I bolt awake, ripping the covers away from me as my alarm shrieks in my ear. I need to stop sleeping with my phone under my pillow; while it is easy to grasp in those blurry first moments of a new day, it’s nearly impossible to avoid going deaf with each snooze. Stumbling onto the plush carpet, I prepare for the day, pulling my (y/h/c) hair up into a messy bun and snatching up my bag before heading out the door.
The weather is cloudy, like the universe can’t decide if it wants to rain today or not. I don’t let it bother me, though, as I hop onto my bike and make my way down the road. Even if it did rain, I wouldn’t be concerned. These wheels have gotten me down the tightest turns and most rugged terrain. There’s nothing quite like the backroad to the neighborhood Taco Bell.
I noticed that my vision was going a few months ago. It was nothing bold at first; I would stumble on the ground, missing a chunk taken out of the sidewalk and catching my foot on it, but I always blamed it on stress or the hurriedness of life. There was so much on my mind! I couldn’t take in every crack on the sidewalk. But then, I could no longer make out the board. I could no longer read the neon Arby’s sign, beckoning me from across the street. My vision was going, and it was bad with only one source to blame: online classes.
My mom set up the appointment (of course), and that was where I was biking to now. It was time for my eyes to meet their fate.
Due to the pandemic, I actually couldn’t remember the last time I ventured into the grand world, outdoors or indoors. My groceries were delivered. My entertainment was found in Netflix and online magazines. There was nothing in my life that required me to leave my quant apartment, sized according to one. Not even a pet was there to keep me company. No, the landlord didn’t allow it.
It had been 113 days since I had been to a grocery store. It had been 124 days since I had visited a friend’s home. It had been 133 days since I had physically touched another person.
At first, I didn’t believe the toll to be too much. I didn’t like hanging out with people anyways! It was draining, they could be annoying and I wasn’t too big on hugs.
And yet … there was something about the longing for affection, to remind yourself that yes, other people still do exist, but it simply wasn’t worth the risk.
It had been 133 days since I had touched another person.
When I pulled into the parking lot of the eye doctor, I locked my bike on one of the racks, pulling my sunglasses up to rest on the top of my head. There wasn’t anyone else in the parking lot besides two trucks and a Honda car, but they were empty, presumably belonging to either the doctors, nurses or patients.I knew that everyone else was waiting inside.
My heart fluttered at the idea of seeing other people. Out of fear? For sure. It was strange to realize that I would be seeing other people in person for the first time. The panic gripped my stomach as my thoughts spiralled more on the topic, but I knew this was the office of a doctor. It would be safe.
As I approached the door, a nurse called out to me.
“Stop here first, please,” they said, motioning for me to come over before initiating a safety check. Not even a minute passed before they asked me for the final piece of data.
“Now I’m going to take your temperature,” they said, pulling out a thermometer. “Though it may take a few tries. Since you biked here, I’m sure you’re all sweaty. Don’t worry if it says your temperature is too high. If we let people sit in their vehicles for too long without the air conditioner on, it gives the same result.”
I watched, my eyes trained to their hand as they brought the thermometer to my forehead. Their skin just inches from my skin. It was gloved, but still. It had been 133 days since I had touched another person.
I began to sweat, beads forming along my hairline as my heart gave into my emotions. Fear, stress and … intrigue? I was bewildered, scrunching up my eyebrows as my (y/e/c) eyes locked onto their hazel orbs. They seemed confused, questioning as to why I was looking at them, wondering if they should look away.
“It’ll register in just a moment,” they said. “Don’t worry.”
A moment? It didn’t feel like a moment. It was a lifetime, my breath hitching in my throat, my palms clammy as I licked my bottom lip. We didn’t know who should break first. It was a game neither wanted to lose. Was I this touch starved? Aching to hold the gaze of the one taking my temperature outside of the eye doctor? It was the same way my heart twisted when I watched those Willy Wonka TikToks.
They brought the thermostat away, breaking my concentration, but I held their gaze. If you don’t break it in the first second, playing it off as an awkward glance, how would you break it now?
“98.4,” they said, cataloging it on a slip before handing it over to me. “You can follow the nurse to your room, (y/n).”
They knew my name. They knew my name! My stomach lifted as I inhaled, my mind clearing. Maybe it was meant to be. It almost felt like a dream. They only broke our connection when the next patient came for a temperature screening, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind, unable to erase those hazel orbs.
I guess I really was that touch starved, but at least the temperature proceeding was safe. My anxieties were beginning to ease, my mind floating to rest, and that’s when the doctor sashayed into the room.