I’ve been boarding planes since I was four. Take-offs and landings, buying magazines in unfamiliar airports, having a drink while staring down at the clouds (from that first orange juice when I was little to my customary bloody mary now), are delights so engrained in me that I never sleep on planes. Not even on the 15-hour flights across the Pacific am I able to take so much as a nap–I’m having too marvelous a time to waste it in sleep.

Preparing for a trip has become like yawning, an automatic action that takes no thought and very little time–until now.

I knew covid behavior would change me. The behavior that we all embraced in order to survive was like being forced into a bizarre social experiment that went on forever–avoiding other people, staying at home as much as possible, moving through the world with facial expressions hidden behind masks, smiling invisible smiles. But I believed that this would all stop with the advent of vaccines. That it didn’t stop made 2021 even more difficult than 2020. 

Soon after my vaccinations last spring, I made two trips to see friends in Tucson. They felt like a prelude to my former life but then the variants arrived. The glimmer of freedom that I anticipated when taking those two flights turned out to be a mirage and like all mirages it vanished before I could grab it. Fear set in as it hadn’t the year before because now I wasn’t sure if my vaccine would protect me. I lost hope.

Yes. There were things I did in the past year that were unthinkable in 2020–meeting friends, visiting my sons, going to a movie, seeing art in museums. But those little miracles were all rigidly planned and masks were still a key feature of everyone’s wardrobe. Plastic shields at customer service counters made communication even more irksome. Not only was spontaneity a thing of the past, so was small talk and random chat. We all lived in a world that held no stories.

For most of last year, I stayed home. I had to force myself out of my apartment to take walks. I stuck to familiar routes. I stopped exploring. I stopped writing, except for long whines to myself.

This spring I found I had just enough mileage to make another trip to Tucson and I knew I had to do this, if only to improve my mental health. I bought my ticket well in advance and waited for the excitement to kick in. It did–and then the changes locked within me took over. 

Never has it taken me so long to pack a suitcase. Then there’s the burning question: check it or carry it on? I’ve been mulling over that one for days. But by far the worst qualm is a four-block trek to the nearest light rail station. My flight is an early one and usually I give myself a two-hour window. This time in order to do that, I have to be on the street at first light. I’m apprehensive about that.

Downtown has a substantial population of people whom I dislike seeing in broad daylight. If they hold a degree of menace at high noon, how are they going to look at 5:30 in the morning? I reactivated Lyft on my phone but it seems absurd when I have mass transit only a few minutes away. Besides this is my city. I live here. It’s a place where I’ve exercised reasonable caution but I’ve never been frightened. 

I tell myself I’m not afraid now but when I add up all of my niggling concerns, they amount to a ration of fear. I’m afraid to leave my cat for four days, even though someone will be checking in to give him food and water. I’m afraid that I haven’t packed enough clothing. I’m afraid I’ve packed too much. I’m afraid there will be a majority of unmasked people on the plane. I’m afraid I’ll spend three hours underneath one of my free N-95 masks. I’m afraid of who I’ll encounter on my walk to the light rail. I’m afraid I’ll make the trip to the airport in the company of passengers who use the train as a shelter. I’m afraid.

But damn it. That is not who I am–at least it’s not who I was nor who I want to be. The only way out of fear is to face it down and I’m going to do that. I’m leaving my cat a generous food reserve. I’m checking the damned bag, no matter if it holds too little or too much. I’m carrying my usual mask as well as a back-up N-95. And at 5:30 on Tuesday morning I’ll be walking down Pine Street to catch a train to the airport. 

I hope I’ll be able to have a bloody mary once the plane hits cruising altitude, but even if there’s no beverage service, I’ll still have my view of the clouds. It’s time for me to reclaim that pleasure and so many others, without fear.  Hello, life.