Why I got vaccinated.

It was a muggy little town in east Texas. Town square. Signs on shop windows left over from the previous football season. A restaurant called Cindy’s or Lori’s or something like that with a parking lot full of pick-up trucks and a dining room full of men waiting on coffee. My husband was trying to navigate the narrow streets to find the courthouse, but I was drinking in the measure of the town. It was a new place. I had never been there and I felt like it was a town I would never forget. Not because of its’ numerous flowered bushes or bricked churches that would be full that Sunday, but because it was where I was going to get my vaccine. By some strange quirk of fate, I was in a town I had never been in to get a shot I never could have imagined I would need.

We found the courthouse and, after a brief argument, a parking place in front of a lawyer’s office. (I was convinced it was not reserved and Richard was convinced it was.) We gathered up our things, made sure we had our masks, got out into the early morning heat and joined all of the other people walking toward the courthouse. There were a lot of them.

We climbed the steep steps into the building and, because I was busy thinking about how I would reenact the scene from Rocky, I almost ran right into a police officer. He was standing on the very edge of the top step and his boots were so shiny I immediately thought his mom must have helped him shine them. I say mom because there was no way he was married. He couldn’t have been older than twelve. Of course, he did have a gun strapped to his side so I guess I could have been wrong about the age thing. He was greeting everyone with a big good morning and questions, “Did you pre-register? So, you have an appointment time? Go to the right. You don’t have an appointment? No? Go to the left. We have some extra shots for you folks.”

Our next stop was a long table that ran the width of the building as soon as you came in the door. It was manned with various women looking at you over the top of their glasses. You’ve seen similar tables I’m sure. Church. Charity events. NATO. These women and the tables they man might be the last bastion between order and chaos. Nobody was getting past those ladies until they had done what they were supposed to do.

Turns out what we were supposed to do was fill out some paperwork. Who are you? Where do you live? Various medical questions to determine you didn’t have prior knowledge that this shot contained things you were allergic to. Similar to when you get the flu shot every year. I went through them with the secret panic that I was forgetting something important. Like, maybe I really was allergic to eggs and I had just never noticed? So, I asked my husband. “Babe, I’m not allergic to eggs am I?” Without looking up, he said “Dear–it’s a different kind of shot. They don’t need to know that.” “Well, I know they aren’t specifically asking, but am I?” He stopped filling out his own form, pulled his glasses down and just looked at me. For a significant amount of time. Then, he put them back on and went back to reading sentences and checking the corresponding boxes. That meant no.

So, I took his word for it and checked no I was not allergic to anything and no I didn’t have any prior knowledge that made me think I should not take this shot. I will admit my pen hovered over that box. Just that morning I had read four posts on Facebook about how I should not do exactly what I was doing. That knowledge was definitely with me as I handed in my paper to one of the table ladies and waited nervously while she checked it over. She was a little scary, I’m not going to lie. But, then wonders of wonders, she looked up and smiled with her eyes, gave me a number to put on my shirt and sent me over to “Those big long benches over there honey. The ones right outside those double doors. Do not go in until they call your number. Do. Not.”

No way lady. I’m going right to the benches. I found myself a spot on the end where Richard could stand next to me–he will never sit anywhere in public where seats are a hot commodity. It’s one of the things I love about him. Then, we waited. I didn’t mind. I’m a people watcher. It was a bounty.

There was an old lady just down from me trying to fold up an umbrella. I don’t know either. But she had one. There was a young couple across from us sitting thigh to thigh staring at their phones. Matching masks. So romantic. There were two older men just down from me with mud encased boots talking in low voices about something that seemed to be extremely important. Could have been tractors. That’s what my city-girl mind thought, but probably it was something like peace in the Middle East. But, my favorite was Madge. No clue if that’s really what her name was, but it’s what I’ll forever call her. I’d say she was old enough to be my grandma, but I’m getting old enough I really shouldn’t say that anymore. She was skinny. So skinny that I wondered how she was standing. Her heels were at least six inches and I just knew there was a cigarette waiting somewhere in her day. Everything on Madge matched. Her purse matched her shoes which matched her lipstick which matched her mask which matched her earrings. I saw the girl from the matching masks couple give Madge a brief nod acknowledging her superiority before going back to her phone. Y’all, Madge was turned out. And, she was so happy. She greeted everyone that came near her with her gravely voice and coffee stained smile. “Hello honey. How are you this mornin’. Wadn’t that snow last year somethin? Last night I answered three questions right on Jeapordy.” Then, she would reach up and pat her hair that I’m almost positive was a wig, but I didn’t care. Madge was owning the waiting line. Fake eyelashes and all. I was still admiring Madge’s pep when I realized they were calling my number. 38. It was my turn. I gave my husband a big hug which he returned– sort of. He hates it when I’m dramatic. Then, with a nervous look at the table ladies I made my way to the double doors.

The next room was organized chaos. There was a gentleman with too much cologne to check my papers one more time to make sure I was where I was supposed to be. I also told him I wasn’t allergic to eggs. He looked at me the same way my husband did. Then, there was a lady directing traffic like they do at Chik-Fil-A, “Stand right here hon. You’re going to go in that line right there. Before the lady with the kids, but after the guy with the baseball hat.”

The next thing I knew, I was in a plastic lunchroom chair talking to Sheila. Sheila was very nice and smelled like vanilla. That was comforting. She was wearing scrubs and her glasses were connected to one of those really pretty eyeglass holder necklaces things. I love those things. I buy them continually, but they just end up broken in the bottom of my purse and I am forever getting rid of the little beads! But, Sheila was actually using hers and she pulled her glasses up to once again check my paper work. Then, she asked me how I was. I told her I was good how was she. She said she was great and asked me to roll up my sleeve. I started swinging my feet and told Sheila there was a big crowd outside. She probably already knew that but, I needed words. She said it had been like that since they started. She told me she went home so tired at night she didn’t even eat. But she added, “I’m not going to say I don’t have a little candy. I need my Mars Bar.” I liked Sheila.

And, I really hoped Sheila liked me since she was fixing to stick a needle in my arm with an experimental vaccine for a world pandemic that was killing people. Whoa.

“I was just wondering if you’ve had anyone cry?” I asked Sheila.

She put her hand on my knee and said, ” I sure have. I sure, sure have.”

I was glad I wasn’t the only one.

I stood up, thanked Sheila and wondered out into the big holding room and started looking for Richard. I didn’t see him so I went and found us a good leaning spot on the wall and dug for my sunglasses in my purse. I was ok with Sheila seeing me cry, but not necessarily my husband. Eventually, he found me despite my sunglasses/mask/hat ensemble (think unabomber!) and we leaned on the wall together for the necessary thirty minutes (I added an extra ten) to make sure we weren’t going to have a reaction and then we left. On the way out, the guy holding the door open for everyone was dressed in an orange striped jumpsuit with big black letters that said prisoner. He was telling everyone to have a nice day and be safe. I told him to have a nice day too and then felt a little dumb. But, I reasoned, maybe it was nice to stand in the sunshine and send people on their way having just been vaccinated. I hoped he had sat in Sheila’s chair too. And then, we were done. We stopped in the parking lot to smile at each other and then walked back to our car in front of the lawyer’s office. It was fine.

We stopped at a fast food joint on our way out of town and not being in the mood for eggs, but still feeling like I should do something breakfast-y, I got an egg roll. Shannon, the girl working the register, looked tired. I had a feeling she wished she could have the day off to go get a vaccine. Before we drove off, Richard handed her an extra five dollars. “What’s this for? Do y’all want something else?” Richard just smiled and told her to put it in her kitty. I don’t think she had a clue what that meant but she smiled and tucked it in her pocket. That guy.

Then, we drove home. Journey playing on the radio and my husband’s hand in mine.

I know, I know– I titled this blog, ‘Why I got vaccinated.’ and you are probably wondering when I’m going to get to the point. But, I have. Y’all just haven’t been paying attention. You might need a Mars bar.

I got vaccinated for the men waiting on coffee, and the table ladies and Madge and Sheila and the prisoner at the door and the tired fast food worker. All of them. And, if it had been in any other town, in any other state, it would have been a different cast of characters but the same hearts. All over this country, people are setting their alarms so they can wake up early and go set up tables and put up signs and direct people through cavernous rooms to a nurse like Sheila who’s waiting to give them a shot in the arm that will help save the folks they just stood in line with. Folks like me. The lady wearing the Whataburger shirt and Houston ball cap that cried when she got vaccinated. My own family and friends and the people in their lines. The way I see it, all of this is happening because this my America. The one I’m so proud of. The one that makes me clap and hug the people around me when I see fireworks. (By the way, they don’t always like that–especially now. Social distancing is the worst!) Or, at least it’s the America I’ve always known. The one my preacher talks about on Sunday mornings when I’m wishing he would hurry and finish before the restaurants get crowded. The one that stops to help change a tire. The one that helps pick up pieces after a tornado. The America that pulls our car over to the side of the road when a funeral procession goes by and helps a lost little kid in Walmart find his mom. The one that buys the old lady eating alone at the restaurant her dinner and sneaks out before she knows it. The one that gets up in the middle of the night to answer a Volunteer Fire Department call. The America that does for others. The America that leans so someone else can sit. It’s the America I will always want to be a part of.

One more thing before I go, for all of you that are nervous about getting an experimental vaccine for a world pandemic that’s killing people I have only this to say–same girl same. (My daughter says I’m too old to say that, but I think it’s catchy!) But, I can’t figure it’s any more scary than the thought of being in a hospital for weeks–or even worse– leaving your loved ones behind. Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith and trust yourself. Kind of like I did with that parking spot in front of the lawyers office. I just knew that space wasn’t reserved. For those that can’t get vaccinated, I’m sorry. I especially took the jab for you! And lastly, for those of you convinced that the vaccine is a conspiracy meant for our harm, you can rest easy and make your appointment for Monday morning. Because, I’m here to tell you that Madge is way too sharp to fall for that and Sheila would never be a party to it! Not to mention those two men in the muddy boots. Those dudes were sharp. I could just tell.

Rest in peace pretty lady, we cared.

You and I never met. Our paths never crossed. It was more– I knew someone who knew you. But, for those five days after you posted your note on Facebook, turned off your phone and disappeared you never left my mind. I poured over your page looking for clues as to where you might be. Looking for hints as to your mental state. Looking for you.

What I found was me.

Your social media looked like mine. You had a grandson you adored. I do too. You were excited about selling your house and hitting the road in an RV for some adventures. Me too. We had a lot in common. Had we met, I think we would have liked each other. I think if things had been different we might have ended up at the same RV park and ran into each other on a walk. I would have loved your sunny smile and kind eyes. I’m sure we would have stopped and visited for a minute and I would have gone back and told my husband, “I met the nicest lady on my walk today. She seemed so happy! I love this new life and meeting folks like that.”

Then, I would have pulled out a sack of potatoes and hummed while I peeled them. Conscious of needing to get dinner started. Needing to keep my life moving. And, just like with you, nobody would have ever known that sometimes I’m really sad and overwhelmed and just unable.

Or at least they wouldn’t if I didn’t tell them. If I didn’t go sometimes and put my head on my husband’s shoulder and say, “Babe, I just need to be close to you for a minute. Can we sit here and be still?” If I didn’t call my sister from whatever place is breaking my heart with memories of my mom and say, “I’m crying in public again. I’m such a dork.” If I didn’t sit on that white, rustling paper at my doc’s office and say, “This year has been a lot. The pandemic and selling our house and losing a grand baby I never got to meet. I think I need a little help for a minute. Is there something you would suggest?”

It’s a hard thing to ask for help. Almost impossible. We are women. We soldier on. We peel potatoes and meet needs and do it all with a smile on our faces. Our social media looks just like yours did. People hate-like our posts wondering why they can’t get it together like us. They don’t know that some days are like that, but a lot aren’t. A lot of days are spent in a bed in the cool dusk crying into a flowered pillowcase and thankful for the fan blowing on us as we try to get our bearings. They are days full of bugs in the trash can and flat tires and slammed doors. They are days full of pain and regrets and things that haunt us. Our days look just like yours did.

I wish I could have told you that. That I understood. I so wish I had happened upon your car in that parking lot. I would have gotten in the car with you. I would have given you something to wash your face. I would have told you I had the whole day to sit there with you. I would have told you I am a great keeper of secrets. That you could deposit anything into my heart and I would hold it for you until you could take it back. I would have cried with you until I thought you needed to laugh and then I would have cracked a joke hoping to see a smile break across your face as the first sign that maybe you were going to be ok. When you were ready, we would have gotten something to eat and a hot cup of coffee. We would have made it through that night. And the next day. And the next. Most of all, I think I’m not the only one to wish this. The women who loved you are wishing the same thing. The women who only knew you from work, or church or the neighborhood are wishing it too. Every woman who reads this blog will wish it. All of us. Wishing to be in that parking lot with our hand on that door handle. Before. Before you took that last step. Before you finally asked for help in the only way that wouldn’t help anyone.

I’ll be honest, from the first moment I got the text message about your story, I settled in my mind that you were going to be ok. That that scene I described above was going to happen. That someone would find you in time. I imagined you in a cheap hotel watching bad tv and eating multiple cans of Pringles. I imagined you picking up the phone numerous times, but being too embarrassed to hit send. I imagined you stepping outside the door for just a few minutes every morning to let the sun hit you, before you ducked back into your gold and green room to continue working your way through it all. I always believed someone would find you in time to help. I was wrong.

Now, I’m left wondering what I’m supposed to do with the knowledge of you. With this heaviness I’m carrying.

It’s such a hard thing to be too late. To know, but not in time to help. I hate that feeling.

You with your sunshine smile and broken heart have made me understand how dangerous it is to not be known. To feel alone. To not ask for help.

So, today, on this Tuesday while your family is planning your funeral, I am going to reach out. To my girls. My crew. They’ve been with me for years. They know that life is never a Facebook page. They know that because they also have hurt and trauma and a messy house. Everybody has stuff. Big and bad and sad stuff. We just never talk about it. Today, we will.

I’ll tell them if they ever need me I’m here. That my own life isn’t perfect. Maybe, I’ll tell them that I am dreading this holiday season. It should have been a lot different than it’s going to be and that makes me cry every time I let myself settle there. I’ll tell them that I love life, and my husband with the gentle eyes, and the way dust floats in the air on a quiet afternoon at home. But, that sometimes life is a heavy load. I’ll tell them I’m sad and they can be sad too. I’ll tell them they can deposit anything into my heart and I will hold it until they are ready to take it back. I’ll tell them I will always be in that parking lot with my hand on the car door just in time. They just have to tell me where they are so I can find them.

May none of us ever be too late.

Rest in peace pretty lady, we cared.