It might be too soon to say this, since we’re somewhere in the middle. But I’m struck by remembering that afternoon a few weeks ago when I pulled my suitcase four miles across town.
The world had changed for me in the previous 48 hours. 48 hours before, I had been willing to ride the metro, to get in a cab, to go to work, to see a friend. Now I was not.
And as I walked, I was aware that I was seeing things happening for the last time in a while. Did everyone else know?
How often is it, after all, that you know it’s the last time? Most things change so subtly, and those that change fast often do so without warning. We are living in that strange aberration now: a quick change we saw coming as it rode us down.
That afternoon was the last time, for a while, that I saw groups of kids meandering home from school in clusters on the sidewalk sharing bags of corner-store chips with unwashed hands.
It was the last time, for a while, that I saw people sitting at communal tables sipping beers on the patio of the Wonderland Ballroom. It was the first day people had been able to sit outdoors after work in the warm and sunlit evening, and it was the last. For a while.
It was the last time, for a while, that strangers hugged haltingly at the doorway to a restaurant, recognizing each other from their photos on the apps, and one held the door for the other, who ducked inside quickly, and they got a table together, feeling each other out, nervous and exhilarated, from two feet away.
(I wonder what they’re doing now. Are they dating via FaceTime? Did they take an insane plunge and isolate together? Has that little connection fizzled and died in the midst of it all?)
It was the last time, for a while, that women emerged sweating and ethereal from a hot yoga class, slinging their mats across their backs like a quiver of arrows, waiting for the bus home.
It was the last time, for a while, for browsing clothing stores, brushing with a lazy hand the soft fabric hanging from the rack, until the shop worker drew close and asked if they could help.
It was the last time, for a while, for strolls on sidewalks with strangers weaving close coming the other way.
The last time church bells summoned people into open doors after work.
The last time, but only for a while.