Friday, January 8, 2021

Andy Young: Renewed self-esteem, thanks to the pandemic

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

For openers, let’s establish that the world’s ongoing battle against the deadly coronavirus (and its emerging mutations) is both horrific and terrifying.

But it does have some silver linings. Pandemic-related limitations in 2020 allowed me to pedal 2,000 miles on my bike, put 10,000 fewer miles on my car, and read over 80 books, or about 77 more than my usual annual total.

I’ve also, in the same odd way I did more than three decades ago, gained a renewed sense of self-worth.

At the time I was young, single, possessed a full head of lush hair, and drove an eight-year-old ‘vette. Yet I voluntarily went dateless on a consecutive series of Friday and Saturday nights, spurning every invitation to socialize, no matter how alluring the opportunity. And I wasn’t pledging a fraternity, involved in a 12-step program, or contemplating joining the priesthood, either.

But for the duration of my self-imposed social isolation, the person I saw in the mirror wasn’t a lonely, pathetic, awkward loser, but an upstanding, attractive, socially responsible Prince Charming.

The full story: earlier that year I had begun what was supposed to be a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, determined to become fluent in Spanish while simultaneously ending poverty and suffering in Guatemala by teaching fundamental basketball skills to children.  But less than three months later a skeletal version of me returned home, in need of a medical appraisal to determine exactly why I had lost 35 pounds in such a brief period of time. After jabbing me with more needles than most pincushions contain, the evaluating physician solemnly informed me I’d need to return six weeks later to re-take a required blood test, one which would determine whether or not I was HIV positive.

In the late 1980’s an AIDS diagnosis was akin to a death sentence, but while the doctor’s pronouncement took me aback, I wasn’t overly concerned. The Peace Corps medical staff had thoroughly educated its trainees on exactly how one contracted the dreaded virus, and since I hadn’t engaged in any of the behaviors which put one at risk for acquiring it, I figured I was in the clear. But on the off chance I was going to make medical history (first person to get HIV from using an unclean fork?), I obeyed the doctor’s strong recommendation and stayed resolutely celibate until the re-test, which unsurprisingly came up clean. The unexpected bonus: staying home alone those Friday and Saturday nights reminded me that in reality I was an ethical, selfless, and noble hero, not a lonesome, socially inept pariah.

Now, a third of a century later, I’ve been holed up in my personal fortress for the past several months, emerging (dressed like a train robber) solely to go to work or get groceries. That’s taken some getting used to. But I’ve gradually lost track of how long it’s been since I’ve gone out to eat, seen a movie, or entertained visitors in my humble abode. In short, my in-person socializing has simply ceased to exist. However, as was the case more than three decades ago, I currently see myself not as isolated and forlorn, but gallant and altruistic.

Still, I’m looking forward to the day (hopefully sooner rather than later) when I’ll be able to spend a maskless night out (or in) with a friend or friends.

I just wish I had that same great car I did 33 years ago. It’d be a classic today. But it really wasn’t the lure I thought it would be. Not many women, it turned out, were drawn to guys who drove Chevettes. <

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