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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 80

Early in the pandemic, before masks, long before vaccinations, the author ventures out in her home-made hijab. Photo © copyright Jim Bergman 2020.




What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died...


from "Small Talk"

by Eleanor Lerman



I thought she was a nice woman, a woman who might become a friend. I'd given her my card, chatted poolside, but when I met her in the locker room this past Saturday, a small space, and asked her to put on her mask, she refused.  "Well I don't know, Carol, I've been vaccinated," she said. 


I tried to explain what I'd heard, what I knew about breakthrough infections, the refusal of our gym to institute a mask mandate for everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, as Mayor De Blasio has smartly ordered in the city.  I tried to calm down. At least she's vaccinated, I thought. It had taken her a while, but she'd done it, finally.


Still, I decided right then and there that we couldn't be friends. It was the defiance. Her brother-in-law was visiting, they had been partying the night before. "So you've had exposure to someone outside the area," I said. "As has my husband. He was in the city yesterday. So I'll keep my mask on to protect you." 


"Well I don't know, Carol, I'm vaccinated," she repeated, sarcastically this time. The definition of sarcasm is "tearing flesh." That's what her retort felt like.


"Have you heard of asymptomatic exponential contagion?" I asked, ever the professor.  I tried not to condescend, but I was upset.


"You seem to have the inside scoop. You've always had the inside scoop." 


No sarcasm this time, just impatience. She must have been referring to our brief conversations before she got vaccinated. She was a resister, a defiant ill-informed skeptic. How did that get broken down, I wondered?  It wasn't me that had done it.


"No inside scoop. I just read," I said.  "I listen. I pay attention. So many stories. We're not done with this pandemic yet."


She left in a huff, a trail of disappointment and frustration behind her; my disappointment, my frustration.


It's the first time in my life I've not been able to persuade, or inform, or educate. The defiance has become a wall, deeper, stronger and more insistent than simple resistance to the facts, or an ignorance of the facts.  It's aggressive, confrontational, the battlefield of our divided country.


Those who care and those who don't. Is that a place to begin to understand this unpleasant moment? Maybe this woman, who I had thought might be a friend, doesn't know anyone who died, or lost her job, or couldn't travel to visit her family three-thousand miles away and then missed her father's last days. Maybe she's been living in a snug pod all these months oblivious to the suffering of her neighbors, her town, her county, her country, and the world. 

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