“Oh, my god Sara, I think people can see us now,” I whisper, peering around the coffee shop. Between being a middle-aged woman and wearing a mask, I was operating under the delusion that I was invisible. But what I feel is naked. “I know, it’s scary, I’ve forgotten how to be a person,” Sara confesses.
“Is it Covid or am I just old now?” I ask Sara, a little game I’ve recently made up. “What?” she shouts from six feet away. It is the first day after the mask mandate has been dropped and Sara is staring at everyone like she’s never seen a human being before.
“I think I’m experiencing menopausal hot flashes,” I tell her as I take off my puffy coat. “I wake up every night dripping with sweat. But, night sweats are also a symptom of Omicron. So which is it?” I ask, “Covid or Old?” “That’s too difficult to answer.” Sara says, dismayed. “Did you know Covid also causes fog and brain shrinkage?”
“Could this all be over?” I think as I wash my hands in the bathroom sink. And then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It looks like my hair has been dropped in a kiln, crispy and unwashed, a calico patchwork of faded brown dyes and sprouting grays. My crow’s feet have dug in and a bloody dry scab marks the split in my chapped bottom lip. I am wearing my “Grandma Sally’s 75th birthday in Puerto Rico” T-Shirt with “Ride Sally Ride” printed over a photo-shopped image of my eighty-year-old step mother astride a mechanical bull. I mean sure, no one is ever the same person they were two years ago but I was a mess.
“It’s like the entire world got fat together, eating tasteless homemade bread.” Sara agrees. “And Zoom Pilates just hurt my neck. I’m depressed, but honestly that pre-dated Covid. Now, I’m like sad, flaccid, skinny, fat … which by the way is the title of my new memoir. Sad, Flaccid, Skinny, Fat: One Woman’s Journey Through the Pandemic. Covid or Old?”
“I feel like that’s a trick question,” I say.
“You’re right,” Sara says, “don’t answer that, I’ll cry.”
“Ok,” Sara says, snapping out of it. “Do you have friends that have gone completely off the rails? I mean, I’m having an easier time connecting with the Trader Joe’s Guy. My friends have either spent the pandemic completely tone deaf, posting pictures of themselves leaping on a beach or totally shut down. There is no way I knew so many woke paleo-vegans in 2018. Covid or Old?” Sara repeats.
“Long term friendships are complicated. It’s both for sure.” I reassure her.
“OK, Covid or Old? Have you about sleep divorce? I sleep in my son’s room and the boys sleep together in “our” room, snoring away. And at this point, my sexual desire in completely reserved for Netflix characters anyway, preferably with British or Irish or any accent really…”
“Oh, my god, me too!” Sara screams. “Every single one of my sexual fantasies involves what’s-his-name from Bridgerton?”
“You mean, Show me more?” I quote, a line from episode 6, scene 4 of the honeymoon episode called “SWISH.”
“Covid or old?!” Sara declares snapping me out of my 1800’s wormhole. “I’ve lost my sense of play or any enthusiasm for parenting. I might have given birth to my son and breast fed him until he was four, but a combination of Roblox, Teen Titans Go!, and Big Hero Six have been raising him since March 2020.”
“I abstain,” I say, too ashamed to answer.
“ Are leggings supposed to be baggy?” I ask Sara as I pull the multiple pills off my athleisurewear. “Covid or Old? I only want to wear pajama-based clothing so I can get up and walk the dog without having to change. It is the only thing I want to wear for the rest of my life. The security guard in my building, Jose, has stopped calling me ‘Mami’ and has started to call me ‘Onesie.’ Covid or Old?”
“Yeah, you do wear that onesie a lot. Maybe buy one in another color?” Sara suggests, tactfully ignoring the question.
“All right, Covid or Old?” Sara says. “I REALLY want to quit my job and either sell artisanal empanadas online, invest in Bitcoin or buy NFT’s. Although a dozen people have explained NFT’s to me and I STILL have no idea what they are.”
“What I was told by my nephew’s co-worker on Instagram is that owning an NFT is like being married but everyone gets to sleep with your wife.”
“You definitely sound old and I think what you just described is called polyamory.”
As we put on our coats and walk out of the coffee shop,
I sing-speak to Sara: “Covid or Old, Covid or Old?”
“I furnished my mother-in-law’s apartment in September and it opened a well inside me. I keep rearranging the storage closet to accommodate more used furniture from Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. Forget about purging Marie Kondo! More is more! EVERYTHING sparks joy! I found an old lampshade that I’ve become obsessed with and have spent months buying different bases that should make the shade work. I have a recurring dream that I walk into a warehouse and every base I see is better than the next. I’m so overjoyed, I buy all of them and then rotate the lamp base with the shade daily. People talk about following their passions, my bliss leads me directly to the basement of a salvation army.”
“Oh, that’s definitely Covid,” Sara responds without missing a beat.
When we arrive at the subway, we fist-pump-hug-kiss and Sara braves the newly murderous underground world. “Be careful down there!” I yell as she walks away. “Watch out Wordle, here comes Old or COVID,” she yells back, holding up her phone. “Yesterday I did it in two!”