This essay originally appeared in CT No. 117: Virality vs. cached memory, which was sent to paid subscribers on April 7, 2022.
Early last month I attended concerts two nights in a row, maskless, packed in clubs with fans and bands that were essential during the pandemic years. I hugged friends. I talked to strangers who were closer than 6 feet away. Other than presenting my vaccination card upon entry, everything seemed As Before.
Until I felt a stranger's sweat on my skin as they pushed past me. Smelled the aftereffects of too many beers. Pondered the likelihood and magnitude of respiratory droplets in the air as everyone sang along with every word. I've never been a germaphobe, but after two years of social distancing, reintegration was revolting. Maintaining my cool did not come as easily.
I wasn't actively thinking about local politics or law enforcement or the number of people who would die of COVID that day (8,177 globally). I actively tried to forget anything other than the excitement of an up-and-coming band playing an excellent set, but a version of this image crept into my mind every time I cheered or sang.
I've changed permanently.
Two years ago I wondered what our narratives of the pandemic would be, especially after it was "over." In narrative, endings give stories meaning so we can make sense of events. I wrote, "Endings falsely iron our cognitive dissonance away."
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