Saturday, June 5
Confirmed Global Cases:173,323,917
Confirmed Global Deaths:3,727,528
Confirmed US Cases:34,192,023
Confirmed US Deaths: 612,240
We have made great strides in our quest for normalcy during the six months since I last wrote. I signed off on New Year’s Eve with the trajectory trending upward, and it never slowed for a moment. While residual effects will linger for years, it feels appropriate to say that we have finally emerged victorious over this dastardly virus 12 months after its birth. We have free and relatively simple access to several reliable vaccines. Crowds are returning to public spaces at a marginal rate, masks are transitioning to an optional safety measure for vaccinated people, and hugs are back on the menu. As summer dawns and schools lock up for break, it feels as though this may be the biggest “breakthrough” moment that we have felt throughout this entire pandemic. Safe to say, spirits are up, and not for no good reason.
Though my last entry was intended to mark my final page, I always felt it would be appropriate to report back with an update after my COVID vaccine. Combined with a few other monumental personal accomplishments, this afterward should make for a nice reflection on this diligent project.
Though vaccinations have been quite polarizing in this country, a significant percentage of people have been willing to submit to the vaccination process with the hope of returning to pre-pandemic normalcy as soon as possible. There have been a few hiccups along the way – most notably mild to severe temporary side effects and six deaths attributed to blood clots from the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccination. For the most part, though, vaccine distribution has across the nation been nothing shy of impressive and commendable. By now, if you want a vaccine, you can get one at the rare American price of $0.00 USD.
Being a teacher, I was first in line to receive the earliest public vaccinations not being distributed to front-line workers. My first dose of the Moderna vaccine came on February 17th. Like many, I experience some pretty significant arm pain similar to a severe Tetnis shot. It was uncomfortable to lift my arm above my head for about a day, and the dull bruising pain lingered for a couple of days. I went to bed early the night of the vaccine, but otherwise a pretty harmless experience.
The second dose? Not so similar.
I received my second and final dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 18th, which poetically coincided with the anniversary of COVID-19. The second dose floored me. I woke up around 3:00 am Friday with severe chills. I awoke with the strangest body pain and muscle fatigue – like I had spent the entire day prior crashing on water skis or playing tackle football. I drug myself to school where I “taught” my first two classes before taking the rest of the day off, and thank God I did. I crashed into a feverish two-hour nap before waking up to a 101 degree fever that lasted a few hours. It was the most physically miserable I had felt since an encounter with pneumonia over a decade ago. At about 6:00 on Friday night and after a few swigs of the most crucial Gatorade I have ever consumed, the fever broke so suddenly that I felt completely fine over a stretch of a few minutes. Overall not a fun experience, but an interesting bodily experiment with bizarre side effects that subsided as suddenly as they spawned.
I should note (especially for those who have yet to receive the vaccine) that only a small percentage of people experience side effects as severe as the ones that I had the ill-fortune to encounter. Most vaccine symptoms have ranged from a mild headache to slight fatigue to no side effects at all. I suppose in some way I brought these severe symptoms upon myself. Had I not experienced them, then I guess there wouldn’t have been much to write about.
It will take a long time (likely in the range of years to eternity) for enough of the population to submit to vaccinations in order to eradicate this virus entirely through herd immunity. However, I find our current trajectory to be quite positive, even more so than my infinitely optimistic nature would have predicted six months ago during my previous entry. As you can hopefully deduce, things are looking up around here, and they will hopefully continue to do so just as they will throughout the rest of the news in this journal encore.
Before writing this entry, I reread my previous pages and couldn’t believe how badly my sour predictions had aged. I noted that while the hybrid schooling system worked well enough to finish the year in that format, I never expected any contact sports to resume before summer. To the contrary, most schools converted back to full in-person learning following spring break, giving teachers and students over two months of classroom time in a more familiar and traditional environment. I was able to experience the pleasure of teaching to a full, buzzing classroom of rambunctious on-site learners for the first time in my professional teaching career. Most days, as I often told my freshmen, I didn’t know what I wanted to do more – jump out the window or throw them out of it. Jokes aside, I truly could not have loved and enjoyed the craft of the teaching profession more than I did in those last two months of the school year. I would like to loft into the ether my limitless appreciation for my wonderful students and courageous administrators, all of whom worked so hard to make this past school year a productive and meaningful experience for all parties involved. I could not have been more impressed with the inspiring school-wide tenacity on display in every hallway, at every desk, and around every corner of the building. I think in some ways this pandemic has had a distinct knack for bringing people together even closer than we had been before.
Additionally, we played out a “full” sports season for every high school sport, including football, basketball, baseball, track, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, and so on. All athletes wore masks while actively participating in practice and in games. The seasons were mostly short – 6 games for our football season and 8 games for our basketball season, each with no playoffs or any type of postseason mostly due to time constraints involved with fitting 3 sports seasons into the spring. There were bumps and bruises along the way, with strict quarantine rules still in effect for any mild (even improbable) exposure to an athlete who tested positive for COVID-19. Several sports teams, including our own, suffered at the hands of multiple team-wide two-week quarantines, yet we were thankful for the opportunity to play, bond, and persevere together. We coaches like to brag about how much sports teach us about life. This year, more than ever, we learned a hell of a lot about grit, gratitude, and a hyper-appreciation for the person standing next to you. I’m so proud of the tremendous young men that I got to experience this with.
Words simply escape my fingers when trying to type a description of this surreal night. Though Alex and I had already been married for a year, our “vow renewal” and wedding reception on our one-year anniversary was a night to remember for a lifetime for anyone who attended. The venue was beautiful, our caterers were flawless, our photographer was as professional as they come, and our love for one another as passionate as it had ever been. The entire evening had a relaxed and loose aura about it, like breathing the words “we made it” into physical existence. The guest capacity was lifted from 50 to 70 in the final weeks of preparation, which truly made a world of difference to us. Our friends and family showed up in the most emphatic way possible, and as our brother and friend, Corp, says, they might needed to make some repairs to the dance floor after we got through with it. We lifted, Paulie, to “Shout,” a tradition born at our initial backyard wedding. Alex stood on a table and played an inflatable guitar to You Shook Me All Night Long, we did “the move” dubbed by Dirty Dancing, and I cried as I looked around at the circle of all our loving and supportive friends and family members as Piano Man played the final note of the evening. Even while writing this, I restrain watery eyes just thinking about the amount of unconditional compassion and empathy we received in this trying year of love, marriage, and wedding(s).
As I reflect on our unusual wedding experience, I can’t help but feel hesitantly grateful for the opportunity to experience everything this past year had to offer with my lovely wife and family. We had the chance to host two incredible weddings, one with our 15 closest family and friends and another with all of our extended loved ones. The first week of marriage prompted us with a greater test than some spouses are forced to experience in their lifetime, and we battled through it with a poise, grace, patience, and confidence that I will full-heartedly take with me to my grave. I couldn’t be more proud of my wife, myself, my family, and my marriage as we eclipse the anniversary of the hardest year economically but the easiest romantically. I love you to pieces, Al. You are simply the best.
Though it was the furthest thing from a relaxed and enjoyable experience, Al and I were persistent, cautious, stubborn, and lucky enough to land our absolute dream home in Saint Charles, IL. To say it was a “seller’s market” would be a gross understatement. Most houses sold in 24-72 hours, and almost all went $10,000 – $20,000 over an already inflated asking price. It took 16 tours and 4 offers (not bad, comparatively) for us to receive an acceptance on a beautiful two-story home complete with a finished basement and a luscious backyard filled with plants, flowers, greenery, and landscaping. Today marks one month living in our first house together. Some days it still feels like we’re renting a vacation home, while others feel as though we have spent a lifetime together under that roof.
We hosted an all-time housewarming party on Memorial Day weekend with over 15 of our closest friends visiting for good food, many drinks, yard games, and lots of music. Each and every one of them offered a sincere and familiar compliment. “We absolutely love your house.” I told them all the same thing. “We love it, too.”
Here is the fun part where I get to tell you that I am composing this writing from the clouds. Currently, I am sitting in seating 31D on a Boeing 737 en route to Phoenix, AZ where we will board our connecting flight to tropical Lihue, Hawaii. Alex and I are so undeniably lucky and blessed to be offered accommodations to make a dreamlike two-week Hawaiian honeymoon a realistic possibility. We’ll be staying on the scenic island of Kauai for one full week before heading to a vacation village on the Big Island for another full week. Excursions include surf lessons, night snorkeling with the manta rays, a sunset catamaran steak and lobster cruise, and of course, a luau. We were too excited to keep it all to ourselves, so we even invited my brother, Blake, and his wife, Blayne, along with us to enjoy what should be the most memorable vacation of our lives! We know that “Ohana” means family, and family means no one gets left behind!
I hope to journal and photograph the trip to share with loved ones and perhaps compose another artifact not dissimilar from this one to look back on from time to time. However, those pages will be stored in another place as this COVID Journal Encore does likely contain the project’s final keystroke. I will return to this journal if another COVID-related topic seems pressing – when the third arms start to grow or the brainwashing microchips kick in, perhaps. But my hope is that the final curtain will fall on this journal with the positive sign-off that things are looking up, and that is all that will need to be said as we continue progressing forward, appreciating all that we’ve come to learn, love, and appreciate over this treacherous, dramatic, memorable 12 months.
Thank you for joining me on this journey, and cheers to happier days ahead! Aloha!
June 5, 2021
From 36,000 ft. in the air