On perhaps the most perfect night of the year, I arrive to Jess’s house. It’s early evening, which means in the spring, it’s still light outside.
The winter in Las Vegas has come and gone.
I powered through it fighting the temptation to call it a day when the sun sunk behind the Spring Mountains at the ungodly hour of 4 p.m., casting the Valley into darkness.
I’ve always rebelled against the early hour of sunset in the winter in Las Vegas. That, and the unforgiving dry stick-your-head-in-an-oven heat in the summer are the two worst natural aspects of Las Vegas.
The summer, I can live with.
But, the winter and its dark and short days are harder.
Even when I lived in London and the days were relegated to less than half shrouded in a cover of clouds or at best an icy cold winter sun, I managed. Maybe it’s because it was London and living in London was one of my dreams.
Las Vegas? That’s a different story.
Winter 2019 – 2020, I made it through easier than most.
I was in and out of the city starting in October, going from Thailand to Vegas to New York for my James Beard Dinner back to Vegas for my James Beard Dinner followed by the holidays and then living and breathing the vegan dining month I created and run in Las Vegas (this year marked its expansion into two new markets, too, so there’s that).
Then, it was on to Madrid and Paris. Then, just as the hour hand ticked back to old daylight life, I was in New York and Chicago.
I barley had a chance to register the late afternoon sunsets and hibernation in my living room in front of my gas fireplace before the daylight was brought back to me.
Then, when the pandemic happened, I became brutally aware of every ticking minute.
I watched from my couch as the sun crept behind the mountains later and later and suddenly it was 7 p.m. but it was still light out and my brain and body were confused, because holy-fuck-I-was-home-all-day-and-still-it’s-nearly-bed-time.
As the days stretched longer and the shutdown continued, I began a deep dive into me.
Sitting with Jess — six feet apart because I’m not messing around — on her front porch is the first time I’ve seen her in two months. The last time was when I was at her house filming her making a meal for Vegans, Baby.
She’s an accomplished chef and in the year we’ve known each other, we’ve gone through so many life changes together.
Drunken-morning-after-milestone-events eating a terrible breakfast followed by just-past stumbling-regaining-our-composure-strolls through crisp fall days in Central Park.
Tonight, a lifetime has passed when we stand in our own bubbles of airspace.
I want to hug her. My arms have hugged exactly one person in two months. My arms know and miss embracing another warm body.
We instead smile and acknowledge the weirdness. The fucking pandemic.
We sit outside on plastic Adirondack chairs drinking wine as the last gorgeous night of spring displays her greatness.
Ducks waddle down her street, a cute coupe out for their nightly exploration of tufts of grass and puddles.
A hummingbird flits in and out of the yard.
The sun begins to set and the puffy clouds turn a cotton candy pink.
We talk. Catch up. Recall our lives pre-COVID. Pre-shut-down.
My brain kicks into the “if only” mindset as we sit together.
If only …
I had appreciated that meal at Esther’s Kitchen the night we were there drinking $40 bottles of wine and dipping fresh, homemade sourdough into tickle-the-back-of-your-throat olive oil.
I had taken the time to be aware. To be present. To have gone through New York and the Beetlejuice Bar knowing I wouldn’t have the option to go back anytime soon.
Savored being at an event where I could whisper in someone’s ear.
Cherished a moment of intimacy.
Sitting on her front porch, that same wave that has washed over me regularly since the pandemic happens again: I wasn’t grateful enough.
I was grateful after it was gone.
I miss hugs. And lingering dinners. And the excitement of a new crush. The anticipation of a first kiss. I miss making plans. I miss friends. I miss going to a grocery store without a goddamn mask.
But, I don’t miss the tightness in my chest. Feeling like I needed a minute.
Just. A. Minute. I would tell my mom on the phone. I just need a fucking minute and I can’t because I have to work and I have to make enough money to pay my bills.
The pandemic removed those pressures from my life. I suddenly had more minutes. I had no money, but neither did anyone else.
I had time.
And an empty calendar.
I. Had. Me.
This fucking pandemic has brought out the worst in people. I won’t even get started on the entitlement, the selfishness, the reckless advice being dolled out from armchair experts (ok, shit, I did get started).
It’s also brought calm, And mountains of gratitude. And self love. It’s made me appreciate my life. My breath. The strength my body gains each day as I move deeper into yoga poses. Cuddling with the animals who live with me. The smells of garlic and onions cooking in a pan. Being able to write. The time the sun sets. My friends. My world.
Yes, it took a pandemic to put a pause on the go-go-go of my life and force a hard re-set. And yes, I come from a place of utter privilege that my experience is one of blessings.
Tonight, with Jess, there was a feeling of old life. Of comfort. Of being in a pre-pandemic world that evolves around love and friendship and trust.
I’ve had this rare insight into myself the past few days. A renewed desire to write and write and write and take no prisoners.
It took a fucking pandemic, but here. I. am.