There are lots of things I haven’t done and places I haven’t visited since the initial shutdown.
Some places and events I miss; others, I may continue to live without.
One questionable place for me had been the gym. Thankfully, my quarantine exercise routines were good.
Among other things, I started running again but then realized I hate running, so (like most ladies in my neighborhood), I started walking.
I preferred to walk fast, but (mostly) it felt good to get away from the house—just me, a podcast, and my sweet Hoka sneakers.
I believe there comes a time when suburban women become walkers. Having lived in New York City, I was a walker in my daily life so my physical exercise was anything but walking.
Living in the burbs before the pandemic, I had stuck mostly to yoga and gym workouts (my hips aren’t what they used to be), and have lost access to medicine balls and kettlebells—I needed more.
Being home 24/7 came up quick and mean; my first reaction was to buy a giant box of mozzarella sticks from BJ’s. But this pivot to walking felt like I’d joined a new club—the suburban middle-aged lady club.
While that isn’t all bad, I did feel kind of old, so we got a Peloton and a kettlebell. I could easily make this into a story about my mid-life crisis during the pandemic, but instead, it is the story of my first trip back to the gym since COVID-19 all but shut down civilization.
Having let go of so much as a family, we adopted new ways of living and experiencing life safely and happily within the boundaries of Virginia state restrictions.
Only now, as the pandemic draws to a close, have I put much thought into what we had been living without. And, in the end, it was really just one thing—our ability to do whatever we wanted.
Fortunately for us, no jobs were lost; we simply had to adjust.
For me it was easiest to go with the flow as opposed to resisting the stay-at-home order or mask mandate, so contemplating life after Covid-19 almost seemed to come up as quick as the initial shutdown. One thing I remembered was time for myself away from home and with the mask mandate having just been lifted it seemed like it was time to afford that luxury.
Through the sliding doors, the gym’s entrance was still divided for incoming and outgoing traffic with signage up as to the typical guidelines for entry: no fever, symptoms, or exposure to the virus.
At the front desk, staff members were wearing masks, and I was greeted with smiling eyes. I felt nervous, excited, anxious, and almost giddy.
As I fumbled for my card, I told the ladies it was my first time back and as it was scanned, an irrational fear that it would not work washed over me.
It worked, and I was told that if I were fully vaccinated, I could remove my mask and be on my way. The mask came off, and I thanked them with a big smile.
At that moment, I was let loose and set free to roam.
The facility was a spacious four-story building with beautiful floor to high ceiling windows, but the ultimate destination was the roof deck that includes a pool, hot tub, and café—children under 18 are prohibited. A glorious place to adult for a minute.
As I made my way through the lobby, I glanced over to see the kid zone closed for the usual afternoon deep clean and made note of their hours. My gosh, I thought, my daughter Fiona might go back there one day.
There are two ways to reach the roof: the elevator or the open-air staircase that winds up through the center of the facility.
I chose to take the stairs and as I made my way up, I was extremely aware of every step I took, my grip on the handrail, and the mask-less folks trotting along, up and down.
As I caught glimpse of the first-floor gym, I was overcome with emotion. I saw familiar staff and clients; heard treadmills spinning, feet thumping, weights clanking, and winded breathing.
Meanwhile, the lump in my throat was growing larger and I was certain at any moment I was going to break into a full-blown ugly cry. To shield my facial contortions, I put my head down and rubbed my forehead, but there was this urge inside me to just sit down in the middle of the floor and sob.
Truly I could have used a hug at that moment. Instead, I kept climbing and on the third floor, I was stopped and knocked out of my stupor by the sight of a group fitness class. The music was pounding, bodies were hopping, and it felt like I had just stepped out of a time portal back to February 2020. Meanwhile, everyone was going along, business as usual.
As I reached the last flight of stairs, a window to the roof deck framed a woman outside in a straw sunhat, sunning her back, reading a book. Set off to her right, a man was sitting upright watching time go by. The scene was reminiscent of a would-be poolside painting by David Hockney—the bluest sky contrasting with bright white stucco, golden skin, and technicolor swimwear.
In the café, I was greeted with more smiling eyes and warm hellos. I grabbed a towel, or two, and made my way outside.
The landscape down below was flat woodlands interrupted by suburban townhomes, big box stores, highways, cell, and water towers.
You can see for miles, all the way to where the earth meets the sky. The endless sky and sunsets are the real draw. As my emotions continued to bubble over, I felt the weight of time; the time that had passed since my last trip to that roof and that mundane suburban view, over one year ago.
I’d lived through a pandemic.
They say, you never really know what you’ve got until you lose it. And while that is true, and I am so grateful for the good fortune to frequent such a luxurious place. I am even more grateful for what that first visit back meant for me and my proximity to all the people around me.
We had all made it through a pandemic.
To be there again felt like a triumph similar to what so many other people are experiencing right now too. The triumphs come in so many forms: first hugs, evenings out, parties, and trips away, without restriction or stress.
Because we’ve done our part—we’ve protected our families and communities—our lives can go back to normal. But will they really?
Taken individually, all of our experiences of the pandemic are different. Some may have moaned and fought against quarantine and masks, others got sick or knew someone who did. Many died.
Jobs were lost, and businesses closed for good. The lines for drive-up testing and food banks stretched for miles.
But in that year of 2020, so much more happened outside of quarantine. We saw the largest civil rights movement since the 1960s and watched confederate statues fall.
Grotesque conspiracy theories mobilized white militias and Qanon believers. Despite the pandemic, we managed a historic turnout for the presidential election only to see it made a mockery of a bad loser. And to top it off, our nation’s capital was overtaken by those mobilized believers.
Somehow all that chaos was still present for me as I stood poolside, watching life go on as usual around me.
The weight of time felt heavy, but the sky was blue, so I laid down and let it carry me away.
I now realize it wasn’t the weight of time I was feeling. It was the opposite—it was the lifting of time’s weight and it continues today.
But as it continues to lift, the relieving effect feels more like sore muscles after a sprint. It’s hard to come to terms with everything that happened and the lingering air of tension and unrest.
More accurately, 2020 was a marathon—a marathon of a thousand sprints from one trauma to the next.
I took several deep breaths imagining them as shouts from the rooftop and callouts to the universe for guidance as to what “back to normal” or “business as usual” means today.
There is no time portal, but I guess we can try to make everything look just the same as February 2020.
That seems to be what is happening.
Quite possibly the gym will remain business as usual, and for my own benefit, I hope it does.
Indeed, I am grateful for that saltwater pool, but I am also grateful they remain a good employer for so many good people.
What looks the same or business as usual is what rests on the surface.
For instance, a woman sunning her back or a man staring into the horizon. What will never look the same are those sore muscles after so much sprinting.
The hope is that most of us were sprinting in the same direction, toward empathy and truth.