Step by Step

By Susan Estrich

April 10, 2021 5 min read

The Reopening of America — or even of one town or state — is hardly a seamless operation.

The stages make less and less sense. Everything is open, even if everything isn't really supposed to be open for more than a month.

Restaurants and shops, big stores and small, salons and barber shops — almost everything but schools and office buildings, with more and more of both opening up.

Good, yes? Except it is taking place in a time of caution at best and suspicion at worst.

I know everyone in my household is vaccinated, but yours?

And surely not everyone in the elevator is vaccinated!

That's the rub. As much as you try to restrict your worlds — and most of us have for the last year — once you start going out, you end up going out just a little more than you first thought.

The truth is — and we don't want to say this too loudly — if you're fully vaccinated, the reason to wear a mask is because if you don't, the Trump voters who aren't fully vaccinated (50%, actually) likely won't wear a mask either, and they will get our poor friends who would like to be vaccinated but can't sick, and we as a community will suffer for the selfishness of the few.

Or they will get their mothers or fathers or aunts or uncles who are having chemo and can't be vaccinated sick.

Or they will get the kid at the counter who is not old enough to be vaccinated but is old enough to get sick and infect others sick and head off into the night none the wiser.

The further outside your house you go, the further you escape from the tight and protective nets you have surrounded yourself with, and sometimes felt strangulated by.

I run into the grocery store for only slightly more than 15 minutes. At this point, I am so sufficiently starved for shopping stimulation that the array of mustards seem interesting. I have to stop short of trying on face cream at the fancy drug store next door. (Am I crazy to try on face cream while wearing a mask?) So many interesting things!

Of course, both those stores have been open throughout the pandemic, and, as necessary, I have performed the quick dash in, as opposed to the slow dash I now enjoy.

But the stores that have given me comfort over the years are the ones that have required just enough concentration to separate the wheat from the chaff that it's almost impossible to think of anything else. It's meditation in another form. T.J. Maxx on a good day. The old sales at Barneys and Fred Segal. My beloved Filene's Basement. And, of course, the Queen Mother: May Loehmann's rest in peace. It's just as well that it died before the pandemic. I could never have made it a year without the comfort it brought.

The anti-vaxxers don't believe science can save us.

The rest of us are afraid to let up our guard.

People have left town, retired, moved away, gotten divorced or married. All of a sudden, there are sicknesses that we had forgotten about while we were so worried about COVID, diseases of aging but also of youth.

Hard as we have tried to hold on, to keep at bay the things we try to keep at bay as we get older — say, in no order, death, cancer, heart disease, your children blaming you for everything, financial ruin, nursing homes — a year is still a year. It isn't much when you are 24 or 48, but it matters hugely when you are 64 going into the pandemic and 66 coming out of it.

It is the other side of something.

Whether we passed a milestone birthday or not, whether we lost a loved one or not, whether we stayed inside or went to work every day, none of us will come out the same.

Which is why this is so difficult.

You see, I know I am supposed to go to the grocery store and the pharmacy. But as for anyplace else, I'm still not sure.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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