I laced up for a run in what started like a normal day. A day I thought belonged to the “before” times. The times when life had not yet commanded the cruelties of isolation and physical distance. Who would have thought a seven-square-mile island was about to be caught up in the same pandemonium sweeping across the world? The blockades came at the top of the Florida Keys within weeks. The city-wide shutdown began even sooner. My tiny island was cut off from the world to protect its residents and limited medical facilities. I only dared leave my house for a daily run or walk as a high-risk individual with a disability. That was it. My apartment had no outside area so I put on my sneakers. All 398 days. And created and shared a few photos along the way. Friends and family were trapped in far less picturesque bubbles as the virus raged on. I hoped that my photos could somehow help others through this difficult time.
Controversially, US1 and Key West was reopened. A mask mandate was put in place requiring individuals to wear one any time they were outside their homes. The temperatures easily crept up and past 100. Wearing a mask each day to run became even more difficult – sweat dripping down my nose, unable to touch my face. It was like preparing for a great run on a barren beautiful boiling beachside track that awarded no medals or recognition at the end.
Heading into month six of being alone was overwhelming. Yet, taking the same photo in the same location over and over became a rare comfort in my routine. No matter the exhaustion or repetitiveness.
In October, fear set in and rooted itself firmly like the mangled mangroves anchoring the shoreline of my runs. Anti-maskers and the oblivious, all pretending it was over, all eager for a getaway, flocked to our tiny island, spreading the virus.
As the holidays arrived our numbers grew. I tried to concentrate on creating this project to keep sane.
The new year ushered in the most important question thus far. When would I be able to get my vaccine? Each day of waiting felt like one more opportunity to die. The denial of the virus by visitors was exhausting. I tried to explain that I was genuinely high risk. No one cared.
It felt like a chore some days but art is the ultimate distraction. I walked. I photographed. I walked and photographed. Two more months go by. I have not touched or hugged another human in almost a year.
March finally brings welcome news. I am eligible for the vaccine with a doctor’s permission. Of course, getting an appointment is impossible. I wake up at dawn each day with five computer screens running on overdrive. I furiously hit refresh for thirty minutes, watching in disbelief as all the appointment slots fill without me.
Soon, there is elation – a cancellation. I secure a vaccine appointment two weeks out. The location is more than a two-hour drive each way, but I am almost to the finish line.
This forces me into a store for the first time in over a year. I hit the mile marker I need and time to use a public restroom. I am terrified. I am double-masked. My heart is racing. I feel anxious as the pharmacist tries to hand me a pen. Surprise. I have brought my own. They ask me to sit in the chair. So, I grab a wipe from my pocket and sit and wait. Five minutes seems like forever. The cashier tries to make small talk. I am not even listening. I just want to get out of this fluorescent purgatory and back to the safety of my house. The shot is quick and easy. I wait my fifteen agonizing minutes and race to the door.
I am grateful to have my first dose. My walks are becoming less fearful and more enjoyable. The photos even seem lighter. Taking them is bringing joy to me and the people that look forward to them each day.
My second shot brings less fear in the store this time. I give encouraging words to the cashier and pharmacist. Two weeks from now and I will have full protection.
I take every photo, every walk, more seriously over those next two weeks. I think about the last 397 days, the death, the sickness, the overworked workers, and the insanity of it all. I know my project is coming to an end. I will have to go back to my “new” normal as they are calling it. Back to working more and making art less.
It is the last day. One mile left to go. I stop and take my final photo. I finish the mile and think about how happy I am to be alive. I compose my message alone to the smelly seaweed “And just like that, my love affair with Key West is officially over.” I hit “post.”