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“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

In the past, I saw that proverb as inspiring words my dad might say to me when I told him about my dream of opening a hot dog joint named “Dibby’s Hot Diggity Dogs.” But in the era of COVID-19, when a friend wrote this same proverb on an Instagram post about sending children back to school, my blood boiled and I immediately unfollowed her. Oh, did I say friend? I meant former friend.

The global pandemic is testing our relationships like never before. Sure, many of us with chronic illness already have had to weed out toxic or unsupportive people from our lives who “don’t get it.” And surely our loyalties have been tested the last four years over political differences. But it seems like for many of us, coronavirus has been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back or put the nail in the coffin (or pick any other idiom you fancy).

We’re losing friends left and right because we have new non-negotiable standards when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like, I have a lot of anxiety right now and can’t deal with Zoom calls unless I absolutely have to for work (plus I’ve been cutting my own hair so badly I look like Joe Dirt). I prefer to write or text with friends to catch up. I have one friend who doesn’t like to text and insists on Zooming. I’m basically like, Sorry, Charlie, see ya in 2021 or as soon as there’s a vaccine.

Is that selfish on my part? Yes. But it’s also necessary for my mental health at a time when I’m having panic attacks several times a week.

When it comes to my physical health, I won’t compromise either. Take wearing a mask: There are two camps and no middle ground here. You’re either a person who wears one religiously out in public because you are NOT selfish, care about saving lives, and getting the economy back on track, or you’re a covidiot who refuses to wear one, complains it depletes your CO2, and lights it on fire in front of your state’s capitol building. Personally, I want nothing to do with the latter person. I don’t care if we’ve known each other for 30 years. Goodbye.

I know a couple who are both frontline workers in the health industry. They are shocked that so many of their friends are still going to the gym, taking their families on vacation, and doing other everyday activities and errands as though there’s not a deadly pandemic happening, while they are legitimately terrified of contracting the virus on a daily basis. “I hate people,” she’ll say to me, and I’ll wholeheartedly agree.

Thinking like that feels like self-preservation, but it’s also really sad. Especially when the people you start to hate are family members. Another friend of mine and her sister had been doing one of those Pod arrangements on the East Coast with extended family, when they suddenly stopped agreeing on the parameters. So when another family member, who thinks COVID is all over-hyped, started going to parties and being more social, the sisters got in a huge fight about allowing him to be around the rest of the family. The pod broke up and they haven’t spoken in a few weeks.

When You Can’t ‘Unsee’ Baffling Behavior

I’m sure that relationship will repair itself in time — blood is thicker than water after all — but with some ruined platonic friendships, I can’t see going back. It’s been too eye-opening; I can’t “unsee” people’s baffling behavior and I don’t want it in my life. How can I hang out with you ever again if I don’t respect how you acted during a global pandemic? It’s over, sis.

My friend D. used to be close with her next-door neighbors, but since the shutdown they still keep throwing parties in their backyard. D. and her family are always invited over but so far she hasn’t accepted because… duh. When her son hears the other kids having fun, D.’s always put in the position of having to be the bad guy who has to say “no.” As the pandemic rages on, it’s getting harder and harder to turn down and my friend is getting resentful. D. doesn’t know if the friendship with their neighbors will ever be the same.

Since most of my neighbors in Palm Springs are age 65 or older — and we’re currently in a hotspot where ICU capacity is currently at 100 percent — I’m trying to keep my mom and myself hermetically sealed in our house, as we’re both on immunosuppressing medication. When I see pics of friends huddled on the beach in San Diego with their maskless heads tilted together for selfies, or see a dude I know rolling around on the ground with other dudes at a Jiu Jitsu tournament in Houston — also a hotspot city whose hospitals are on the brink of collapse — frankly, I’m pissed. WTF are you doing? Both friendship-enders.

Recently, I saw a video of my hairdresser drinking and dancing at a bar, and immediately I no longer wanted her to be my stylist. After eight years of fresh fades and great conversations, I bid her a fond farewell forever in my mind, then booked an appointment with a new hairdresser who I saw interviewed on the local news. I remembered she said wouldn’t open her salon until the governor said it’s safe, no matter the cost to her business. My kind of people. You’re hired.

Better Safe Than Sorry

I’m not saying I’m always right about everything. I’m just saying that in this life-and-death situation we’re currently in, if you want to be in my life moving forward, it’s my way or the highway.

It’s not my place to say whether it’s scientifically safe for kids and teachers to go back to school. It’s really not anyone’s place, other than public health officials like the CDC or maybe Dr. Fauci. I don’t even have children. My point is, I’m not in the “Suck it up, Buttercup” camp. If you think students and teachers should be forced into a situation that scares the bejesus out of them and potentially puts their lives in danger, we don’t have much in common anymore and probably shouldn’t get together for tea.

Speaking of which: Oh, how I miss meeting up with friends for a drink or a meal! When I drive around my town and see people socializing or having brunch, I’m jealous. And disturbed. While in-restaurant dining is currently banned in my state, some have tents set up outside. For me, it’s not worth dying over just to sit in 112-degree weather to eat waffles, especially when research shows that unmasked gatherings, even outdoors, are a major spreader of COVID-19. For the foreseeable future, I’m perfectly happy with takeout or making my signature homemade eggs benedict with blender hollandaise sauce in my kitchen.

The Power of Like-Minded People

Until this nightmare ends, I believe the key is to surround myself (metaphorically not literally) with like-minded people. I don’t feel the need to be open to opposing views, the likes of which might land me in the hospital and cause my organs to shut down. If that means some of my dear old pals fall by the wayside, so be it. I’m just not willing and able to maintain friendships with people who don’t seem to know or care that their behavior could actually kill somebody and destroy our country for years to come.

Here’s a friendly reminder: Yes, it’s a free country and everybody can do what they want. But they ain’t gonna do it around me.

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