I’m conflicted. I’m so conflicted right now. I just came from my first in person choir rehearsal since March. We were outside, and we kept social distance throughout. We sang Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine and Seasons of Love. I even got to do the solo in Seasons of Love. 20-Something Aaron did Hair twice and was called back for Rent several times, even though he never got to do the show. He is still freaking out about the absolute awesomeness of this evening. Present Day Aaron is also quite happy. After almost two years together, I haven’t actually seen these guys since March. I was thrilled to get to sing with my friends again. But then the end of the evening came. They were seriously hugging goodbye. I was horrified. One guy went to hug me, and I stopped him. Please understand that this is not a statement of how I feel about him. I find him quite entertaining. He is always making jokes, he always makes me laugh, and he might have the most delicious bass voice I have ever heard. I might also have a bit of a schoolboy crush, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that I pushed him away. Another guy who is also delightful, touched me on the shoulder when he said goodbye. I visibly recoiled from his touch. Once again, this is not a comment on him. This is about me. Please understand, they have been singing together for the last couple of weeks. I have joined in via Zoom, but I definitely wanted to see what happened to them before I put myself at risk. If I was being a good scientist, I would have waited one more week, but we are talking about the solo in Seasons of Love, so I made an emotional choice. Hopefully, I won’t live to regret it.
Please understand that I don’t hate hugs. The reality is quite the opposite. In fact, I remember my last hug. It was my friend Rebecca. We met up the day before I went into quarantine. When I hugged her goodbye, I had no idea that that would be my last hug (hopefully it won’t be, but who knows what the future holds?). We just knew that the world as we knew it was ending, and we were drinking a toast to it. Funny enough, she was the first person I saw after isolation. When we met up, we did an elbow bump instead of our normal hug. At one point, I touched her shoulder and then proceeded to freak out. I saw her the other day, and I also saw her boyfriend Karsten, of whom I am also quite fond. This was the first time that I had seen him in months. I was so taken by surprise, that I kind of went in for the hug, but I stopped myself and went to shake his hand, but when I realized what I was doing, I forcibly yanked my hand from his and then gave him an awkward elbow bump. THAT’S where COVID has emotionally taken me.
When I was in first grade, I started going to what was then called the gifted and talented program. This involved a group of us being taken by bus to another school one morning a week. My GT teacher had a poster in her room that said: Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. For whatever reason, that poster resonated with me. Even now, almost 40 years later, I can see it clearly. Maybe it’s the fact that as a queer POC, paranoia was one of my survival tactics. From a very young age, I didn’t trust anyone fully, be they family, friend, or whatever. Corona has taken that natural paranoia and kicked it up to the next level.
See, this isn’t my first plague. I came out at the height of the AIDS epidemic. In fact, when I came out to my mother, the first thing that she told me was that I was going to get AIDS and die. That kicked back to that paranoia that I had learned in elementary school. Everything I did was dedicated to not getting AIDS. I even found a way to be promiscuous and not get AIDS. That’s how gifted and talented I am. But I will tell you this: COVID did for me what AIDS never could: It made me celibate. Honestly, the last couple years in Berlin have been a hedonistic blur. I have been to sex clubs, had threesomes, foursomes and thensomes, and never batted an eye. But that all changed back in March. In fact, I had a dream about going to a sex club last night, and I woke up completely freaked out.
My new mantra over the last few months has been “Don’t you fucking touch me”. This is such a departure from my normal life. I work with kids. Physical contact is a currency in my line of work. I give out high fives like they’re lollipops, and the kids are jonesing for them. How does this mantra affect that? Next week, I have my first camp since COVID happened. I’m taking a group of 12–14 year olds on a canoe trip. Up to this point, I have always been known as the cool counselor. I mean, just being black goes a long way towards earning that title, but since it works in my favor, I don’t question it. However, there are a good number of my personality traits that reinforce that position. My generosity with high fives is absolutely a part of that. What happens to that version of me when I can’t (or can’t allow myself to) give high fives anymore? What happens when I flinch when one of my kids tries to touch me? Beyond that, I have to go back to teaching in schools in the next few weeks. My youngest babies are 3 years old. They don’t care about Corona. They don’t care about safety protocols. They care about hugs. They like hugs even more than I do. I have had a child hug me while telling me they had a fever that morning, but they had to be in my class. I also had the illness that resulted from that hug, and it sucked. What happens when I flinch from my babies and can’t bear to let them touch me?
The person I am in this moment is so different from the person I was a few short months ago. I used to go out multiple times a week. I used to do karaoke with my friends at least twice a week. I used to be in the gay bars, making out with random guys, at least a couple times a week. I used to be so social. These days, my biggest social interaction that isn’t through Zoom is the grocery store. I walk for at least three hours a day, but I avoid people like the plague. When I had my end of year review for one of the companies I teach with, I insisted that it be outside. My supervisor gladly obliged, because she’s cool like that, but my paranoia was clearly in control. I still go to my favorite bars, but I only sit on the benches outside, and I make sure that everyone keeps a good social distance. In fact, I don’t go inside any place other than my home for more than a few moments at a time, and I wear a mask the entire time that I am inside anywhere other than my home. A friend from the karaoke circuit recently started posting pics of herself out at karaoke events, and I was panic stricken. Not only can I not imagine going to karaoke right now, but I don’t understand how any karaoke venues are open.
That’s my biggest problem. A lot of people here are acting like Corona is over, and it’s not. Germany had almost 300 new cases yesterday. Even though that’s better than a lot of places, it’s not “mission accomplished” good. Every day I have so many moments of internal screaming. A lot of it happens in the grocery store. There’s one employee of my local grocery store who no longer wears a mask. There are a couple more who wear their masks under their noses. This frustrates me to no end. I have also seen customers in the same store with no mask. Cue my silent screams. Also, in spite of the signs and the lines on the floor, a lot of people have lately started ignoring the social distancing. The other day, a lady was so close to me in line that I could feel her breath through her mask. Then she had the nerve to cough. I almost lost my shit in the middle of the store.
See, here’s my thing: I would love for COVID to be over. I would love to be pre-plague Aaron again, but I know that’s not where we are right now. We are still mid-plague. We have an easier time of it here in Germany than places like the US, but we are definitely still squarely in the middle. My problem is that I don’t know how to be me in the face of that fact. The person that I was is not allowed (either by myself or the regulations) to be, and I don’t know who the new me is or how he deals with people. At the end of the day, I don’t know how this will turn out, but all I do know is that I really hope the future includes hugs. I miss them.