“You know that feeling when you first see someone after a major trauma, and they seem to have been entirely rearranged? Don’t be afraid when you see that person in the mirror. Look them calmly in the eye and thank them, honor them as the person who saved your life, and trust that they will become familiar and beloved in time.” — Dalia Shevin, February 21

I recently took a Zoom yoga class through a local adult ed program. All that emphasis on breath; at the end of each class we lay down in Savasana — or corpse pose — flat on a floor you’re fortunate to have, you notice as your stomach expands and as the air leaves your nostrils and throat. Lying down and doing nothing is my favorite hobby, so that worked out great. But did I have even one of those magical breaths where you entirely, completely relax? Of course not. We have spent every moment of the past year with the fevered, earthen and often subconscious awareness that we could kill the people we love just by breathing.

Trump’s departure was a bit of a relief; before that I had been holding my breath hard for four years and before that, since 9/11 and its wars-for-oil, and before that, you know, basically you’re born and shortly after that you realize the world sucks, everything is unfair, and you start holding in your breath, your belly, your emotions, your fire.

A while back, as the vaccine jabs first began being neatly inserted into the world’s shoulders, a friend and I were social-distance hiking and discussing how we might personally transition out of the pandemic. I can’t say either of us really had a plan. Maybe go slowly, one step into socializing, then pull back if it felt like too much. Leave Knox County for 15 minutes? Mostly, trying to be gentle with ourselves.

I drive past restaurants where people have been masticating indoors with other unmasked strangers for months. But lots of other people say they’ve developed agoraphobia, anthropophobia (fear of people, pretty reasonable), and social anxiety “disorder” over the past year. So it’s not just me, then. My cousin said they hope I’ll be part of an outdoor variety show they’re planning for the end of summer in Belfast with: puppets, costumes, dancing, singing, music, theater, poetry and, worst of all, reams of grotesquely cheerful people; I pretty much immediately said no f-ing way. Will I talk to anyone, ever again, in person, besides the workers at the checkout lines I sought out all pandemic for reliably transitory chit-chat? I hope not. Now that I’m seeing my family again, even that’s too much. I lie down, pretend I’m on a fainting couch, and let the arc of their calmly familiar voices sing to me of dogs and boats, people and work.

How will I ease back into breathing again? And should I even be allowed to? It’s important that I stay in solidarity and remember that people of color have literally had to rally around the wail of “I can’t breathe” because children of color in this country have to be taught fear of police, fear of going into stores, and what to do when they are called the N-word at school, all of which happens to sweet little children in midcoast Maine. As we contemplate what it might feel like to breathe again without worrying about killing our neighbor, our mom, or a stranger in Saco, we need to think about where we go from here socially, politically, interpersonally, globally. So many other epidemics — systemic poverty, rape, racism, endless wars ravage on.

On the day we went to Bangor for the first jab, I did feel a lifting, almost an ecstasy, amid the earliest days of summer, a drive in a car with a friend, a yummy Italian sub, and I couldn’t get over how many young people there were, not like here on the old folks’ coast. It was a pilgrimage, a rite of passage, a cultural phenomenon, a particular marker in time and history. And it all came down to the fantastical mundaneness of silver needle through skin.

After the second Pfizer shot I was headachey, weak, 100-degree fever. I felt better for two days, but then trudged through two more feverish days of the “flu.” Awful, but I tried to remember it was for a good cause.

And I’ve cried. I cried after my parents got their first vaccine shots and I realized that soon I wouldn’t have to worry about killing them with my breath.

How do we go to parties again? Restaurants? What will our friendships look like? We’ve gone through sustained, relentless crises, some of us more than others. We will emerge dazed, assess the wreckage, hug what’s broken.