Last night, I was a guest on a call with a Texas State Representative and her staff to talk about energy, messaging, climate change, and policy. They looked to me to break the ice.
So I asked the team — and they’re all so young and smart and god almighty when I was their age I was blowing lines and getting blackout drunk behind the bar after hours at a Bennigan’s in Buffalo, whew, the youths are so evolved — what meal they’ve missed eating the most during the pandemic. You know … the ones you can’t make at home.
We went around the Zoom as they talked about restaurants they really missed in their hometowns or favorite haunts from cities they’ve visited before. I got oddly winsome and remorseful on their behalf. Damn, man. I think of all the meals we’ve missed out on. A crawfish boil in New Orleans. Mama’s homemade enchiladas. Chinese takeout in St. Louis.
I never responded to my own question, but I knew my answer: a dozen raw oysters. Lemon. Horseradish. A nice spicy chili sauce. And — a secret I learned from a Miami Beach cocktail lounge — a dusting of mezcal.
Now, I did quite a bit of globe-trekking in the Before Time, yet it doesn’t much matter to me whether I get those oysters in Miami, New Orleans, Marseille, Seattle, LA, or right here in Austin. I just want to sit at a table in a restaurant and mow those suckers down. Oh, how I do miss oysters.
And before you think, “Why don’t you quit whining and learn to make ’em yourself?” allow me to politely invite you to shuck all the way off. I got shaky-ass hands and with ’em, I’d have sliced off six fingers before the main course. Besides, although I miss oysters, I mostly miss people.
Yes, I’m one of those people that covid could kill, so nearly a year ago my calendar emptied completely. Due to the peculiarities of my own health (chronic asthma and a primary immunodeficiency), I haven’t felt comfortable around people in 357 days, even at a distance or while wearing a mask. So I just … didn’t. I stayed home, and by doing so, I went away.
I miss having plans and the possibilities that accompanied them. I miss my friends, my family, the city of Austin, and this great big beautiful space-rock we call home, which I once explored breathlessly back when the future was merely elusive and not untouchable.
I’m Phase 1B in the Texas vaccine queue. Trying to find one has been, somehow, both Sisyphean and Kafkaesque. Still, as I’ve refreshed ever more frequently, I’ve gotten more comfortable allowing myself to dream about who I want to become when I get out.
I think about what I would do, and how I’d do it differently. I think about all the hugs I want to give. I think about all the places I want to go to. I also think about how selfish it is to think about those things sometimes, given the loss and hardships so many of us have faced and continue to face. There’s a very real and literal Survivor Guilt.
Additionally, the weight of this intermission occurring in what will likely be smack-dab in the middle of my time on Earth is not lost on me. Act I ended March 7, 2020. The curtain fell. The entr’acte played. Act II lies ahead.
What will I do? How can I not “waste” this second chance? I reckoned with that a lot during this long, hard break. I feel an almost deafening desire to redeem myself, to reimagine myself, to recommit myself. (To what end, I do not know.)
Mostly, I think about time. I’ve begun to really understand, very deeply, that by treating the present with the reverence it deserves, I heal both the past and the future. The inhale-exhale of the universe’s expression means what’s gone is here and yet to come.
This is not my idea—African and American Indigenous cultures held this perspective long before it washed over to me, as did a handful of western physicists— yet a decade or so ago it took root within me. During this standstill, it’s blossomed.
My second act exists in concert with our first and all our acts to follow. I find great comfort and meaning in that. I’m free to take each moment as it arrives because in many ways it already has.
We inherit our moments as we experience them, just as the wave returns to the sea. Time and space and life and light are multidimensional — an everflowing cluster. Inhale. Exhale.
Yet even while I firmly reject linear time as a construct, I’m all too keenly aware that life inside this particular oyster shell starts and ends without my consent. And whether I’m gifted a dozen oysters or infinite moments, I have to remember to try not to eat them all at once. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
That nagging knowing — the awareness of our inevitable decline — that’s why I still yet have a stinging urge to get back out there. Not because of what I’ve left unfinished from before, but because why waste this start now?
I think that’s why humans mark time linearly … not just to make sense of our mortality, but as a reminder to pace ourselves. The shells that contain us only last for so long.
I aim to do more remarkable things, less foolish things, and fewer things that are unnecessarily hard. I hope to conjure the courage to take up an exact and appropriate amount of space in each moment, and not waste them or use them selfishly.
I can’t wait to see you all, but I will a little while longer. I long to see you differently and to be seen differently. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask, yet it’s a promise I aim to keep. It keeps me going.
“Almost there,” I tell myself as I drift off to sleep, to dream again about who I want to become when I get out, to awaken tomorrow to an alarm set just early enough but not a moment too soon.
For on Day 358, I’ll walk head held high and smiling through a mask into a nondescript pharmacy some two counties away. Some stranger to whom I’ll be forever indebted will stab me, healing a small part of both my past and my future. Then I’ll walk out, with both an end and a beginning in clear, perfect sight.
The curtain rises. A second shot. The music swells. The antibodies build. The doctors clear me. Act II begins, and maestro I will sing.
Mostly though, I just want a plate of oysters. I’ll try not to eat them all at once.
This essay was brought to you by PS I Love You. Relationships Now.