Mary Lou Sanelli
Mary Lou Sanelli

When a heavy rain falls in February, I’m reminded how in-between the month can feel: in-between winter and full-on spring. In-between New Year’s resolutions and old habits creeping back, one after another. In-between life’s ordinary rhythms and, uh oh, I am unwell.

Omicron: 15th letter of the Greek alphabet and, voilà, its new definition is a slow but surely physical response to infection, its thoroughness. It feels as if my energy keeps folding in on itself.

For the last 14 days I’ve done nothing but move back and forth between my desk and the couch and our bed, alternatively writing, then just sitting, doing nothing, to and from, in the same sweats I’ve worn for two weeks because there is no reason not to. A tiny world has become my entire world — my thoughts, my music, my books, my bubble.

This is not so unlike other winters, really, when “a cold” or “the flu” or some variant (take your pick) makes me miserable, which I’ve always attributed to the fact that I teach a lot of students. Germs are a teacher-downside. Everyone of us knows this.

Yes, I got the vaccine.

No, I did not get the booster. My mistake.

Then again, my friend Christa did get the booster and after testing positive, she took to her bed to watch all seven seasons of Offspring.

And then there is my 80-year-old neighbor who is still unvaccinated and has not once come down with “their virus.” (Her words.) She wears a T-shirt that says, “Think for yourself while it’s still legal,” and she will go on and on about the “scam between Big Pharma and Biden.” About this, her mind is made up. There is no wiggle room.

I will say this, though, COVID has its productive side … eventually.

There is plenty of time to think. Plenty of time to cozy into the simplicities of daily life. It reminds me of learning to swim when I was a kid, how I had to stop trying to control the weight of my limbs, an equilibrium entirely new to my senses. I had to believe that the chlorinated paradise of a new and  irresistible Esther Williams swimming pool would eventually hold up every panicked part of me.

So, equilibrium. That’s one thing I’ve thought a lot about as the walls close in. The roots of a word like “equilibrium” run deep.

So deep, I now imagine the delicate stems they hold up, which — for all the intuitive reasons thoughts come to us — unlocks thoughts of G.

Herein lies the problem: G. throws off my equilibrium. G. is a stem that could snap.

G. is the last friend I saw before this latest variant kicked me in the butt, so our visit lingers in mind like a song I can’t stop humming. When part of me says “yes, I love this song,” and part of me says, “no, stop.” And I mean it, stop.

It’s always the same result with G. I start out happy to share a conversation because that’s what G. says she loves about our friendship, the conversation, and I like the sound of that.

But what we have is not a conversation. What we have is her telling me how wrong I am. About most things. Most of the time. And what she was so, so, sure about this time, well, I didn’t think was true. I knew this even as she spoke. As soon as I got home, I fact-checked her claim, the one that made her say, “You know what your real problem is?”

My real problem. My mouth dropped open. I was caught in a feeling near to grief, but not quite grief, more a sense of separation, of a divide.

That’s it!

I thought I’d have more trouble defining it, but “divide” describes G. and me to a T. Like too many Americans, we are living parallel realities, listening to parallel news, reading parallel information.

“They” think this, and “we” think that, and we see less and less of each other. I think this even as I fact-check her claim to learn that she was mistaken, her facts are off. The Big Lie is still a lie.

I have a sudden vision of myself clinging to an even keel, and not the other something that can rush in to capsize us when we stop listening and talk to each other like we are daft. Something callous.

I know G. is changing, and I am changing, and the world is constantly changing — so much — yet, we don’t seem to be able to change our dialogue so that it’s not the same old “your side vs. mine,” the ignorance of “us and them.”

I’m leaving out a lot of our decade-long history because another thing about Covid is that everything, including my word count, feels limited.

Something is easing, really easing. And this something, whatever it is, is clearly trying to  ... wait, doesn’t our head-to-toe cellular-renewal-process take around 10 years?

Maybe that’s what is happening.

In what seems like a gift of timing, I have not only accepted the imposed truth of a virus but applied it on a personal level. I’ve seen my way through more of my limits and limitations, and, with that, considering what and who they are. This has been agonizing and as necessary as going through my mother’s closet after she died, when I could feel new ways of thinking about her, what it was like to dress like her, be her: a surrendering, an unearthing, a privilege.    

— Mary Lou Sanelli works as an author, speaker, and master dance teacher. Her latest non-fiction title, ‘Every Little Thing,’ has been nominated for a 2022 Washington State Book Award. Please find it Magnolia’s Bookstore or Queen Anne Book Company. For more information about her and her work, visit www.marylousanelli.com.