18 plans and proposals to get out of the pandemic.
Come back to public life happier in your trans body.
Accept selfishness, run away from the Internet, and roller skate for 15 minutes a day.
A vision for a nationwide paid vacation.
While the pandemic is by no means over, we have started to imagine life on the other side – stripping retirement clothes, planning lunches, and doing other (maybe a little too much) plans for the coming months.
Many have found themselves thinking about what kind of life they want to live as the world reopens. Is ambition something to be achieved? What have we learned about ourselves and our communities? After a year of reminding us of how short and precious time can be, how do we want to make the most of ours?
We asked readers and writers to share their visions for their “After”, whenever it happens.
Emerging more comfortable in their skin
I will come out of this pandemic more comfortable with my trans body. I’ve looked to myself as a non-binary for years, but the lockdown has given me the time and space to think about how I want to be seen.
In June, I asked a cousin to cut my hair and dye it brown. In September, I left for a job interview in my cute patent leather button-up shoes, and looked like one of the guys on the train just heading for work. Someone said, “Excuse me, sir?” When I turned around he said, “Oh sorry, Mrs. I smiled and said, “Neither is good.”
It was just a guy asking to borrow my lighter, but it was the first time that I wasn’t immediately seen as a woman, and it made my day.
– Moira Pat Kelly, 24, Chicago
A new name – in fact, three of them
My divorce was practically granted in April 2020. I was hoping that one day in court my ex and I could meet and shut up. With e-divorce, this has not happened. What happened, my lawyer informed me, was that I could change my name to anything I wanted.
So I went back to my maiden name, Dubal, and chose two new names: Avinashi, which means “indestructible” in Sanskrit, and Vinchhi, which means “scorpion” in Gujarati. It was like a claim of my identity. I am so ready to emerge as a four-name butterfly.
– Poonam Avinashi Vinchhi Dubal, 34, Dallas
An introvert ready to party … just like in 2019
Every Friday evening, from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, there is a block party. Hundreds of people invade our neighborhood square, camping with folding chairs, wine and blankets. They eat, drink, socialize. I never liked it.
As an introvert, I don’t like large, noisy gatherings – especially this one. For years, I have quietly felt the crowds and the traffic, the tired covers of local bands, the couples awkwardly spinning each other on the dance floor, and the surging crowds of children.
Now this party is all I can think of. It sparkles like a dream, grabs me by the throat: the sparkling evening sun, the guitars echoing in buildings, the smell of grilled meat and the exhaust fumes of cars. I want to apologize to the party, take me back. I want to wear my best red dress and swirl and twirl (awkwardly) among my neighbors as much as I want my next breath.
– Jennifer Keith, 61, Baltimore
Work to live rather than live to work
Before Covid, I worked six to seven days a week. I exhausted myself from my job and raised two children. At the end of March 2020, I was made redundant. It was the first time in many years that I was unemployed; I finally had time to do things for myself.
One hobby I turned to was roller skating. In the future, I hope that even when I get busy again, I will still take 15 minutes a day for myself to do something I love, like skating. The pandemic taught me to work to live rather than live to work.
– Bethany Flaugher, 35, Philadelphia
Mixed feelings for someone with autism
I’m glad there is hope around the corner for so many people, but I dread the return of pre-pandemic life. This year has been a gift for me. I have autism, and the crowds, loud sounds, and the threat of people standing too close to me in public spaces are overwhelming and keep me under constant stress. This year, for the first time in my adult life, I have been calm. It’s like the world has created disabled housing just for my autism.
Two months before the pandemic, I had a seizure at a pharmacy because a woman was standing too close to me in a line. When I asked her to take a step back, she asked me if I was serious. When I indicated that I was, she laughed and told me to get mental health treatment. I started to cry and scream and run outside.
Now I again face a world of people who will stand too close, talk too loudly in large groups, offer unwanted hugs, and get angry or hurt if this hug is refused. I will not miss the health anxiety, or the very real sadness and grief. I’m happy that most people are coming back to the world they love, able to do the things they miss. But I’m sad for myself too.
– Fisher Nash, 37, Louisville, Ky.
Already a little nostalgic
I have dreamed of a post-pandemic world all this time. I cursed the tiny apartment we live in, I was angry, I missed monumental steps, I felt depressed by the utter monotony of this life.
Then the other morning, while I was working, I caught my partner’s reflection in the mirror while he was in labor, and I started to cry. It struck me that that moment will soon be over. I felt a hint of nostalgia.
We have created our own little world over the past 13 months. When things started to look like they would never be back to normal, I put a post-it on my mirror that simply said, “What is now will be soon.” As we near the end, it has a different meaning. I imagine that some days will miss me as deeply as I had happened before.
– Hanna Hallman, 30, Portland, Oregon.
There is always her 22nd birthday
I spent my 21st birthday in quarantine with nary a shot dead body in sight and that skinny outfit I bought for the occasion stuffed in a drawer. For my 22nd, I’ll leave it to Nicki Minaj in a sweaty, crowded club, breathing in all the germinated particles of air I can.
– Raina Parikh, 21, Atlanta
Get back in your “ teaching shoes ”
As a teacher at a community college, I can’t wait to put my body back in the classroom. I could cry on the first day of my return. I wear these shoes when I teach. They perfectly express my academic self.
– Heather Vittum Fuller, 41, Underhill, Vt.
Planning for end of life
At 60, I’m obsessively going through a mental checklist of what to do to make my death easier for my family. I parted with personal belongings: unused porcelain, three decades of greeting cards. I have also prepared legal documents describing how to donate my body to science.
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at 27, I never imagined I would turn 60. The odds seemed insurmountable. But the incredible speed with which Covid vaccines became available makes me appreciate even more the remarkable efforts of the scientists who developed the chemotherapy drugs that saved my life.
The planning process for my own death began with the passing of my parents – my mother in June after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and my father six months later after a sudden stroke. Although they did not die from Covid, their deaths – among many others – forced me to think about my own mortality, something which, as a cancer survivor, is never far from my thoughts. .
– Olga Polites, 60, Cherry Hill, NJ
Finally put her mother to bed so that she can rest
I can’t wait to see a lot of things, but especially to finally be able to lay my mother’s ashes to rest with my family from across the country. Rest in peace, Martha Davis Barnes, 92.
– Sarah Barnes, 63, Lebanon, NH
Prepare for awkward silences
I’m an introvert so in some ways being at home with my parents and brother during this time was a relief. I hate gossip. I’m the type of person who plans conversations in advance. When my mother would take my brother and I to social gatherings or to visit family, we would always ask, “When can we go?”
After a year at home, I have become even more socially uncomfortable with people I know. I don’t know how to fill the space. I saw my cousins maybe two months ago for the first time in several months. We all grew up together. But the three of us were sitting there with these awkward silences. What will the After-party look like for me? I think it will be filled with awkward pauses and stutters.
– Salsabeel Sajaja, 16, Sunnyvale, Texas
Embrace selfishness (and margaritas)
I used to struggle with anxiety over what to expect and how to accomplish the next best thing. My aftermath will be full of selfishness.
I will say no to stressful situations that I would normally attend out of obligation. I will go out with more intention, I will dress for no reason, I will ask for help when I need it. For me, this next chapter is about letting myself be upfront about what I want and need – and not apologize for it. The time is so short. Why should I waste all of this not to be true to who I really am?
– Kahleah Manigault, 27, Philadelphia
(Reader submissions have been edited for length and clarity.)