n late spring — April, to be precise — a group of us gathered at the Florida beach house of a married couple, mutual friends of ours. We were celebrating. We had all been fully vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus whose spread had all but set the world ablaze for more than a year, killing millions and turning the world as we knew it upside down .
It was the first time we’d had a mass gathering like this since the pandemic hit the United States in early 2020.
Call it the Post-Vaccine Big Chill Blowout weekend. It fell on the one-year anniversary of Florida’s decision to lift a month-long anti-infection lockdown. Make no mistake: COVID, hit Florida (a state filled with retirees seeking warm-weather) hard.
When I consider the mood at our April party and look at the situation now it seems as though to exist in parallel realities.
Who among us in April knew that the heralded vaccines (name a brand, any brand) were anything but a guaranteed fix, and that while the ballyhooed RNA cocktail was no more than a useful but far from foolproof shield against the devious inner workings of COVID-19? We were April fools.
At the same time, our joy was understandable.
It had been more than a year since we’d begun to don masks and gone into isolation, and more than a year since most of us had seen each other face-to-face, let alone banded together in a large group. Mask-less, no less.
I’d known most of the participants in our celebration for most of my adult life. So, coincidentally, had my girlfriend, proof of how overlapping friendships can go unnoticed until times of crisis. She knew some from an internet dating site, no less.
Our group was a mixed bag. Two newspaper reporters, a freelance magazine writer and artist, two novelists, a teacher, a social worker, an accountant for an environmental agency, and a lawyer who worked in state government.
We arrived stiff and grumpy after the three-hour drive from Tallahassee to Atlantic Beach. Our hosts, a married couple, got us out of our travel funk with a warm welcome.
The two-story beach house had been in his family for decades but its current occupants, also family, were away for the weekend, which made it available for our get-together.
By the time we’d settled into our room and returned downstairs, most of the guests had arrived. It wasn’t all smooth going. I saw a one-time friend I’d had a tiff with years ago after visiting his daughter in Paris years ago.
That tension had sprung up from a comment I made about Bunny’s mother, who cooked gourmet meals for guests while serving mac and cheese to her kids in their rooms. Ironically, Bunny, maybe tired of mac and cheese, would decide to take Paris cooking classes to she could match if not surpass her mother’s skills. Time flies; people change.
Still, the legacy of the Bunny encounter weighed on the room, the bygone lingering.
Bottom lime, nothing can mend a fractured friendship like a weekend of great food and booze.
I mention all this because we were a little like kids who’d been stuck in their rooms for a year.
On the first night, our hosts made an Italian meal of sausages, eggplant parmesan, salad, and assorted side dishes. Since the last couple had yet to arrive, that meal was preceded by a fish dip I’d picked up from a small seafood joint in an obscure coastal town called Panacea.
Wine flowing amply, we sat around a huge wooden table on the patio, the ocean breeze keeping us cool and comfy. Liberated, we talked, joked and laughed late into the night.
The next day we walked and talked some more, the beach our magic carpet. We visited an apartment, whose walls were lined with paintings by Mrs. Host.
The conversation turned to editing, freelancing, and journalism.
Suffice to say, this is not a golden age for magazine freelancing. Still, though the volume of available work is down, it’s still out there.
Our host husband, ever the organizer, decided it was time for all of us to take to the icy Atlantic, which we did (briefly) before making for the pool and hot tub.
Scrabble followed, and since we couldn’t get a reservation at a local seafood place, we cobbled together leftovers from the night before.
The next night came an all-night dance party, and watching my friends levitating like ballroom shamans, seemed to chase away a year’s worth of sour tidings, replacing doubt with hope. Inside, I thanked my friends for having pulled this off. The togetherness made us all feel a little less oppressed.
The next day we all gathered in the kitchen for one last meal and some coffee. One by one we gathered our gear and said our good byes.
Four months ago, for all the reasons mentioned here, a sense of optimism came over us for the first time since the virus hit.
Now, the Delta variant has stripped us of the little hope we’d managed to piece together. We’re being forced to recalibrate our expectations. Wearing masks in public places. That magic word, vaccine, doesn’t meant what it did in April.
That said, I’m not here to put a damper on things. Instead, I’m here to say that for one brief and shining moment, we felt lighter than air. And I’d like to think, however long it takes, the virus will in the end recede, and that feeling of collective joy, one we all need and treasure, will come back.