“So, how’s it feel to be thirty-four?”
My mom smiled at me, somewhat smirking as she took her first sip of wine. The same Chardonnay she ordered every time we visited the restaurant. Always taking that first sip with such enthusiasm.
Dad sat to her left, watching the hockey game on one of the big screens. A tall glass of craft beer sat on the table in front of him. His body noticeably tense, transfixed on the TV as the game’s action ebbed and flowed. As always, he narrated every play with his own brand of live commentary. His voice sounded hoarse and raspy… one of those stubborn winter “bugs” he so often caught, maybe.
“So, thirty-four! Do you feel any different, Andrew?”
Mom always was the cheery conversation starter in the family. It was a quality I sometimes wished I had inherited.
“I’m tired I guess, mom.”
Dad looked over at me, and cleared his throat.
“How can you be tired? It’s a new year. 2020 is just getting started.”
He winced slightly and touched his hand gently to his Adam’s apple.
“Hope it’s not Covid,” he muttered. “Have you been following the news? God… it’s getting scary.”
Mom leaned over and patted him on the back.
“Oh, let’s not talk about it right now. What should we order for appetizers?”
The rest of the night unfolded as expected. Uneventfully. With talk of the future – discussing my plan to start working again, to broaden my social network, enroll in a few classes, and take the next steps forward in my recovery.
The following day, January 25th 2020, Canada announced its first official case of the novel coronavirus.
The first couple months into the pandemic were relatively unfamiliar to everyone. It was uncharted territory. But life went on mostly unchanged. But by March it had become clear that the Summer would be different. It was starting to become clear that a lot was going to change.
“So, what are you going to do to keep busy?” My support worker asked me.
It was Wednesday, and every week I met with my support worker in the morning. The local support groups and services had started implementing changes. Some services shut down entirely, while other supports had been reformatted to meet the provincial health guidelines.
“I’m not sure” I replied. “You know… it’s been five years and I still can’t sleep.”
She looked at me with a bit of concern.
“No sleep at all?” She asked.
I stared vacantly at her and shook my head.
“Five years after I quit using… still can’t sleep.” I muttered. “How am I supposed to work… or live a normal life? I’m totally f**ked!”
That night I peered out the window from my bedroom. The days were becoming longer as Summer approached, and that usually meant I would have an even harder time sleeping.
I flicked off the lights, pulled up the bed covers, and stared up at the ceiling.
“Is anybody there?” I asked.
There was no answer.
Nothing, but a dead silence.
I slept soundly that night.
I felt sick.
I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video that had appeared in my newsfeed. But I knew what had happened. It was all over the news. And the rioting, violence, and hateful rhetoric had already begun.
And in the days and weeks that would follow, his final words would become a rallying cry.
I can’t breathe.
It was worse now, worse than ever. I could feel it.
That anger. Rising from some unnamed place deep inside of me. Coursing through me like my own warm blood. Ushering a torrent of troubling thoughts, flooding my head with noise and drowning out any voice of reason and decency.
It had become a daily occurrence. Hourly, even.
A rage. An exasperation. A despair.
And a desire to surrender.
I couldn’t explain it. But something was happening.
If I could catch myself before the feeling swept over me, before it was too late… then I would remind myself to breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
And then there would be silence. A pleasant quietness and a relief from the incessant noise.
“Is anybody there?” I whispered.
My dad’s voice trembled slightly over the phone.
“I have cancer,” He told me.
I didn’t know what to say. We all suspected it was serious long before any formal diagnosis. And so he was in the hospital, during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic.
"You shouldn’t visit," he told me. It’s too risky. I’d have to wait until he was discharged.
I stepped out onto the balcony after I said goodbye over the phone. It was night. And cold. And I knew it would be a difficult winter ahead.
I’d felt lonely many times over the course of the year. The periodic isolation, social distancing, and societal separation had left me feeling disheartened. But in that moment, I felt a different kind of loneliness. I felt it more strongly than ever. I felt it more fearfully than ever. I felt it in my heart. In my mind. In my soul.
“He’ll be okay,” I whispered aloud. But I wasn’t entirely sure who I was referring to… my dad, or myself.
I took a breath. Felt the soft rain touch my face. Felt the cold air pierce my bare skin. And I closed my eyes.
“Is anybody there?” I asked quietly.
I listened to the silence for a moment. And then I opened my eyes.
“I’m here.” I replied.