18 plans and proposals for when we emerge again.
Returning to public life happier in their trans body.
Embracing selfishness, shunning the internet and roller skating for 15 minutes a day.
While the pandemic is by no means over, we have begun to imagine life on the other side — taking clothes out of retirement, scheduling lunches and making other plans (maybe a few too many) for the months ahead.
Many have found themselves reflecting on the kind of lives they want to live as the world reopens. Is ambition something to strive for? What have we learned about ourselves and our communities? After a year of reminders of how short, and precious, time can be, how do we want to make the most of ours?
We asked readers and writers to share their visions for their “After,” whenever it may arrive.
Emerging More Comfortable in Their Skin
I’ll be coming out of this pandemic more comfortable with my trans body. I’ve been out to myself as nonbinary for years, but lockdown gave me the time and space to think about how I want to be seen.
In June, I had a cousin cut my hair and dye it brown. In September, I headed out for a job interview in my button-down and cute patent leather shoes, and I looked like one of the guys on the train just heading to work. Someone said, “Excuse me, sir?” When I turned around, he said, “Oh sorry, ma’am.” I smiled and said, “Neither is good.”
He was just a guy asking to borrow my lighter, but it was the first time I wasn’t immediately perceived as female, and it made my day.
— Moira Pat Kelly, 24, Chicago
A New Name — Actually, Three of Them
My divorce was virtually granted in April 2020. I had been hoping for a day in court when my ex and I could see each other and have closure. With the e-divorce, that didn’t happen. What did happen, my lawyer informed me, was that I could change my name to anything I chose.
So I went back to my maiden name, Dubal, and chose two new middle names: Avinashi, which means “indestructible” in Sanskrit, and Vinchhi, which means “scorpion” in Gujarati. It felt like a reclamation of my identity. I’m so ready to emerge as this four-named butterfly.
— Poonam Avinashi Vinchhi Dubal, 34, Dallas
An Introvert Ready to Party … Like It’s 2019
Every Friday evening, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, is the block party. Hundreds crowd our neighborhood square, camp out with folding chairs, wine and blankets. They eat, drink, socialize. I’ve never liked it.
As an introvert, I don’t love big, noisy gatherings — especially this one. For years, I’ve quietly resented the crowds and traffic, the tired cover tunes blaring from local bands, the couples clumsily twirling one another on the dance floor and the surging mobs of kids.
Now that party is all I think about. It shimmers like a dream, catches in my throat: the sparkling evening sun, the guitars echoing off the buildings, the smell of grilled meat and car exhaust. I want to ask the party for forgiveness, to take me back. I want to wear my best red dress and swirl and twirl (clumsily) among my neighbors as much as I want my next breath.
— Jennifer Keith, 61, Baltimore
Working to Live Rather Than Living to Work
Pre-Covid, I was working six to seven days a week. I wore myself thin with my job and raising two kids. At the end of March 2020, I was laid off. This was the first time in many years I was without a job; I finally had time to do things for me.
One hobby I gravitated toward was roller skating. Going forward, I’m hopeful that even when I’m busy again, I’ll still take 15 minutes a day for myself to do something I enjoy, like skating. The pandemic has taught me to work to live rather than live to work.
— Bethany Flaugher, 35, Philadelphia
Mixed Feelings for a Person With Autism
I’m glad there is hope around the corner for so many people, but I dread the return of prepandemic life. This year has been a gift to me. I am autistic, and crowds, loud sounds and the threat of people standing too close to me in public spaces are overwhelming and keep me in a constant state of stress. This year, for the first time in my adult life, I have been calm. It’s like the world created a disability accommodation just for my autism.
Two months before the pandemic, I had a meltdown at a drugstore because a woman stood too close to me in line. When I asked her to please step back, she asked if I was serious. When I indicated I was, she laughed and told me to get mental health treatment. I began crying and yelling and ran outside.
Now I again face a world of people who will stand too close, talk too loudly in large groups, offer unwanted hugs and become angry or hurt if that hug is declined. I won’t miss the health anxiety, or the sadness and very real grief. I am glad that most people will return to the world they love, able to do the things they’ve been missing. But I’m sad for myself too.
— Fisher Nash, 37, Louisville, Ky.
Already a Little Nostalgic
I have been daydreaming about a post-pandemic world this whole time. I have cursed the small apartment we live in, been angry I have missed monumental milestones, felt depressed by the utter monotony of this life.
Then, the other morning while working, I caught the reflection of my partner in the mirror as he was deep in work, and I began to cry. It hit me that this moment will soon be gone. I felt a pang of nostalgia.
We have created our own little world over the last 13 months. When things started to feel like they would never return to normal, I put a sticky note on my mirror that simply says: “What is now, will soon be then.” As we near the end, it holds a different meaning. I imagine some days I will miss this time as deeply as I missed what came before.
— Hanna Hallman, 30, Portland, Ore.
There’s Always Her 22nd Birthday
I spent my 21st birthday in quarantine with nary a body shot in sight and this skimpy outfit I’d bought for the occasion stuffed in a drawer. For my 22nd, I’ll be dropping it to Nicki Minaj in a sweaty, packed club, breathing in every germy air particle I can.
— Raina Parikh, 21, Atlanta
Stepping Back Into Her ‘Teaching Shoes’
As a teacher at a community college, I can’t wait to get my body in the classroom again. I might cry on my first day back. I wear these shoes when I teach. They perfectly express my academic self.
— Heather Vittum Fuller, 41, Underhill, Vt.
Planning for the End of Life
At 60, I find myself obsessively going through a mental checklist of what I should do to make my death easier on my family. I have parted with personal belongings: unused china, three decades of greeting cards. I’ve also prepared legal documents outlining how to donate my body to science.
When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at age 27, I never dreamed I would make it to 60. The odds just seemed insurmountable. But the astounding speed with which Covid vaccines have become available makes me appreciate even more the remarkable efforts of scientists who developed the chemotherapy drugs that saved my life.
The process of planning for my own death began with the passing of my parents — my mother in June after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, and my father six months later, after a sudden stroke. Although they did not die of Covid, their deaths — amid so many others — forced me to think about my own mortality, something that, as a cancer survivor, is never far from my thoughts.
— Olga Polites, 60, Cherry Hill, N.J.
Finally Laying Her Mother to Rest
I’m looking forward to many things, but, most of all, finally being able to lay my mom’s ashes to rest with family from across the country. Rest in peace, Martha Davis Barnes, age 92.
— Sarah Barnes, 63, Lebanon, N.H.
Preparing for the Awkward Silences
I’m an introvert, so in some ways being home with my parents and my brother during this time has been a relief. I hate small talk. I’m the kind of person who plans out conversations in advance. When my mother would take my brother and me to social gatherings or to visit family, we would always be asking, “When can we leave?”
After a year at home, I’ve become even more socially awkward with people I know. I don’t know how to fill in the space. I saw my cousins maybe two months ago for the first time in many months. We all grew up together. But all three of us just kind of sat there having these awkward silences. What will the After look like for me? I reckon it will be filled with awkward pauses and stuttering.
— Salsabeel Sajaja, 16, Sunnyvale, Texas
Embracing Selfishness (and Margaritas)
I used to struggle with anxiety about what was next for me and how to accomplish the next best thing. My after will be full of selfishness.
I will say no to stressful situations I would normally attend out of obligation. I will date with more intention, dress up for no reason, asking for help when I need it. To me, this next chapter is about letting myself be up front about what I want and need — and not apologizing for it. Time is so short. Why should I waste any of it not being true to who I really am?
— Kahleah Manigault, 27, Philadelphia
(Reader submissions have been edited for length and clarity.)