It’s been a year since I went back to Kentucky to visit my family. A whole year since I last saw my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my nieces… a year since Sadie sat in a grocery cart while I pushed her recklessly around the store, making race car noises as she giggled madly. A year since I played tag with a crawling Lydia and watched her pull herself up for the first time.
Sadie is almost too big to fit into the shopping cart now. She’s writing her own name, and spelling words, and is more like me than I could have ever imagined one of my sister’s kids ever becoming. And Lydia has been running, now, for ages. She talks. She said my name today (well, most of it… it’s four syllables long, and is a big word for a one year old) for the first time ever.
And I’m missing it. All of it. FaceTime, I’m starting to realize, is not a replacement for being there. Not when they’re this little.
Part of this is my fault. I should have made a point to travel up over Christmas… but I was busy moving (and moving is expensive) and didn’t think I’d have the energy to do both. That was probably true, but if I’d known a goddamn pandemic was on its way, I probably would have tried to find some energy. Or moved something around. Or something.
When I first planned to move here, ten years ago, my old supervisor back in Louisville asked if I was worried I’d get “stuck” here. I looked at her, smiled, and said, “I can think of worse places to be stuck.” This is not an untrue statement, but I couldn’t fathom then (and I can’t fathom now, even if I’m living in it) a situation in which I’d be so stuck that there’d be nowhere to go to escape.
Now? Now I don’t know when I can go back. I’m thankful that Kentucky’s cases are dropping… that takes a load off my mind, as I sit here in this reckless-ass state where the cases are rising and the hospitals are (apparently) getting close to maxing out their resources. At least my family is safer than I am. That’s what matters.
It’s not that I flew home that often, see. It’s not that I made plans to fly back all the time… flying was/is expensive and while I’m comfortable, I’m not rolling in it. At least not since UT. I live freaking far away by design, and because there’s not a market for what I do up there. Being this far away has never been “easy” (and it’s gotten harder since my nieces were born), but it was made easier by the knowledge that… if I wanted to go back or if I needed to go back, I could just hop on a plane and make it happen. Now? Now, even if I got in my VW and drove the whole way with minimal stops I wouldn’t feel right about it. I couldn’t be SURE that I wasn’t bringing the virus with me, and as our caseload here climbs higher and higher, the chances of that happening if I tried to make the trip, however I did it, are more likely every day. I won’t put my family at risk.
Someone asked me today what I would have done differently if, six months before the pandemic started, I’d known it was coming. My answer: I’d go see my family.
Because when I saw this coming, I had planned for the food shortage (not so much the toilet paper shortage, but somehow I worked that out and shouldn’t have to buy any for months). I’ve been training for “quarantine-style introversion” most of my life. I’d already switched jobs, which (unknowingly) set me up so that I could work from home and further limit my exposure later. I’m good at doing what I have to do, on the ground level, to survive. I’m good at planning ahead so that I don’t go without. When it comes to this, though… visiting… I’ve been completely reactionary. All I can do is hoard my vacation time so that when I can visit, I can stay long enough to try to make up for the time I’ve lost. I mean you can’t really make up time… it doesn’t work like that… but I can try anyway.
My parents have a second, smaller house that they bought to be closer to the grandkids. They didn’t have a TV there the last time I visited, only a CD Player and they liked to play old WWII music. The last song that I remember hearing before I left to get to the airport, a year ago this week, was this one… and it was so appropriate (though none of us realized how appropriate at the time).