We all cheered when the announcement came over the news on the tv. The pandemic was finally over. We were free to leave our homes, free to see people we had only seen via video call for the last twenty two months. 

The pandemic had swept through our country first, taking a swift run across the globe. Millions had died in the first few weeks and millions more died as they reacted to their cabin fever after month eleven. People began to doubt the validity of the pandemic and doubt the fact that being quarantined in our homes was anything more than the “puppet master” having his way. They had revolted and began throwing block parties and heading to the sand in droves. Within two weeks of the resurgence of the party life, millions more had died. The pandemic had reared its ugly head again and took almost all of them all out. 

The fear hit everyone hard again and people began taking quarantine to a whole new level. The original quarantine had people getting groceries delivered so they wouldn’t need to be out in public. The new quarantine had them building indoor gardens to grow food so they wouldn’t have to have the outside stuff brought in. People started using old clothes to make new and fixing things around the house with whatever was available in their yards or attics or basements. People started building high fences around their backyards, putting barbed wire on top. There was talk of the pandemic causing people to lose their minds and become almost zombie like. All sense of decorum or decency or any form of reality did not exist in their minds anymore. So everyone was building defenses, whether barbed wire fencing or guns kept in basements. Some people braved some of it and would help a neighbor if desperately in need, mostly with medicine or occasionally bread. Sometimes a woman was known to pass some thread and needles through a crack in the wooden fence between her yard and her neighbors as well. 

But right now, none of us cared about any of that. What we cared about was getting out! The weather outside was scorching and all we could think about was jumping in the lake. 

When we arrived the place was rocking. The blue water stretched out before us promising a sweet deliciousness of which we were delighted to partake. People were everywhere. Someone had brought huge speakers that they connected to their trucks bluetooth and battery and had them blaring out of the truck bed. Several girls were dancing around them in bikini tops and cutoff shorts. I for one wasn’t worried about the music. I just wanted the water. I threw off my coverup and ran full force into the lake. The water felt so good! The coolness of it washed over my body, weaving its way through my thick hair giving me chills down my spine. 

I popped up out of the water and looked back toward the shore. Everyone was laughing and having fun. Someone had started a fire and people were roasting hotdogs in it. We had waited so long for this! I was never going back inside! An involuntary grin spread across my face as I dove back under the water and headed toward the shore for some ice cold, refreshing lemonade. 


It had been two months since the quarantine was lifted. It had been so great...at first. Now, not so much. The sudden surge of cars going again, the bonfires and fireworks, the factories setting back in motion and working overtime to keep up with the increase in orders for things that had been dormant for so long had created a massive amount of smog in the air. 

The lake was jammed packed with boats. You could hardly find a place to set a towel at the beach. The plastic bottles and boxes from burgers and fries littered everywhere. Everyone had sunburned badly. All that time spent indoors had made their skin sensitive. Even those who weren’t so sensitive to the sun were crispy. Several people ended up in the ER for sun poisoning. Stores couldn’t keep sunscreen on the shelves. 

The fences had come down and neighbors were happy to see each other. They had backyard barbecues again, kids running back and forth, neighborhood block parties. Playgrounds were filled to the brim with children climbing and jumping all over the place. 

Until the novelty wore off. With everyone being so used to quarantine and being forced to be private a lot of folks began to eventually resent their neighbor for being in their business. Fences started going back up, feuds happened, kids couldn’t play with their friends anymore because of it. It began to feel like we were quarantining all over again. They didn’t know how to live “on the outside” anymore. 

Pretty soon, for those of us who still wanted to enjoy the outside, it became a sad reminder that humans can be very mean to each other. Everywhere you looked there was trash strewn about, giant no trespassing signs in yards, sometimes with snide remarks beside them like, “Don’t worry, I have good aim.” 

It was the hottest summer on record and some folks believed that was making people more temperamental. We knew the heat was from all the smog from the factories and such. The lake water was always murky now and too polluted to swim in. You couldn’t take a hike or a stroll around the neighborhood even without seeing mounds of trash. The heat cooked it, the stink lingered around every corner. The city garbage collectors couldn’t keep up, neither could the beautification crew that mowed the city grass. The heat meant they could only work an hour at a time max before having to be out of the sun for a while. No one seemed to care what it looked like outside anyway as long as they had what they needed inside. 

Pretty soon even I knew, it was going to get ugly. People were going to start running out of things and wanting to take what their feuding neighbor had. 

My parents had started building a panic room in the basement. It was basically a flood proof, fireproof twelve by twelve box. They had furnished it with two sets of bunk beds, several floor to ceiling shelves full of water, canned food, toiletries and first aid. A smaller fireproof box was placed on one shelf with all of our important documents and family photos. Each of us had one tote that slid under the bed to fill with clothes and shoes and one half of a shelf for any books, drawing supplies, collectables and such, anything we would like to keep to remind us of home. 

Pillows and blankets were placed into vacuum sealed bags. One was placed on each bunk, the mattresses still wrapped in plastic until they needed to be taken off. A small room off to the side of it was a bathroom. A system was set in place to collect rainwater incognito from above, bring it through the shower, then filter it to the toilet. From there it fed into the sewer pipe from the house. My dad had even fashioned an antenna that came up out of the ground inside the wall of the shed above and snaked its way to the roof.  As long as that shed remained there we could still see what was happening in the world on the small flat screen tv he stowed on the top shelf. We would use a concoction my dad had come up with to use car batteries for electricity for the tv and lights. He said we would have to be cautious with it but the many he had on the bottom shelf should last us a few months at least. 

I really hoped it wouldn’t come to that. I just wanted it to go back to the days when people got along, when we helped each other instead of being afraid of our neighbor. I wanted the days back when people took pride in their neighborhood with safe clean playgrounds and community areas by the lake. I wanted to see flower beds and a neighbor waving and smiling as you walked by. I wanted the trash and the putrid smell gone. I wanted a break in this obnoxious ozone-depletion-caused heat. I wanted to be planning birthday parties and graduation parties, not a supply list for a panic shelter. I wanted to go back to before the whole pandemic, when hugs were good and my afternoon was spent eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with my friends in the tree house in the backyard. Saturdays spent swimming in the lake and Sundays spent at church. 

We all thought life would never be the same after the pandemic hit but I think it’s our reaction in the aftermath that will truly make life never the same again….

September 22, 2020 20:59

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