The Tender Time
Why wouldn’t there be geese? After all, it’s nesting season here in Ohio. I’m sitting with my wife Cathy in the parking lot at the Franklin County Board of Elections, waiting for my appointed time to go inside and receive my second dose of the Moderna vaccine, when a pair of Canada geese waddle by. They hop up on the sidewalk and keep going. Cathy points to the flat roof of the building where the heads of four other geese are visible. One goose comes perilously close to the edge.
“Don’t jump,” Cathy says with a laugh. “It’s not worth it.”
Canada geese mate for life, and there’s something about such fidelity that seems like a blessing on this day toward the end of March. Cathy and I are in a celebratory mood because later in the day, she’ll get her second dose of Pfizer at another site, and though we know this pandemic isn’t anywhere close to being over and we’ll still have to take precautions, we sense a turning of a corner. After a year of near seclusion, we feel hope.
From time to time, the doors swing open at the end of the building, and people, now vaccinated, come out. All manner of people. All colors. The old and the not so old. The poor and the not so poor. This is the gathering place for us all. No matter who we are, we come for the vaccine that points us toward the future.
I take particular note of the couples. A tall man with white hair and slumped shoulders rests his hand on the hand of the woman shuffling along beside him with her walker. A well-dressed man and woman come out, and they, too are holding hands. A squat man in a hoodie and sweatpants, touches the elbow of his partner. This is the tender time, that time between before and after. In the hours to come, arms may be sore, fevers may rise, chills may come, muscles may ache, but for now none of that has happened. The pinch of a needle, a wait of fifteen minutes to make sure there’s no serious reaction, and then everyone is on their way. They touch each other as if to say, “We’re still here.” They touch to say, “Whatever we have to go through, I’m thankful to be going through it with you.”
When I was growing up, my reserved Midwestern family was never one for displays of affection. We knew we loved one another because we worked hard to provide, we were fiercely protective, and we laughed long and loud in our moments of joy. I don’t recall my father or mother ever hugging me. Our most intimate moments were when I would lie next to my father on Sunday afternoons while he napped with a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game on the radio, or when my mother would tell me to hold still while she moistened a hanky with her saliva and slipped an arm around my waist and scrubbed dirt from my face. As an adult, I inwardly cringed when people offered me a hug, or, god forbid, a kiss on the cheek, in social situations. I had to learn to be a hugger, but now, this is what I’ve missed the most during this pandemic—the embrace of friends and neighbors and colleagues, the pressing together of bodies that reminds us of all we try to hold onto while knowing, in the end, our time is short.
We are all one. This is what I’m thinking as I watch the pairs of geese and the couples coming out of the building. We are all imperfect and vulnerable and made up of the same irrepressible hope for a new season.
When it’s my turn to walk out those doors, I see Cathy in the car clapping her hands. Later, when she comes to me after her second dose, I’ll do the same.
“We did it,” she’ll say.
I’ll touch her hand. I’ll drive us home.
Copyright © 2021 Lee Martin
Lee Martin is the author of six novels, including The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and the recently released, Yours, Jean. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University.