I’m by the building that once housed a Lord & Taylor, which is now empty of the only moisturizer my skin tolerates and that prized cherry lipstick that leaves no stain. A store open for almost two hundred years. Now the edifice seems like an ode to a just-gone era of capitalism—time undoing an entity that existed when my great-grandparents lived but not one that would outlive me. All I can think about is the peculiarity of what used to stand—and what I would purchase—in the place I’m receiving the shot that will lead to eventual collective resurgence. An azure cashmere sweater worn twice that creatures destroyed. A black-on-black tuxedo jacket with a notch lapel and silver cuffs for our wedding night. Faux leather knee-high boots that strained my toes when I had no car, not realizing the pressure would squeeze my nails until blackened and loose. Then just skin, no sheet of keratin for months. This is what swirls in my head as I wait in the driver’s seat, mask on, during an April that clings to rough winds reminiscent of January, an instant away from receiving the first Covid-19 vaccine. The only vaccine I’ve actually wanted to get since I was a teen heading to the Amazon. That one-time pinch was for yellow fever, since I would be exposing myself to thirsty mosquitoes. This time it’s the first of two shots to halt a worldwide pandemic.
In the days leading up to Christmas 2020, just a few weeks before the building shuttered its doors, I entered the store to see if the discounts were worth it. No open fitting rooms, a mask mandate, and few heels left in my size six feet. Most of the gifts under the tree were bought during that outing: peel-off gooey facemasks, a teal cashmere sweater, Clinique goodies, light-pink ballerina flats, and a chestnut-colored choker. As I tried on a pair of heels in the store for the last time, I remembered my mother taking me there as a kid. I’d bring a toy and watch her as she ignored my heavy sighs. At least at the mall, Barbies in boxes entertained me while she shopped, or window-shopped, but at Lord & Taylor there was nothing.
This is how it was until I got older. Then I’d go alone after work, finally understanding why my mother ventured there, but I could only afford purchases during the Labor Day sale. Sometimes I would go just to pass the time, spritzing on some perfume that lacked a flowery scent. I’d linger to the men’s cologne section to inhale the smell of wood, almost alcohol, or the musk of rain on sand. I didn’t need to buy anything, I just needed to be there, and to not think of anything but what was in front of me. As a child this place inhabited nothing of interest to me, but as a young adult it was an escape. Then, in the midst of profound change and seclusion, it became a void. I pictured the inside only holding abundant grime, a mound of dust bunnies, or maybe abandoned mannequins.
In the parking lot, none of us leave our vehicles to head inside the building. No standing in line under bright lights, no last-minute trinkets to compel us into adding more bucks to our total price. The people making sure we get what we need are wearing military camouflage coats and pants, double masks, and some of them have beanies on to warm their ears. I take a photo of the building’s exterior, the black font and semi-script logo still present, and wonder if getting a vaccine where a store once stood is really as much of a contradiction as it initially seems. It dawns on me that this nation has too often conflated essential services with entrepreneurship. A free vaccine is only temporary, enough to restart the economy and to bring us back to when people would comfortably cough into hands instead of elbows. We are all there not just to revive the monotony of our lives, but with the hope to soon fill up the spaces we’ve abandoned: malls, mom-and-pop shops, movie theaters, or fitting rooms. A Lord & Taylor that has felt the wrath of all the stages of the pandemic is the perfect place to get vaccinated, then, and I accept the experience can serve as an Urban Dictionary definition for ‘Murica.
Dense clouds in the background don’t hamper the sun, and a fire department van that seems more like a golf cart idles by to see if people suffer adverse reactions. The first member of the National Guard who asks my name and age plays Bad Bunny in the background. It’s the reggaeton beat and Spanish lyrics that convince me this is where I was destined to get the shot. After my car weaves in and out of more lanes, another camouflage-clad worker asks about possible allergies. She then swabs some alcohol on my left arm and introduces the needle deep into muscle, and although it isn’t possible, it goes in so far I’m curious whether she touches bone. Take care of yourself, she says. My voice cracks and wavers when I say thank you. The relief pervades my body, and she leaves as quickly as she pokes me, walking to the booth to get the paperwork for the next car. I pass two more lanes, and in the last one, a man places a red cone on top of my car with a scribbled 9:09 on it, indicating the precise time I approached him.
In the minutes of wait, nostalgia overcomes me. There are no cars in front of me to thwart my parking lot views, just to the side. The surrounding trees have scarce leaves and it’s too frigid to put the window down. Workers drive around wiping cones, erasing previous times, communicating on walkie-talkies, and leading a car that mistakenly ends up in the post-vaccine area back to the initial waiting line. No more metal chairs by the entrance for annoyed spouses and bored children. No food trucks stationed with tender truffle fries. Just a few feet away, some years ago, I had a Bloody Mary while searching for a crop top, when the thought of a pandemic only occurred in novels and science fiction films. While reminiscing I put my vaccine card in a cyan wallet, then remember that this is where I bought it. The t in “Kate Spade” is lost, maybe hiding in the expanse of my car or as a speckle in my purse. This place will now elicit dichotomous memories. One of capitalistic pick-me-ups that accrued over the years of my life, and another that encompasses the surge of hope knowing an end to an era of death and affliction is near. A man asks me, muffled behind his mask, how I feel. Fine, I say. He points to the exit.
It’s 9:29, and as my car speeds away, I question whether I’ll ever be back to this location for something other than a vaccine. Years ago, while posing in dresses in the fitting rooms, I never imagined that here is where I’d come to receive a vaccine to stop a pandemic that would have, by its one-year anniversary, taken so much from me and everyone around me. But who knows? This spot, with its remnants of a once-sturdy enterprise and harbor of personal memories, may be a site that I’ll visit again, and perhaps it’ll come to accommodate a bizarre moment that now—in my inability to see the future—can only be considered unfathomable.