If the first two days of my August road trip north and west carried a “fury road” theme as I mad maxed it across the deserts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, putting 1,279 miles between me and Ciudad Juárez in less than 37 hours, the following two weeks held a sweeter and more nostalgic appeal. From the pine tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California to the beaches of San Diego, my first trip to my home state in just over two years was a time to slow down and do as little as I wanted. More importantly, I got a chance to spend a little time with some of the people who I love the most and who I hadn’t seen in far too long.
Spending time with my mom at her house comprised the majority of my stay in California. I decided based on CDC and medical guidance I would wear my mask inside her house, just in case I had brought illness from my two-day trip to get there. Also, because people in high-risk categories – such as those who are immunocompromised (like me) and those above age 65 (like my mom) – are not supposed to be indoors unmasked with people from outside their household.
I was fortunate that less than a week before I hit the road from Mexico to California, on Friday, August 13 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had finally announced some long-anticipated news: immunocompromised people were officially eligible for a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine after making up approximately 44% of breakthrough cases in the vaccinated population. The CDC’s approval came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had made the same recommendation the day beforehand.
So I had gone to Texas and gotten my third dose (not technically a “booster” because immunocompromised people are not considered to have derived a full benefit from the initial two-dose course of the vaccine) within 24 hours of the CDC’s approval – so soon in fact that a lot of pharmacies were still not sure of their own corporate procedures. I had a few hours of waiting around, but ultimately little fanfare and provided no documentation at all.
It made me a little more confident that I might be safer from illness, but as my third vaccination came at a time where the Delta variant was ravaging through the country and asymptomatic spread was on the rise whether one was vaccinated or not, I felt a growing sense of hopelessness that anyone was really safe for me to be around.
Fortunately, the majority of my family and friends – vaccinated or otherwise – understood my concerns and extended a lot of kindness and effort to make my trip safer and easier. It felt more normal than I thought to wear a mask at my mom’s – kind of just an extension of what I do all the time at work or otherwise outside my house. Tiring and disappointing? I guess, but better than not seeing my family. Or getting sick again like I was for almost a month this past summer. A lot better.
Still in the middle of my 100 lb weight loss, and having completely changed my food and exercise habits into a new lifestyle, my mom and I went walking every evening I was there except one, trying to get our 10,000 steps in. A couple of nights we saw a fox on the loose in her neighborhood, the same one my brother thought had gotten into his chicken coop.
One hot afternoon we went down to the river I remember visiting as a kid. We hiked more of a perilous and slippery path down than my mom would have liked, but we were rewarded with a great, cool green swimming hole all to ourselves. I even got to see my best friend from high school for an outdoor lunch that went on at least four or five hours and had as many laughs as I could have expected, even during these crappy times.
Ultimately the hardest things about the visit were the smoky air from northern California’s summer forest fires, concern about some emerging autoimmune health issues I was experiencing and trying to address, and the fact the trip ended at all. I did eventually make my way down to the San Francisco Bay Area where I saw my nana, cousins, aunt and uncle, and stayed over a night before taking the long way back to Juárez, continuing alone down to San Diego first to visit my alma mater. It was such a relief to be at home that a lot of days, I didn’t need to do anything but just exist there.