The anger stage is, by far, the most enduring.

Sometimes, I follow popular trends. Taking selfies with bunny ears on Snapchat, seeing if the broom will stand on its own, guessing that the sneakers are pink and white and the dress is blue; I have taken part in all of these.

A current trend I will not take part in is putting a frame on my profile pic on Facebook, advertising that I’m vaccinated. I’m seeing it frequently now, but it just doesn’t seem like something I want to announce to the world.

I’m so happy that the gears are turning, and millions are getting shots in arms every day. I’m thrilled that the elderly are getting vaccinated, so that they can see their families again. I’m relieved for the frontline workers, healthcare personnel, and educators, because they’ve been our superheroes during this pandemic, and they are our heroes EVERY day. I’m grateful that our special needs and immunocompromised humans are getting protected from the Russian Roulette that is exposure to COVID-19. 

But, well…I’m not jumping up and down for joy.

113 days ago, my little brother sat before me, while I recorded him, and talked about how relieved he was that vaccines were rolling out. I’ve related before that he was absolutely terrified of needles. As a young child and into adulthood, he had to have frequent labs done, because of medications he was on; later, needles became a daily thing when he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Up until about 10 years ago, a visit to the hospital lab was reason enough for him to melt down. Individuals with the challenges he had tend to have extraordinary strength, and he exhibited Herculean reactions when he was panicked. Up to six healthcare personnel had to restrain him, throughout the years, whenever blood needed to be drawn or a shot needed to be administered. Even after learning to give himself insulin, he would be fraught with anxiety for weeks leading up his quarterly lab visits.

He was not, however, terrified by the prospect of having to get two vaccinations in order to be safe. He welcomed it. There was zero anxiety; only a fervent wish to just go get it done, already. As hard as the last 9 months had been for him, and the countless times we had found it necessary to explain to him why he needed to stay home, to wear a mask, to social distance, he understood that those two, little jabs to his arm would signal great protection – insulation from serious illness and possible death. He’d be able to work, to socialize, and to stop living in fear of an invisible enemy.

He LOVED his nieces and nephews and missed them so much.

I never told him what I thought about the “antis” out there: the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-government, anti-intelligent people waving their Trump signs, with MAGA hats on their heads, shouting about rights and freedoms, the flag, statues, pedophiles in pizza parlors, the Satanic powers of Hillary Clinton, Jesus’s love for the Orange Menace, the microchips in the vaccines that would allow Bill Gates to control their thoughts, and how it was unconstitutional to have to protect others from the possibility of exposure to “just a cold, or a flu” by wearing masks in public.

Go back and read that. Tell me these people aren’t completely, totally whackadoodie-batshit-fucking nuts. Come on. Try to convince me that all these “antis” weren’t his enemies. Assure me that those “antis” aren’t my enemy now.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

This is the core of the anger I experience every, single day. It began about an hour after the husband and I returned home from the hospital, after Charlie had been pronounced dead. As the husband stood near the french doors in our apartment that look out onto our balcony, I sat, in desolate silence, on the couch. I had seen him cry more that morning than at any other time in the 20 years that we had been together. He was trying to get it together now. I felt made of stone. At my core, white-hot fury was gathering itself into a mass of nuclear pressure. “Burn it all down,” I said, quietly. “I want to burn it all down.” The husband looked at me, and couldn’t think of anything to say other than “Yes.”

The entire time we had been at the hospital – 120 minutes – ER staff had sequestered us in a small, waiting room. It was a bad room; I’d been in them before, and nothing good ever came of sitting in those rooms. During those short, 120 minutes, I’d frantically, tearfully talked to family and friends, gripped the husband’s hand, and listened to him as he calmly talked to our kids, telling them what he knew. The room was still, quiet, sterile and falsely welcoming; but it was also like being in a tornado. Chaos, being whipped around, violently, by emotions and terror, grabbing onto anything I could to keep from being swept away; roaring, deafening noise in my head.

In the midst of that storm, horrible things happened. The nurse, who kept us informed, checking in frequently and asking questions, and then the doctor’s notification that this was Covid, and what did I want them to do?

To do? What did I want? With all due respect, Doc, I want you to be the short, little old lady psychic in Poltergeist and to tell me that we could save him. I want you to tell him to stay away from the light, and send me in; I’ll be JoBeth Williams and I’ll go into the danger and I’ll bring him back. That’s what I want.

But of course, this was not a scary movie. It was reality, and it was so much worse. No, they didn’t “send me in” to coax him back. Do I think I could have? What I think is that he was scared, in pain, and alone, save for ER staff swarming around him. I probably couldn’t have coaxed him back, but I could have been there with him, so he would not have been afraid. I could have fulfilled the promise I’d made, when he was a baby, to be his protector. And in this way, the way things ended, I could have held his hand as he was guided to the light. This would have been some closure. For me. I’m not being selfish, wishing for that. Neither are millions of other Americans who experienced their own tornadoes.

So, when I read the conjecture of others, stating that getting the vaccine signifies an “end to all this awful business” and that “finally, we get our lives back,” I want to puke on them. When I hear people say that it must be a relief, to have that protection, after surviving the virus, I want to gut-punch them. When I see jubilant selfies shining out at me from profile pictures framed in “I’m fully vaccinated” banners, the urge to comment, “Bully for you” or hit the 😡 reaction is strong.

I resist, though. I resist, because I know they are relieved. They trust the science. They want to avoid the game of Russian Roulette, and they want to ensure that others avoid it, too. And they were there for me, a lot of them, in my darkest hours, when the urge to blot out my own existence was the strongest it has ever been.

Yes, I am fully-vaccinated. Getting Covid again is less of a worry, but since I don’t yet know what permanent damage having had it in the first place could have caused, the worry for my own well-being is really negligible. I don’t want to give it to someone else, though.

I’m not celebrating it, though, because 113 days ago seems so recent. How did we go from there to here without him? And how do I go from here to, well, 200 days, 300, 500 – without him? That remains to be seen. But while the rest of you are salivating at the prospect of vacations and pool parties and fairs and amusement parks and crowded bars, try to remember those who will never again experience those things, and the people they left behind. We are not okay, no matter what we tell you. We’ve been through a war; our loved ones lost were casualties, we Covid survivors are the walking wounded, and we have all suffered a terrible trauma. We want to be seen, our losses acknowledged, and for everyone to do their part to make sure this never fucking happens again.

Do I still want to burn it all down? That’s complicated. Just know this: if you ever supported Donald Trump, or said, “It’s just a flu,” or thought that wearing a mask was against your Constitutional rights, or claimed that masks don’t work, or referred to it as the “China virus,” or believed that hospitals were putting Covid as cause of death for EVERYONE that has died, so far, in order to make more money, or believed the election was stolen, or blamed “the illegals” for bringing the virus into the US, or supported border walls, or claimed that the January 6 insurrectionists were “patriots,” or uttered the words “snowflake,” “libtard,” or “not my President” about Joe Biden?

I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.

What I do know is that I don’t know, at all.

Some days begin hopefully. I’ll think I have it all under control and be going along just fine. I’m coping, I will tell myself.

Take yesterday, for example. I had been dreading the first big holiday. I didn’t want to do anything, or plan anything. Traditionally, I detest Easter and can’t wait for it to be over. But he was like an innocent child, tickled by the idea of a rabbit delivering candy (sugar-free, of course) and a plushie to him while he slept. He would become giddy at the prospect of a big, baked ham and hardboiled eggs galore. And I loved him, and I enjoyed his delight, so I did it. Every year. For 45 years, I got to see him hum with excitement at holidays.

It was so nice to see the kids, after a year of photos and videos and furtive drive-bys. It was nice, actually, to not have to adhere to specific plans. I enjoyed a trifecta of pleasant surprises when the husband brought home our McDonald’s dinner: not only had they remembered the straw, but the fries were FRESH and HOT and they weren’t out of apple pies! Hallelujah and can I get an Amen?!?

But then my brain did its thing – the thing it does best. It delivered to me a bleak dose of reality. It said, “You’re awful for enjoying not cooking, and dyeing eggs, and hiding an Easter basket. You suck for not doing all the things. Oh, sure, you made and decorated cupcakes for the kids, but you should have made them baskets since you couldn’t make him one. You’re a terrible Nana.”

And then that crashing, nauseating, black cloak of sorrow fell over me – the one that says

“Can you BELIEVE that this fucking happened? ALL YOUR CAUTION.

All those times he wanted to see people, go somewhere, and you said no.

All the days where there was nothing to look forward to and he sat in his room or wandered through the house and you told him, “It won’t always be like this,” and you meant it, you felt it, and when the vaccines were announced, you patted yourself on the back and told yourself, “We did it! We kept him safe!” And you felt bad for all the millions who had lost loved ones, but you had done your job!

Yay, you and

You go, girl and

Kudos!

It was worth it, all of it; worth being sent DMs from people in your community who you didn’t know, calling you a cunt because you wanted to know where you could go and safely take him – where masks were mandatory, and social distancing was enforced.

It was worth having your face put on a poster adorned with swastikas by a local businessman and hung in his locales, declaring you ENEMY NUMBER ONE and “banning” you from entry.

It was worth the death threats, and the social media posts in local groups, wishing nothing but misery and failure and bad luck for you because of your heartless (non-existent) campaign to destroy the livelihoods of struggling businesses. It was worth the lies they made up about you and the slander and the hate. All of this outrageousness was perhaps disappointing to behold, because you desperately wanted to believe that people could be good, but it was also something you suspected would happen, because this place of your birth had been rejecting you since your mother brought you home from the hospital.

All of this outrageous, public outcry because you needed to keep him safe was worth it, even though you, and the thousands of other immunocompromised, elderly, and cautious humans in the community weren’t interested in public opinion or rhetoric. You all just wanted to know where you could avoid possible contact with an infected person. In a perfect world, everyone would see the mitigation efforts as a shared responsibility, a community effort, and yes, a patriotic gesture of solidarity.

This world was not perfect, however, because this country spawned a society that decided that an unqualified, bloviating, failed businessman with zero moral compass, a narcissistic core, and a greed like no other, was competent enough to lead our nation.

We’re In This Together, my ass.

You got sloppy. You patted yourself on the back a little too soon. You never once truly thought that he could be exposed, because you and everyone you permitted him to come into contact with were so careful. All the sacrifices had been worth it. You went into Christmas day with a feeling of quiet satisfaction and relief. You were gonna come out on the other side of this with shots in arms and a renewed sense of hope. Just a little while longer, you told him. And he believed you. You believed you.

Never in your wildest nightmares would you have predicted that your life would become a tragic, Shakespearian tale of woe and sadness. Never. You’d been through awful things throughout your life and weathered storms that had altered you chemically as a person, but this? This horror? This walking, talking, nightmare of consciousness? It felt as if the Universe was punking you, laughing and saying, “You didn’t actually think I was gonna let you get away with it, did you? Who told you that you could be happy? Who said that you were doing everything right? How DARE you be confident? Here – get in this big pool of black suck. Sink. Swim. Drift. I don’t give a shit.”

Easter. A day of hope, and renewal, and beginnings. A day where the world rejoices because a man died for them, but then he was resurrected.

A fucking fairy tale. People don’t die and then magically live again, three days later, because if they did, I wouldn’t be writing this. If they did, the best, purest, sweetest, most innocent soul would have come back to me. “The Son of God,” he wasn’t, but he was a gift to the world. My brother was my light and my way.

And just like that, my brain goes on repeat and my heart sinks, dipping down into my toes. I am so tired.

Can you BELIEVE that this fucking happened?

Yes. Now, I can.