Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in more than a year: I met people at a restaurant. I’ve been looking forward to this for two weeks, since my friend, sister, and I planned it.
Just talking with people I love.
But after so long of not seeing anyone or doing anything, it was…
well, I don’t really have a word for how it felt.
I was seeing faces. I was hearing their voices, learning new stories. Laughing. Tearing up. All over a meal.
We admired bracelets. We brought gifts. We exchanged books. We showed each other photos.
We were together, and I was renewed. Enlivened. Happy in a specific way that involves being loved by someone who has known you for a long time, who knows the shorthand for all the stories, who you can be yourself with. Who you absolutely adore and who has saved you more times than she knows.
But after we finished, after we’d hugged and said our goodbyes, I slowly filled up with…sadness.
Not a darkness, really. Nothing sharp. Just a gentle, persistent ache. And when I got home, I curled up in bed, had a long cry, and took a nap.
I am an introvert. And, throughout my adult life, I’ve had some experiences that have brought me to a choice of withdrawing. I love and value my friends, the real ones, but I have a hard time with casual friendships. In most social situations, I keep my shields up.
I’ve made this little world for myself, where I have my family and my close friends, my running and hiking, my flowers. I spend most of my time writing, crafting, quilting, or reading. Part of my shield is telling myself I don’t need people. I am happy in my own miniscule universe.
But deep down I know: I do need people. Even if I don’t need a whole squad like others have, I need my people. To see and be seen, to tell stories and to listen to them.
I think the sadness came from knowing how long I just put my head down and didn’t have any interactions like yesterday. I survived and I was fine and I could continue surviving and being fine. But I also didn’t have that specific happiness of being with people I love. So the sadness is kind of a retroactive one, I think. For the hugs we didn’t give each other, for all the days we didn’t see anyone else’s face. For all the times we could’ve used a living, breathing person across the table from us, listening or speaking, but we couldn’t.
For the way we all carried on on our own.
There will be other days. There will be more lunches. We will go shopping or hiking or to the bookstore with our friends. But the blank spaces of last year: we cannot get those experiences back. And we are changed. Some relationships won’t ever be the same. We lost many things during the pandemic in addition to the actual lives that are gone.
Those lost things require—deserve—to be acknowledged and mourned for.