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E.-E. Hillemacher: Edward Jenner vaccinating a boy. (1884)
" … what an overlong and terribly strange trip it had been."

Certain lines—queues, really—induce a deep sense of belonging, of being a member in good standing of a clearly upstanding society. For me, my first memory of standing in such a line came circa nineteen fifty-something when my whole birth family queued up to receive the Salk vaccine against polio. The whole Pioneer Junior High School Gymnasium crawled with organized humanity. We must have looked like refugees or something, fleeing from some catastrophe, and maybe we were precisely that. Everyone knew someone touched by polio and all were eager to see that they weren't victim to that tragedy, so everyone, even five or six-year old me, enthusiastically lined up and swallowed the proffered over-sweet Kool-aid shot. We had been background afraid forever and this sugar water offered hope for genuine salvation. Further, I felt even then that I was committing an authentically patriotic act, not just for my country or some ethereal God, but for humanity. I for the first time felt a sense of what I'd later learn to call solidarity in my chest, very near my heart, a first-class member of my community at last!

I've had similar twinges since when enqueued for voting or when openly protesting against some injustice our government had been committing, but that was my first taste of that kind of freedom, the liberty only felt when freely volunteering to become one of many like minds coming together to accomplish something stunning.
Our transition into actually HeadingHomeward held one huge hurdle, and one we seemingly held no personal control over topping. Neither of us have been more than about fifty miles from The Villa in a year and we both felt understandably jittery about crossing a third of this vast country before The Damned Pandemic had come under clearer control. Our road there would take us through some of the most tenaciously libertarian territory, in other words, places where a significant percentage of the people constitutionally didn't give a damn about us or any other. They seemed to believe themselves immune from both the virus and social responsibility, and we needed none of either as we wended our way home. We'd waited anxiously as our age group slid into priority, but actually scheduling the vaccination appointment seemed like a long-shot impossibility.

Fortunately, The Muse has always been tenacious and would not let a half dozen frustrated attempts dissuade her from continuing attempts. She woke me to announce that we'd been scheduled for the next afternoon. I had to clarify the next morning. Did you wake me last night? Yes, she shook her head enthusiastically. We'd been accepted as, after eleven months and more in aching isolation, potential members of society again. The horizon seemed a shade brighter that morning, my heart discernibly lighter. If all worked as tentatively scheduled, we'd leave this country fully vaccinated against the worst this virus had been threatening. We'd arrive there as if born again, able to confidently move around the cabin after so long securely strapped in, turbulence finally threatening to end.

The very best health care system in the world had occupied the meat department of a Safeway supermarket as the very best of all possible locations for dispensing this vaccine. For me, that meat department line might just as well have been standing on the varnished wooden floor of the old Pioneer Junior High School Gymnasium rather than back-breaking travertine. I felt five years old again. We'd wend our way past displays of beef steaks, hams, and precooked bacon, those adjacent to us in line like old friends after a remarkably short time. We exchanged snippets of history rather than virus as we passed the time, the woman ahead of us in line showing off her OCD by ordering each display in turn. Murray, who wore Black Lives Matter protest gear, recalled standing in similar lines when he was conscripted into the Army that last year of the Vietnam draft. Mr. OCD disordered displays to drive Ms. OCD crazy. We were partying.

Talia had been standing there enrolling people for nine straight hours by the time we landed at her counter an hour later. "Good thing this job features endless variety and ample opportunities for creativity," I offered. She glowered good-humoredly. "Or, maybe you just have easy access to anti-psychotics, should they prove necessary." She tested a small smile. I admit that I sort of gushed my appreciation on her, as I also did upon Christine, who did not administer my vaccine as if either of us were machines, though by her count, I was number a hundred and fifty since she'd started that morning. The actual act seemed distinctly anti-dramatic. Hardly a pinprick and I was done. After a few minutes waiting for anaphylaxis that never came, The Muse and I exited into a blooming snowstorm. We crawled back up into the foothills through traffic clearly unaccustomed to snow driving. The Schooner never slipped an inch. We seemed to be within a protective cocoon, one which might soon open up our world. We both felt like members in good standing again, reflecting upon just what an overlong and terribly strange trip it had been. Feels like home to me.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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