It was a gift for Christmas. Two nearly identical bracelets came in a box ready to share. His granddaughter had given him a bracelet and a charm, and she got the other bracelet, a smaller one but with an identical charm. The charm was something that she could tap, like a tap on the shoulder, a little sign to let him know that she was thinking of him. He could respond to her tap with a little squeeze that would trigger her charm to light up and blink at the rate of his heartbeat. The two friendship bracelets would help them feel closer to one another.
The bracelets were simple and rugged, and with a periodic change of a coin cell battery, kept them in touch. On her first day in junior high and before every competition or concert that she was playing in he would send a tap and she would return a squeeze. On road trips away from home she would send a tap to let him know she was thinking of him and he would return a squeeze.
Through these little gadgets they created metaphors for physical connection that they took for granted. They got the feeling that they were in touch.
After the first wave of the pandemic he was isolated at home. He could only visit with his granddaughter through a webcam. They still wore their bracelets, even as dated and worn as they were, and now it felt even more important to stay in touch. Sometimes she’d tap her bracelet just to solicit his response. And he would return with a squeeze that lit her bracelet up with his heartbeat. It was the only physical interaction that they could have, better than nothing at all.
The pandemic subsided in the summer but returned in the fall with more severity, spreading faster and killing more swiftly. This time the disease did not discriminate by age. For the young the time from infection to death was fast, sometimes only a few days.
He was unlucky enough to contract the disease even in isolation. It still wasn’t well understood how the disease spread despite the lock down. Even though the hospitals were prepared with beds, ventilators, and PPE for front line workers, his chances were slim. As his condition rapidly worsened his granddaughter would tap him several times a day, every few hours, to check on him. He always responded by squeezing the charm on his bracelet. Her charm would light up with his heartbeat.
Before they sedated him and put him on the ventilator, he squeezed his charm as hard as he could, sending his heartbeat her way. She saw his heartbeat flash by in a moment and then lost touch with him.
For days she tapped with an empty hope that he might respond by sending his heartbeat. Sometimes she would wonder when she had last changed the battery in his bracelet. Was it a long time ago? Would he ever respond?
His blood oxygen levels started to improve. He woke up and was finally breathing on his own. He didn’t know how much time had passed and couldn’t find the bracelet with the charm. He saw it by the side of his bed and asked the nurse’s aide to give it to him. He squeezed the charm to send his heartbeat. There was no response, nothing happened. He tapped and waited.