I found myself out for dinner the other night, eating in a restaurant for the first time since… February 2020, I think…? Perhaps even January? (That would make it, what, 19 months or something similar; it’s genuinely surreal to think about, that way.)
I was nervous, I admit — I’m nervous going anywhere public in this age of COVID still, despite being vaccinated and wearing a mask as much as humanly possible while out the house. It’s not that I am particularly convinced that I’ll be one of those so-called “breakthrough cases” and get the Delta Variant despite everything, as much as I’ve become particularly conscious, paranoid even, of the need to protect myself no matter what when venturing out into the world. Who knows what could happen, after all…?
Despite that, I was in a restaurant, surrounded by other people, nervous. “Surrounded” was a good way of putting it; it was a small place, but particularly busy — every table was seated, filled by happy and excited customers eager to eat and socialize and be there in that moment. I’d genuinely forgotten what that was like, as anything other than an abstract idea, in all the time it had been since that had last happened for me.
I’d forgotten the physical feeling of that many people around me, and the sound of it all — the way that the sound around you rises to a new volume and you go with it, like a boat on a rising wave. I’d forgotten the joy of passively people watching, catching glimpses into conversations and lives as everyone else pairs their food with the emotions of their day, and overhearing other people’s conversations nosily. (I can’t help myself. I’d apologize, but I wouldn’t really mean it.)
I stayed nervous through the meal. I can’t help that, either. But I wasn’t only nervous, and that proved to be the pleasure of the whole evening — more than the (delicious) food, more than the good company. The surprise and joy of rediscovering how much I love eating out, for all the many different reasons, and the discovery that it’s still there after so long, made the meal such a special experience that I’m still giddy, days later.