I thought I was exhaling just fine. Until today.

I walked into the Covid-19 Vaccine site with my card in hand. It was time for my second dose. The line of people moved quickly.

An old Taylor Swift song was playing on the overhead speakers. I swayed up to the check-in table, and held my card out. ‘Welcome back’ the volunteer said, ‘and congratulations.’ ‘Thank you’, I responded as I did a little dance, ‘I am so excited!’ She asked me a series of questions and then directed me to the next line, which also flowed very quickly.

I strutted up to the next table where the volunteer asked ‘How are you?’ a courtesy, I’m sure, but I began to dance more vigorously as I responded ‘It’s my second shot! I’m so very excited!’ ‘Second shot,’ she replied, ‘Congratulations!’ ‘Thanks! I’m gonna hug everybody after this!’ She laughed at that. Also a courtesy, perhaps.

Then she directed me to the next volunteer, and I danced my way over to him. He stood in place, but he danced right back at me. ‘Excited?’ He asked. ‘Very!’ I said. ‘I’m ready to hug everybody!’ He pointed to the rows of curtained booths and told me to go to number 16.

I danced down the aisle to the man standing outside of 16, who also danced back at me, though somewhat reluctantly. He opened the curtain and the woman inside said ‘Hello, how are you today?’ ‘I’m great!’ I said. ‘So very excited. After this I’m gonna hug everybody!’ She laughed and moved on to the formalities.

As she placed the bandaid on my vaccinated arm, I felt all of the air escape my body in a rush. A full body exhale like I haven’t felt in ages. A year’s worth of tension. Released. I could feel the tears that wanted to follow those last bits of air.

As I put my jacket on and stood up, I said ‘Thank you for this. Thank you for volunteering your time. Thank you for saving so many lives.’ ‘You’re welcome’ she said, and I could see the smile in her eyes. ‘Now I can get on with the hugging! Do you want a hug?’ I asked as I opened my arms. Without hesitation she said ‘Yes!’ and opened hers.

So we hugged. Tight and close. For probably longer than either of us expected. Like two dear old friends who had just survived something arduous together.

As we moved apart, the reluctant dancer man reminded me that the vaccine wouldn’t be fully effective for 2 weeks, and even then only 94%… blah blah blah… something about hugs. I looked him in the eye and said ‘Yes, I know. But how about you? Do you want a hug?’ He hesitated for a second, and then said ‘Oh, all right.’ This hug was more tentative, but still wonderful.

I danced off to the next volunteer, who showed me where to sit for 15 minutes. As Natalie Merchant sang ‘I’m bound to thank you’, I thought about how grateful I was, and how I felt lighter than I have in a very long time. Then I walked out into the unseasonably mild, bright, sunshiny day and headed for my car.

The winter is ending. Immunity is coming, I thought as I grabbed onto the steering wheel, and allowed myself to be absolutely hopeful for the first time in a year; to believe that there are bigger and better things to look forward to again.

I drove straight to my mother’s house. And I hugged her.

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