have been watching speeches from the Democratic National Convention the day after they air instead of live because most nights I am working and I don’t have the time or the energy to multi-task. Having anything on in the background just gets rolled into to the chaotic mess already captured in the tumble weeds of my pandemic despair.
Anyway. The first speech I watched on YouTube was from Michelle Obama. Then I watched Kamala. Then Barack. I will get to Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden soon. But while listening to the former first lady speak, I felt this nagging sense of mourning and yearning. At first I thought I was just missing a leader who could speak with coherency and without ego. Then I realized it wasn’t just the ability to complete sentences, I was missing a leader who could provide optimism and guidance. When Kamala Harris spoke, I imagined what a relief a Biden presidency would be. I imagined our nation without Trump, and I began to believe Americans can vote him out. My hopes were rising too fast and too far so I had to reel them in. My heart already hurts, and I am afraid to have it broken again.
I have never liked surprises. Or maybe it’s that so many of the surprises in my life were not good ones. I probably liked the idea of that initial surprise, but over time the fruition of said reveals resulted in embarrassment, trauma, or discomfort. For example, for one of my teenage birthdays, my mother blindfolded me, put me in the car, and drove me to a birthday surprise. I was hoping for ice cream, mini golf, or a trip to the mall. Instead, I was dropped off at a church youth group meeting I had refused to go to on other occasions where I was lectured that Star Search was too risqué for young Christian minds. My closeted queer self was later picked up by my deadbeat, abusive father. Happy birthday!
I have had to hold too many damaging secrets and have been disappointed too many times in my life to associate happiness with surprise. To me, the word surprise is synonymous with lack of control. I have become good at controlling my reactions, but the anxiety I feel around not knowing what is coming my way is not worth the possibly positive result.
I have learned to live with a cautiously optimistic outlook on life and depend on myself more than others. The sting of disappointment is minimized when I don’t get my hopes up, so I don’t tend to show too much excitement about anything. I am getting better about living without guards up, but this pandemic has caused some personal regression.
At the beginning of this surprise worldwide crisis, I was optimistic that we could shut down schools, work from home, and rely on taking care of one another to make quick work of COVID’s threat. Then March turned into April, May, and the 25th week of August and I feel silly that I dared to be so naïve. We are not in this together and I continue to be let down by our government and the people who use American patriotism as an excuse not to wear a mask or support science and health experts. The letdown I feel for my nation is compounded by personal loss of everyday comfort and peace of mind.
Working from home is a privilege when the work is available, but juggling kids’ school work, then summer nonsense, and now distance learning again is not what I envisioned. I wasn’t expecting to still be in the exhausting unknown. Yes, we have our health and what we need and I am thankful. But none of this is what we want. None of these daily revelations of new COVID cases, new guidelines, and new timelines offer room to feel hopeful, so I don’t. Which is a real fucking bummer because I don’t want to live in a cloud of despair, yet staying neutral or leaning into the expectation of crappy situations seems to minimize the sharp pain of disappointment.
Navigating a long distance relationship has been excruciating. Between worrying about one another’s health while 1,400 miles away from each other, needing the physical comfort more than ever because of this absurd dumpster fire, and not knowing when or how we will be able to see each other, the weight of longing and uncertainty is a new layer of my existence. Daydreaming about reuniting and getting back into a routine of plane trips to see one another is dangerous bliss—the reality is that this weight may drag us down for another year.
There is plenty to be grateful for, but little to look forward to. Counting on what had provided those rich and worthy moments of joy and peace and feels like counting on an endless cycle of wondering if it’s okay to hope. Hope brings anxiety because of all of the what ifs. What if my partner and I make plans then the COVID travel map changes from green to yellow to red and I can’t see her? What if I get excited about the new job I applied for and it doesn’t work out? The one I need to secure a loan for a house that looks perfect? What if this seemingly well-planned new version of a school year lands us back at home with full-time distance learning? What if Joe Biden wins? I’m afraid to hope for any positive outcome.
I want to be optimistic. I want to carry a sense that going high when the world is so low is the answer. But I also want to protect my bruised and skeptical heart. Maybe this makes me pessimistic. I think it makes me good at self-preservation.
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