As I stood in line to cast my vote, I felt a swell of emotion in my chest. I was a part of a movement, along with the other stay-at-home-moms, senior citizens, unemployed and otherwise disenfranchised people who could spend an hour or longer in line on a Monday morning.
There was an honest attempt at social distancing in the line that broke down every few people as they forgot the rule or grew impatient with the process and inched ever closer to the next person in line who then inched closer to the next person to escape hot breath on their neck. We were all a bunch of civic minded inchworms, waiting and inching, waiting and inching.
A short man stood in the shadow of his tall wife. They lovingly embraced one another and whispered secret thoughts to one another while their young dark-eyed daughter buzzed in and out of the line with the careful precision of a bee between flowers.
On one of her dashes, the little girl ventured into the parking lot and bumped into an unmoving and unamused woman with a mask hanging from one ear as she stepped out of her van. Shocked at the unexpected human obstacle, the little girl squeaked and scampered back to her distracted parents.
They wagged a finger at her, and said something half-hearted, like, “No, no, naughty girl,” and released her to continue the important work of the young, gathering information to use later.
A grizzled man in a black Sturgis tee shirt with snow-white flakes of dandruff on his shoulders stood behind me watched the interrupted flight path of the bee-child. With raspy breathing, he leaned with both hands against the outdoor HVAC unit and gave a hacking cough that rattled his lungs and rang the COVID-19 alarm bells off to everyone within hearing distance.
I stepped out of line and held my breath, hopeful that the air would carry away the droplets before they reached my ears, eyes and masked nose and mouth. I imagined a thousand microscopic armed militia men with tiny MAGA hats escaped from his face with each cough, and ready for guerrilla warfare, they sought immediate hostages and hosts.
Straightening up, he caught his breath and said, “Oh, to be that young again.”
He laughed and repeated himself, louder this time, dismayed that no one replied.
“Oh, to be that young again.”
I silently wondered what he would do if he could hit the rewind button and return to a more tender age, before his edges were brittle and fallen-leaf-brown, before Sturgis and dandruff and his COVID cough, when he was still soft and impressionable, curious and energized. There are so many like him, wishing for another time and forgetting how hard it was to be small.
Still holding my breath, we shuffled forward in a constant flow of people towards the ballot boxes that represented two different futures, one of peace and health and the other of chaos, sickness and war.
For me, it was an easy decision.