She asked last night, “Are you looking forward to your birthday?”

I’m standing on a bridge, underneath quiet gray skies. I’m looking over a river. Well, around here it’s the river. I’m retying my face mask, to try and get a tighter pull across my face. I’d rather not remove it in public, even for a second, but after a few miles of running in humid air the fabric tends to slack a bit, which makes it difficult to breathe. (I hate — hate — running with a mask, but I like the alternative even less.) After a few seconds’ work, the mask’s feeling more secure. I stand there for a minute, looking over my adopted town, watching the water pass beneath me. There are more cars than there were a few weeks ago; more people, too.

I watch a single sculler row down the river. They pass underneath my bridge after a few moments. I tighten my shoelaces, and run on.

I walk to the end of my street. Through a neighbor’s hedge, I can see two small brown rabbits busily munching on the grass. One looks up at me, wary, unblinking, its nose twitching once, twice. I stand there for a minute, and it quietly lowers its head back to its meal. I walk on and then, at the end of the block, I begin to run.

My sister calls me when I’m a few blocks from home. I fumble for a moment — the call somehow goes to my watch’s speaker, rather than to my headphones, and I have to fix that without dropping the two coffees I’m bringing home.1 I’m walking up a steep hill as we talk, masked up and catching my breath every few words. We only talk for a few minutes. She tells me about her first meal in a restaurant in months (“Was it weird?” “Kinda. I mean, it’s weird when your server’s masked, but you’re not.”), she describes a stressy trip to the beach this weekend, and then she says she’s sitting down to start work. I’m glad she has a job. We say our goodbyes, and hang up.

I’m crossing the street behind an elderly person walking their small white dog. The dog looks back at me once it’s halfway through the crosswalk, and blinks. Its black eyes disappear for a moment, a little poof of white fur.

A friend we haven’t seen in months deposits a beautiful bouquet of flowers and some homemade snacks on our back porch. Her three kids each painted a word on a large strip of cardboard, a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY ETHAN” framing the flowers in the center. There were more than a few sparkles glued to the cardboard. I cry a little when I see it.

I don’t hear them at first, so I pull out my headphones. “Sorry?”

“Aren’t they usually open at eight?” It’s almost nine o’clock, and I’m standing outside a big box store. A couple’s walked up to me: both masked, both a little closer than I’d like, but I’m working on being okay with that. It’s fine; they’re fine.

“I think so, but there’s a sign here saying they changed their hours. Looks like they open at nine now.”

They discuss what they want to do. Waiting another twenty minutes seems a bit excessive; maybe go get coffees, and come back? One says something that makes me look at the sign again: the store opens at nine, but it’s reserved for folks with health concerns. I point it out to them — “looks like we’ll have another hour to wait” — they thank me, and decide to leave.

I say I hope they have a good day. They tell me the same. It’s fine; we’re fine.

I come back inside, coffees in hand, and She’s finished up her call earlier than expected. I walk into the dining room, removing my hat and mask, and the room has been festooned with decorations.2 There’s a massive unicorn hanging from one of the doors leading into the room; the tablecloth is covered with rainbows; there are little streamers hanging down from the ceiling, each capped with an cartoony illustration of a smiling dog.

It’s beautiful and goofy and full of colors and light and I cry a little. It’s fine; we’re fine; I’m so lucky.

It was a good day.

  1. I guarantee I disliked writing this sentence as much as you disliked reading it. 

  2. Yeah, that’s right: I said it. Festooned.