Before

Black and white clipping of a photobooth printout with three girls in fancy gowns wearing funny glasses.

Across the Twittersphere, a trend has emerged regarding the last photo on our phones from when life was normal.

I’ll admit it’s fascinating seeing everyone’s different “normal” whether they’re celebrating their birthday, enjoying a meal with family or relishing in the outfit they wore to the last concert or rave. Its evident that people miss their lives before.

And it makes sense that the overwhelming angst felt across the globe is quickly brushed aside as people fight to go back to those normal moments.

I’m excited for you to get back to your life, I truly am, but I feel a little swept up in The Breakfast Club with Don’t You Forget About Me blasting in the background. Because I already know that you’ll forget like you did before.

You have a normal to go back to. And as I glance through photos long removed from my own phone, I know that I haven’t been apart of your normal for a long time, and this brief period is simply a Saturday Detention.

I tried to think of before. What normal looked like.

My first thought was this photo of me lounging on a bed full of luxurious pillows at my last design job. I remember my hair was done so nicely that day and I’d planned out my outfit and how I’d ask my coworkers to take this silly photo before we opened that day. But that wasn’t normal. That was me hiding behind what I wanted the rest of the world to see. Because that interior designer, happy as can be, didn’t tell the whole story of the constant physical therapy and massage therapy and the bruises still healing on my arms from my infusions a month prior.

That couldn’t have been before.

I tried to think back to earlier in my college career, but I didn’t have all too many photos because between a broken foot, my body shutting down and me looking deathly ill, and almost overdosing in my physics class because I took too much medication on an empty stomach that certainly wasn’t normal. My tightly planned schedule and inability to pull all-nighters because my brain had an off switch at 8:00 PM on the dot, wasn’t normal and it certainly wasn’t just me being organized.

Maybe it was senior year of high school. Spring break I took an incredible trip with a friend up to Wilmington and that was really my last road-trip for fun. I had energy. But I easily push out of my mind how much I was acting. How I painfully pushed through our fancy dinners and outings, because by then the background pain and general discomfort had been normal. Which, isn’t normal.

So I go back further.

Sophomore year, prom with my best friend.

I have to skip Junior year because that started out with a rather untimely hospitalization. I missed the first Packers game of the year and for a good week I was visibly shaky. It’s the first time I can pinpoint my body dehydrating itself and not responding to regular interventions that a healthy person would respond to.

So normal must be before.

My before was when I was 16, standing in a photobooth wearing silly glasses with two incredible women that I looked up to.

Normal was being a sophomore at the Junior and Senior prom.

Normal was a slightly rainy day, where we all went out for barbecue for lunch then spent the rest of the afternoon getting all dolled up, and where we’d dance the night away and sleep like absolute rocks when we were done.

Normal was deciding between skipping 8th period for Mexican food or staying because the boy in the next row was kind of cute.

Normal was late night drives, roller-rinks and Yoohoo! and not having a care in the world.

It’s been a few years… Six if we’re really counting.

And I know that normal isn’t something I’ll be going back to, because no one wants to go back to high school.

There’s a lot of people just like me though, and unlike you, even the new normals we’d created for ourselves aren’t things we can return to when your normal resumes. For months beyond restrictions being loosened and maybe lifted all together, we’ll be a bit behind.

We’re the ones with underlying conditions. We are the high risk individuals that even though the numbers of deaths are in the hundreds of thousands, you continue to justify it because those who primarily died had other conditions. And we won’t return to our “normal” for some time yet, because although you don’t care, we aren’t ready to die yet.

In the coming years, although you’ll forget about us and continue to make us feel disposable, we’ll be welcoming you with open arms. Because recovering from a virus, even as minor as the flu, leaves millions of people with life altering chronic illnesses.

So I have a simple ask.

This time around, don’t forget. Don’t forget about your memories and how these last few months have taught you how to cherish life around you differently.

Don’t forget about the accessibility and accommodations you’ve experienced first hand.

Don’t forget about the injustices and widespread inequalities that left some communities more devastated than others.

Don’t forget about the ways you adapted. The virtual yoga sessions. Virtual watch parties. The opportunities to include friends and family who aren’t nearby in gatherings. The extra phone calls.

Don’t forget about how you’ve felt, alone in your home, with the world around you being closed off. Don’t forget the emotions. Don’t forget the anger. Don’t forget how you felt canceling plans, vacations, concerts.

Graduation.

Because this is my everyday. This is my normal.

And I don’t want to go back to a normal where I’m in this fight alone.

A.


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