Long Story Short: A Long Time Coming

Illustration by Jose Santana Firpo

It was two months into the pandemic shutdown, and, like the rest of the world, we had hardly left our house. Obedient to the whims of the WHO, we hunkered down and bought local takeout food and played Monopoly and binge-watched Netflix. We believed it would be all over soon. We canceled summer plans. We stockpiled toilet paper. We lost our way.

Then, with the last fight left in us, a friend and I rented a condo in Florida in a desperate attempt at a weekend vacation with our two teenage girls. But Florida had shut down its borders to the outside world. We rented the condo for dirt cheap, of course, because no one could get in to rent it. Police were stationed at the Alabama-Florida line welcome center, flagging down cars with out-of-state licenses, detaining them for hours then sending them straight back home. We knew this when we drove out of Baton Rouge.

We considered taking back roads. Two-lane highways to cross the borders in small, one-light towns with no fanfare, no state-crossing signs and no cops. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and we didn’t want to waste beach time on the back roads. We were hauling it straight over the line and hoping for a miracle. 

Two years ago, a miracle happened. We crossed a sunny Mobile Bay and saw dark skies ahead. The wind picked up. We passed the last exits off the interstate that would take us to Alabama beach towns, and I put the pedal to the metal, driving straight into a crashing thunderstorm—the kind that causes weaker drivers to flash their hazards and head for the shoulder. Not us. We glanced at each other with hope. As we reached the Florida welcome station, police were bracing against the slanting rain while picking up orange cones that separated the outsiders from the Florida residents. In that tropical deluge, no one could see my Louisiana license plate. We made it across the border with only white, sandy beaches and Bellinis in mind.

Today, it is finally easier to escape. We think. After two years of being detained, my mother and her sister are finally going on a European river cruise that they have booked and rebooked over and over again. My family is also headed to Europe, celebrating my in-laws’ 55 years of marriage with now-maskless flights over the pond. The return flights home will demand retesting and reswabbing for reentry, but it is worth it for the chance to travel. To celebrate life instead of merely preserving it.

Preserving life is essential, and we humans have become quite good at it. We have experts who report on the weather, so we don’t get caught out in it. We have medical professionals who save lives and law enforcement who protect lives and the education community who enhance lives. We are living longer with a greater quality of life than humans have ever known. But we’ve been living in a bubble.

Finally, it’s time to emerge. And I hope we can do it in a civilized way that would make the medical professionals, the law enforcement officers and the educators in our past proud. That we were worth preserving. But I doubt it. Like a teenager who was given too many restrictions then goes hog wild at the first sight of freedom, there are many of us who will come out of this pandemic like a streaker at a football game on national TV. Arms in the air. Hey look, Mom, I made it.

My plan is to keep my eyes on Greece and my clothing intact. But I might go running and screaming with my hands in the air when I finally land and see the water of the Mediterranean. It’s been a long time coming. Hauling it straight over the line and hoping for a miracle.