I started writing this piece while I very literally suffered through the first course of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. I heard the second shot could get really nasty, but none of the people I know who started their vaccinations before me experienced much more than some fatigue and a very sore arm after the first shot. I, on the other hand, got everything: a sore arm, body aches, headaches, a few hours of low fever, extreme fatigue, and even one of the somewhat uncommon, but well-documented side effects: a metallic taste in my mouth that was closer to tinfoil than pennies and proved absolutely impossible to get rid of. I brushed my teeth six times in a little under three hours before I finally gave up because it didn’t do anything except add a minty crispness to the foil taste.
For the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting deeply on what things were like a year ago, and starting my vaccine course has intensified that reflection. January first didn’t feel much like a new year, only another day in what had become a seemingly endless series of days that stretched on into an uncertain future, but whether was brought on the approaching equinox or the similarity between the ache in my bones caused by the vaccine and the growing pains I felt in my early teens, I am finally able to not only imagine something better, but believe that it is both possible and imminent.
After taking a very long semi-hiatus in order to focus on other things, I decided to begin advertising again on the first warm day of 2020, just a few weeks before the shutdowns went into effect, when most people thought this new pandemic would be only slightly worse than swine flu. We had all lived through a pandemic before. I contracted swine flue and survived. I remembered SARS, how the danger was fleeting and far away and then almost immediately forgotten. This would be like that, I thought. Quick, relatively painless, and then gone. Obviously, I was very much mistaken.
I think about those strange days a year ago, how long we all went about our lives with the specter of mass death hovering over us, and then how quickly we all adjusted, superficially at least, to the isolation and the ever-growing number of casualties, how impossible those things are to ever fully adjust to. I remember letting my last professional set of nails grow out, sure the salons would reopen soon. When they started to lift and crack after five weeks, I bought the supplies I needed on Amazon, taught myself how to build claws out of acrylic and polymer resin, and discovered how good you can get at something if you do it every two weeks for a whole year, even if you’ve never done it before, even if you can only use one hand at a time while you’re doing it.
I didn’t expect to have access to a vaccine so soon. I figured May, maybe, if I was lucky and distribution went according to plan, although what ever actually goes according to plan when we’re talking about bureaucracy? I listened with bitterness as I waited for a Lyft and overheard a man laughing to his doorman about how he managed to get in early because he “knows the right people,” and reflected on how the lack of vaccine priority for my colleagues and myself was just another ugly entry in the litany of ways in which the state, which loves to claim responsibility for rescuing sex workers, refuses to actually keep us safe. Ultimately, it was not my profession, but my cussed refusal to leave the south side, and the resulting residency in a zip code targeted for mass vaccination that got me in for my shots.
In my last post I used the word “interminable” several times, and still it is the only word that seems to come close to describing how the winter had started to feel. At first the slow solitude of the pandemic had been a welcome change. I thrive on solitude, as much as I enjoy the company of others, I enjoy my own more, and I’ve always excelled at entertaining myself. But the winter turned solitude into isolation, and it seemed increasingly impossible to distract myself from the darkness and monotony. It is difficult to present yourself as happy and horny and without a care in the world when everything is intensely unpredictable and both smiling and sex are about the same distance from your mind as a trip to the beach, and gallows humor gets old fast.
This vaccine is not a magic bullet. It doesn’t offer full immunity, it may not offer much protection at all from newer strains of the virus, it doesn’t necessarily prevent the spread of Covid, we don’t yet know how long it lasts, and I am not unconcerned with the way people seem to be under the impression that full vaccination is the same as a ticket back to normalcy. I’m not even sure if I want normalcy again, I didn’t like it very much the first time.
But this vaccine is a step towards something better, a step towards living again, and not merely existing. It’s a new year, and it finally feels like one.
Let’s do some shots.