Six months ago, if you’d told me that I’d miss our masked up existence and protracted homestay, I would have laughed aloud. “Ridiculous!” I’d have shouted. Today, however, I admit the suggestion’s truth. While almost everything about the pandemic-enforced pause was regrettable, and deviant from the norms of all-American life, other aspects were back-handed blessings. Allow me to expound.

Life became languid during quarantine because time free-floated. My husband and I seldom knew the day, date, or time of each day. It felt oddly wonderful—except for the fear that shrouded the early days of lockdown, pre-vaccine—living was free form. Businesses brought their products to our front door. This activity kept us safe, was a significant stress reliever, and a convenience upon which we relied. Door Dash delivered meals, grocery stores delivered food, and the local dry-cleaner picked up and delivered.

Amazon delivered everything else, including the books we craved to pass the hours of ennui. Ours was not among the households which endlessly Netflixxed during quarantine. The furor of ‘Tiger King’ and ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ passed us by.

Then society got sprung, into the wild and free world of living mask free in February 2022. Hallelujah! Choice returned to our lives.

I had few out-and-about duties and appointments because I’m a writer, delighted to work from home. It’s a pre-occupation that suits me because, though I have a highly extroverted personality and am available for any escapade, I’m content to turn off that switch and spend hours in the realm of Imagination. I have a great relationship with my keyboard, as well as my husband, so all was well, well, well.

But now there are groceries to buy in actual stores, haircuts performed in salons, relevant medical and dental appointments to attend, and plant nurseries to comb to re-invigorate our yard. You know, the regular chores of conducting life. While I live in an organized and convenient city, it’s crisscrossed by three freeways that contribute to our ease of living.

Yikes! When my vehicle glides onto a freeway for an out-of-the-house foray in present times, the multi-lane freeways are once more clogged with cars, whereas during quarantine they were actually open-spaced drives to anywhere in southern California. There’s increased truck traffic as deliveries of goods can finally be made to restore the heavily disrupted supply chain. It all rolls past like thunder.

That’s all well and good but the noisy hum of traffic has re-invaded our freeway-close yard, whereas smog-free skies and a cherished hush-hush prevailed during quarantine times. Enabled to return to socialization among friends and family fully-vaxxed like us, conversation was no longer an easy transaction. One either played the patio music loud to surmount the background noise or succumbed to vocal strain.

As Covid variants linger, an additional conundrum has been whether—where or when—to wear a mask. Tell the truth—do you feel comfortable moving, sans mask, into public venues, eyeing others to determine that they’ve been vaxxed and boosted, yet may carry the evolving disease? It’s worrisome that trust, a basic of life in the home of the free and the brave, has eroded because of a virus we cannot see.

It seems like a twisted bit of wisdom from the movie, The Karate Kid: “Mask off, mask on.” All day long, decisions must be made. Life seems less simple and less free. What’s the proper social distance: six feet, three feet, or none? Should one shake hands or fist bump? To hug or not hug? Perhaps it’s the remnants of fear upon which we’ve based decisions for so long. Healthful society’s lines are no longer clear.

Not quite a turnkey moment we all longed for.

Airport take-offs and landings have returned to a lickety-split pace, returning to near-untenable noise levels for those who nearby like us. While it’s a boon to taxpayers, for we OC citizens own John Wayne Airport, the noise seems a lousy trade-off for money.

Perhaps I’m just grousing because we haven’t a destination—yet. Within weeks of our COVID reprieve via vax-plus-boost, the wanderlust that my husband and I share as a core value kicked in. We conjured lists of places to visit to re-hug the world. We dined emotionally on list generation for days.

Slowly we added and retracted, dreamed, and then redacted. After all, there’s no place like home in the OC, noisy and crowded and beloved despite this essay’s ignoble grousing. We rejoiced with the return of the nightly Disneyland fireworks, visible from our hillside home, and the resplendent fireworks on the 4th of July, with new and deeper meaning to the phrase: the home of the free and the brave.