What’s your last name?
C-O-O-M as in Mary – B as in Boy – S as in Sam. Coombs.
That’s a weird name…
Yesterday, I drove into Boston for my first Covid-19 shot at the Hynes Convention Center. As someone who’s stayed pretty isolated this past year, I was relieved and thankful to finally take this step. But as someone whose anxiety stayed pretty high this past year, I was also fixated on negative outcomes – specifically, the potential side effects that I’ve been reading about with a little more interest than is healthy.
After months of worrying about being sick, I was terrified at the thought of actually feeling sick. I was afraid of having an allergic reaction despite not being allergic to anything. I was afraid of the pain of the shot itself. I was afraid of getting to my appointment late. I was afraid of parking my oversized car in an undersized parking garage. I was afraid of catching Covid getting my Covid shot. I was afraid of anything and everything, not unlike how I’ve felt since early 2020.
What do you do?
I’m a writer.
Are you any good at it?
I hope so?
That’s not a very confident answer.
What can I say… I’m an insecure artist?
Unlike the visit to Gillette Stadium with my mom a few months ago for her shot, the immaculate facility staffed with gentle and polite volunteers and Instagram-worthy photo opportunities, the aging Hynes is staffed overwhelmingly by military and is somehow both cavernous and claustrophobia inducing. There were lots of men (and some women) in camouflage who were good at pointing, ordering people around, and avoiding eye contact with perfect posture. It could best be described as authoritative herding.
Making my way into the vaccination room – a space I’d last been in 2019 for Anime Boston – I was directed to slot E5, a small table separated from dozens of others, each staffed by a young person in fatigues. Unlike my mom’s older and soft-spoken vaccine provider, I had a young guy with a NAVY patch on his breast, wearing what can only be described as Elvis-style gold rimmed glasses under his clear goggles and who had barely looked up before pointing to a chair for me to sit.
What do you write? Books?
Some local journalism and essays.
Does it pay well?
No. Definitely not.
But is it your dream? That’s all that matters, right?
Sure. That’s a good way to look at it.
Like I really give a shit…
There was no gentle pinching of the skin. No prep. No nothing. Or at least I don’t think there was. One minute I was being interviewed and the next he barely leaned over before stabbing my upper arm. Or at least it felt like he did. In truth, I was so distracted by our awkward conversation that I had a superficial awareness of everything else that had happened.
You’re a bleeder.
I guess so, I said nervously, looking down at thick red streaks of blood running down my arm.
He grabbed a piece of gauze and wiped my arm before asking me to hold it while he got a bandaid.
Okay, go to the observation area. You’re done when it’s 10:10.
I was assigned Pod 9 where I sat in a small chair, 6 feet apart from others, and made my follow-up vaccine appointment, prompted by emails, messages, video screens, and wandering safety monitors. When I finished and made my way back to the parking garage, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unsettling the whole experience had been: The empty Convention Center but for the military and vaccine seekers. The soldiers injecting arm after arm for who knows how long. The buckets of used needles steadily filling up at their sides. The arrows on the floor, the lines, the signage, the mood. All of it surreal. Dystopian. Apocalyptic. More disturbing than emotional.
But nothing replayed in my mind quite like the conversation that surrounded my shot. How I’d been completely thrown off by his questions and comments. Offended slightly and also amused. Appreciative and annoyed. To be so close to a total stranger after so long, particularly one who was doing his part to save lives and also kind of being an asshole. And then I thought about how we sometimes get exactly what we need without even knowing it. My mom had needed an older woman gently explaining what she was going to do to her. Reassuring her all the while that she’d be fine. Me? I needed some young guy to interrogate me into distraction while also letting me know he could give a shit about anything I actually said. Completely anonymous, nearly indistinguishable because of his uniform, giving everything and yet offering nothing of himself, but for attitude and those gold frames.
24 hours later, and after a brief headache and several naps, I’m still tired but otherwise fine.