On a warm Saturday morning in mid-March, in a repurposed Walmart employee break room, I am about to receive my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
For unknown reasons, everything is running two hours behind. If I were a very good person, I would be happy just to be here—grateful that my mélange of preexisting conditions secured me an appointment in the state that, despite being home to the CDC, has managed to rank last in the nation in vaccination rates. Perhaps (again, if I were a very good person) I would use the wait time to do something Lenten, offering up this testudinate procession through the topical pain-relief aisle for the salvation of souls.
Instead, I grumble behind my mask, sigh unnecessarily, and trade periodic, exasperated glances with other insufficiently grateful-to-be-there waiting-line mates. (By now we have identified one another.) I grumble about the lack of signage. I grumble about the people who have unwittingly cut in line, mistaking the six-foot gaps between those of us who are waiting for the end of the queue. I grumble about the shoppers who push their giant carts through the middle of our snaking line. I grumble about the man in cargo shorts and a baseball cap who has been at the window for twenty minutes. I text my husband to grumble digitally.
I have spent the last interminable year waiting in lines—to enter the grocery store, to get a Covid test, to receive a drive-through cross of ashes on my forehead with an extra-long sanitary Q-tip. I have endured these lines with uncharacteristic serenity, mostly because they gave me the distinct impression of being inside the thing I’ll one day recount to my future grandkids for their “Interview An Elderly Relative” merit badges. It seemed like the right time to start behaving like somebody’s resilient ancestor, so I’d fix my gaze upon the distant horizon of the Trader Joe’s entrance and wait my turn. (Besides, it’s not like I had anywhere else to be).
It turns out that patience is another form of resignation. But now that I’ve tasted hope, I want to be done waiting forever.
Fifty-three minutes after my appointment time, I reach the front of the registration line. The pharmacy window is covered almost entirely in a plexiglass germ barrier that, upon closer observation, appears to be soundproof. Pharmacist and customer double over to talk to each other through the sliver of an opening at the bottom of the divider, chins grazing the countertop, their mask-filtered voices still nearly inaudible above the din of checkout beeps, the mechanical inhale-exhale of automatic doors, and Cyndi Lauper playing over the store loudspeakers. By the time it’s my turn, I’m greeted through the gap by a pharmacy worker so friendly, despite the fluorescent chaos, that I’m flooded with shame for my grumbling. I’m tempted to ask him to hear my confession. Instead, he asks for my insurance card.