So many of my thoughts begin with this phrase now. Even though each and every word in it means other than what it says on the lip of this blue-dark ledge of the year. We all understand the code leaking out of each letter like flat champagne. We know what we mean, if the future will not.
When in some unknown era but maybe never
This the plague, the sorrow, the suffering, the loneliness, the lies, the fear
Is we cannot know if it ever truly will be but we use the verb of hope just in case
Over we will be able to consistently pretend life has become again what it once was
When this is over I will see you again.
When this is over we will stand so close together, in a crowded room, and there will be colored lights and colored sounds and you will laugh at something I didn’t quite hear, and you will lean close to say it over again, our faces so close only shadows fit between.
When this is over we will get on a silver machine that can fly through the air, and we will sit for hours in uncomfortable seats watching terrible movies and eating food unfit for raccoons, our shoulders touching the whole time, and when we land we will be somewhere else, somewhere far from our own four walls, somewhere so interesting we will mostly forget that we flew through the wind like seagulls and wanted briefly for nothing.
When this is over we will sit down in a place with candles and eat food we didn’t have to make and whose remainders we will not have to clean, and it will all taste so good and familiar we will be overcome, except to say wasn’t it all so awful, didn’t it seem like it would never end.
When this is over I will hold you again.
When this is over we will meet in a convention, in a line waiting to get into a grand hall with dixie cups full of cheap wine, where people will ask the same questions over and over, but they will be such precious questions then, where do you get your ideas and what advice do you have for young artists and we will ask or answer them with such gratitude, yes, even if they are more comments than questions, even then.
When this is over we will go to the sea and look out and think of something other than death and the opposite of hope.
When this is over we will go to our families’ doors and oh my sweet lord, maybe we won’t even knock, maybe we’ll just go inside and laugh and eat and cook and watch the game or play the game or dance under the lights still strung up from Christmas and we will hug our parents without fear and let the little ones climb all over us and herd the dogs out onto the lawn without leashes and dress up extra nice for dinner because, it turns out, dinner was a jewel we couldn’t even see shining until it was gone.
When this is over we will get married, and we will get divorced, and we will graduate, we will blow out candles on our birthday cakes without worrying where the droplets will land and what they contain, we will have barbecues and we will go to the park, we will set off fireworks and go trick or treating and say hey maybe we should do something different for Thanksgiving this year, maybe a curry or sushi, and then just make turkey again, we will have funerals and we will have wakes and when we do all these things, we will hold hands, and we will put our arms around one neck after the other, we will cry together and we will dance so close, and we will offer our friends a bite off our own plate and accept one from theirs, we will sing and we will kiss and we will breathe.
When this is over we will go to school and we will be irritated at having to sit in a classroom when it’s nice outside or swing by our lockers a million times a day or go on yet another field trip to the goddamned museum. We will gossip in the halls and cry over someone who doesn’t love us back and get excited or give no fucks about the spring dance and do all the work for the group project when fucking Evan did nothing and got the same grade and cram for garbage standardized tests and go to a pep rally only like four of us care about and it will taste, for a moment, better than the most golden honey any of us has known.
When this is over we will bring our babies to visit other people’s babies, go to playgrounds together and aquariums and zoos and amusement parks with other parents we barely know and to be honest, barely like, but our kids love each other and socialization is important, so we put up with Emma who sucks so much and we reach up toward the giraffes while the little ones giggle and wave their chubby hands in the wild and boisterous air.
When this is over I will kiss your cheek just to say hello.
When this is over we will go to the movies and sit in the shadows with a hundred strangers and the plots will be paper-thin and the sound design will blow out our nervous systems and the popcorn will cost too much and the drinks will be mostly flat and the hot dogs will have been on that roller thingy since sometime in the late Cretaceous period. When the scary part comes I will hide my face in your shoulder and when the main character embarrasses themselves so piercingly you can’t bear to witness it, you will hide your face in mine, and when it’s over everyone will clap like they used to even if it wasn’t actually that good because it was good, it was good to be together in the dark with a story and not think about what price we might pay for it later.
When this is over some of us will be gone. We won’t be there for dinner, or the spring dance, or the next dumb Marvel movie, or the half-burnt out Christmas lights, or the Thanksgiving sushi, or the dogs running after each other on the long grass at the cookout. We won’t taste the wine, we won’t know what our cousins named their babies, we won’t know how beautiful our children looked in their wedding clothes or how hideous our parents new couch really and truly is, we won’t see the hot new summer flicks, we won’t have opinions on politics or a chance to be disappointed with getting socks for our birthdays again. We will just be gone, and what we lost will never be paid back.
When this is over I will come whenever you are sick and take care of you and I won’t even complain once, not even if you throw up all over me.
When this is over we will go on dates, real live dates with people we’ve never met before, and they will be hilariously terrible and egregiously offputting and occasionally the loves of our lives, and we will call our friends to tell them everything and try again next week with the eyeliner and the good shoes and the new restaurant and the carefully selected geek reference graphic tee and the swiping and the introductions and the house wine at happy hour.
When this is over, hours will be happy again.
When this is over we will tell jokes about it all, and then say too soon? and double over laughing at that, too. We’ll imitate the President’s voice and suggest injecting bleach and sunshine if one of us has a cold and it will all be okay because it was so long ago and it doesn’t matter now at all.
When this is over we will walk through downtown and watch the For Lease signs melt away, one by one, like snow in April. We will speculate wildly about what is moving into the little spot where that one bistro used to be, and stand in the cold wind in front of a bookstore that isn’t coming back and remember every single thing we ever bought there. We will cheer like football fans for the names we know coming back in new locations and tell everyone for a decade to turn left at the ghost of a bakery that we refuse to accept is gone. And when the sky bursts suddenly and rain drenches us, we will duck into some bar, laughing, shaking our hair out like golden retrievers, not even thinking about whether it’s safe, and belly up to a bar where a stranger is telling stories about their beautiful mother and how she loved stormy days like this. And the stranger will stop, their throat too thick to say more, and we will buy them a drink and tell them it’s all right somehow and the clouds will slide apart and let the blue in again.
When this is over we will never write or read about the apocalypse the same way again. We will tell different stories about the end, kinder and crueller and more full of failure and sourdough starters and less optimistic about the insides of people. Our zombie bug-out bags will not be what they were, and they will not really be a joke, and they will contain flour.
When this is over I will tell you how I really feel, how I’ve always felt.
When this is over we will tell stories of how it was, to our friends and our children and our families from out of town, to the news and the graduate students and the podcasters. We will forget details, what happened when, in what order. The eye-reading skills we had to learn that year when we couldn’t see faces. We will get it all mixed up and laugh uncontrollably about toilet paper and whether the bush fires really happened the same damned year as all the rest. It will fade, and we will have to work to recall it for the bright-eyed young thing in front of us who is too young to remember.
When this is over we will go to New York or London or some little civic auditorium down the block from a Five Guys and pay too much to see a show, a real live play or stand-up comic or musical or concert or confrontational performance art piece and we will sit so close we can see the sweat on the actors’ or musicians’ or both’s faces and even at the big heartbreaker scene we will notice their eyes shining so bright because they’re working again and this show is booked in for the next six weeks at least and when it’s over every show will get a standing ovation and roses thrown at the stage and the curtain call will be so full of such smiles we’ll be physically knocked back into our seats and then up again and clapping and whistling in a closed room with bad ventilation and not one, not one of us will care.
When this is over social media will be wall-to-wall artful photographs of lunches and babies and jokes about dogs.
When this is over we will keep making bread.
When this is over we will go to terrible dive bars and sing awful karaoke into a mic someone else just used and dance and yell over the deafening din for another drink and the bartender will be kind of cute and the music will be deeply dubious and maybe, just maybe, we won’t even wash our hands when we get home and climb into comfy PJs.
When this is over we will be frightened and stressed out and make mistakes and get distracted by the usual things, and it won’t even be very long before we forget how sweet the over was while we had it, because that’s how time and mortal beings work and that’s all right, it’s all right, because it means we survived.
When this is over people will stand up and rub their eyes like they’ve had the most awful dream and forget the madness and cruel magic they believed in just a moment ago, they will stretch and laugh nervously and ask if anyone wants to go for a walk or grab a coffee or just drive around for a little while and talk.
When this is over some of us will have nothing left, and it won’t matter because we will fucking well help each other like we were supposed to all along, we will be better, we will be more understanding, we will unclench and reach out and fix it like the end of a heartwarming dramedy, we will do the right thing and we will stretch out our arms to shield those who fell because so many forgot how to do that, but forgetting doesn’t mean it isn’t still there somewhere; everything forgotten can be remembered.
When this is over I will be better, too.
When this is over the police will be kind, and politicians will be loving, and suburbanites will be generous, and Karens will be caught on camera showing strangers who look nothing like them where to find the rarest finches and plovers and parking spots and good jobs hiring right now with no experience and the best places to protest so the manager always hears you and it will happen so often people will forget Karen ever meant anything but a stand-up lady. Conspiracy theorists will host tiny Pride parades for the gay frogs and the letter Q will stand only for Star Trek icons and every Saturday we will all dance together in the streets for five minutes after noon just because and Firefly will get a reboot and all our medical bills will fade away like tears in the rain and the icebergs will come back and the polar bears will throw the biggest rave you ever saw (which the UV glowlight marsupials will cross the sea en masse to attend) and everyone’s pronouns will be used correctly and Britain will rejoin the EU and everyone’s dreams will be greenlighted and everyone who comes out will be welcomed in and that pothole we all hate will get filled and colleges will just forget to bill anyone and voices crushed will be heard and everyone’s green cards will glow like Emerald City and somehow that little bistro will have survived after all and the fireworks, oh god, when this is over the fireworks will never end, every night like flowers in the sky, like the flowers at hospital bedsides and at weddings and on graves and growing wild where no one walked for eighteen months, flowers of light and energy bursting in the dark to light our way home through the great and grateful world.
But when this is over I will see you again. That much is certain. That much is enough. When this is over I will reach out and hold your hand while we watch the sun set and listen to the chattering, laughing people everywhere, all around us, our hands warm and alive and very well-washed.
When this is over, we will be together.
When this is over, we will hug like we invented it.
Call me when this is over. Meet me on the hill. By the swingset or the merry go round or the old factory. You’ll know me by my whole face, unhidden, unshrouded, smiling, and crying, but smiling still, waiting for you after all this time.
For all of us.