What to Do When You’re Vaccinated but Your True-Blue COVID Companion Is Not?

Contemplating Inoculation and Inosculation

Credit: Cynthia Carbone Ward

Captured on the wildlife camera as we walked along the creekside trail to the well, we looked like we were on holiday, enjoying a hike in light rain, perhaps in England. We are wearing tall rubber boots, each holding an umbrella, and I’m pretty sure I’m laughing. Something about the memory card gives a dreamy pink cast to the umbrellas and a soft glow to our little procession of two.

And it is dream-like, this life we are living. I don’t mean dream-like in the sense of bliss, although there are elements of that. I mean dream-like in that we have become so untethered to any logical framework. Sometimes the anxieties, frustrations, and sadness permeate, and these emerge during sleep as disturbing nightmares with familiar themes. By day, however, the dreaming is of a different sort, drifting along in a state of suspension.

But notice how often I use the pronoun “we.” My husband and I are doing this together, and I’m thankful for that. It has occurred to me that we are together so constantly, we are like two trees, leaning into and entwining about each other until their separate identities are difficult to distinguish. Wikipedia, that source for lazy researchers everywhere, describes inosculation as “a natural phenomenon in which trunks, branches or roots of two trees grow together … referred to in forestry as ‘gemels,’ from the Latin word meaning ‘a pair.’” Maybe he and I are inosculating, which sounds vaguely sexual and graphic, and perhaps there’s a prettier term for it, but I am grateful nonetheless for my companion. And we certainly are a pair. 

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Sometimes all this togetherness erupts into silliness. Other times, we drive each other crazy, and sparks do fly, but our conflicts are so stale and repetitious, it’s hard to get too worked up over them. But one occasion for which I very much wanted to participate in unison was COVID vaccination. The challenges of trying to secure an appointment online are too tedious to describe here, but, somehow, I managed to score. Then, before I could book my partner, I was bumped off the website, and there were no additional appointments available. Don’t worry, the message read, just keep checking back. (New slots will appear at some unknown future date — and try not to be discouraged that the eligibility categories keep expanding while supplies remain scarce or nonexistent.)

But when you get a booking right at your local pharmacy, you go. And there I was, at the CVS, glimpsing other old coots like myself, skulking along with our precious paperwork in hand, masked and slightly jittery, all of us feeling like we won the lottery, but also sort of sheepish about it. There’s nothing logical or fair about it, but folks are doing their best. Some have been more competitive and wildly determined than others, while many of our cohorts are overwhelmed and passive. 

I stood in the line, six feet away from the woman in front of me, who guiltily confessed that she was from San Luis Obispo County. She was friendly enough — turns out she too is a new grandmother, and her kids are in Portland. We muttered through our masks about the absurdity of things, but also acknowledged how lucky we were to be here. She seemed like someone I might be friends with. (Reporting this in-the-queue exchange to my British son-in-law later, he said the sweetest thing: “The trick you’ve perfected is turning the world into a pub, a place that allows for those kinds of serendipitous conversations…” I hope that’s true. Because really, it seems very healthy to find our common ground and chat in such situations.)

Before long, it was actually my turn, and now the deed is done. My second dose is scheduled for a month from now, assuming there is supply on hand. It should be a relief, a jig-dancing delight — all I wanted for my 70th birthday was this vaccine. But it’s inherently confusing, me being vaccinated while my true-blue inosculation companion is not. The joy is greatly diminished. I’m not going anyplace without him anyway. 

When we got back home, he decided to head for the ocean, and I thought I’d go for a hike in case I might be feeling crummy the next day. Our recreational pursuits on such occasions — he as an aquatic being, me strictly terrestrial — are among the primary times when we differentiate and go our separate ways. And I can’t speak for his experience with the surf, but oh, what a walk I had! Picture me, a Woman-Who-Has-Been-Vaccinated, striding into the wind, gazing out at an ocean of silver and white, embraced by the green of the hills. I stopped and listened to a creek rushing by, frogs were singing, and sunlight was pouring down through the leafy branches of trees, making everything sparkle and glint, and I felt high, as I sometimes do. I cannot understand how the world continues to be so beautiful and so gracious. 

Replenished by our separate forays, we returned to this grove we share. The internet isn’t working. His back hurts. I have once again misplaced something, and I’m turning things upside down to find it, and this happens many times each week. We yearn to see our little family in England, but who knows when that can happen? And only one of us scored the vaccine. We look at the little digital cards from the wildlife camera for amusement, hoping to glimpse a fox or a lion, but all we see is ourselves. We lean into one another. 

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