I ate chili-cheese fries shortly after seeing into another human being’s soul, and I really feel no shame about this.

Allison Gruber
5 min readJan 20, 2021


Morning in America’s schools: my students and I chat about socially distancing while watching a livestream of Biden’s inauguration. Another student, watching with her parents on a faster stream, jumps in to tell us IT IS HAPPENING.

The morning after Barack Obama was elected, I arrived ten minutes late to my Comp class (that I was teaching) because I had been in Grant Park the night before and hadn’t arrived home to my near-north side apartment until well after midnight. It was the first time in my service as an adjunct (and being an adjunct is a public service) that I had been late to class. I was worried (I was still under the false belief that performance helps the adjunct rise-in-the-ranks: it does not), but I also wasn’t too worried because Obama had just been elected and everyone in Chicago seemed really happy and the buskers in the tunnels were all singing about Barack and on the El strangers were, for that day only, all familiars.

At least that’s how I remember it.

Yesterday, in a snowstorm in Flagstaff, directed around a base by soldiers,
from the warmth of my Honda Fit,
I received my first dose of the Moderna Covid 19 vaccine.

When the nurse from the county approached my car all I could see were her beautiful eyes. She wore a mask and a heavy coat. Her hood was up because it was cold and the snow was heavy and wet. Her eyes were shockingly beautiful.

She looked at the information I provided on the internet then asked, Which arm are we doing?

I shimmied out of my hoodie, saying, I don’t know if it matters, but I had lymph node removal in my left arm, so let’s do the right arm . . .

You’re a cancer survivor? She asked.

A lifer, I replied and gave her the Cliff’s Notes version of
the Spark Notes version of
my “story.”

She told me she was a breast cancer patient, too.
And suddenly we weren’t just asteroids floating in this freakish space,
in this surreal moment, on an army base in a snowstorm,
but two people connecting over a shared pain.

After she administered my shot and hurried off to the next person, I called after her, I’ll be thinking of you!

But then she came back, I forgot! She said. You have to stay here for fifteen minutes. If you have any reactions, put on your hazards and honk your horn.

I nodded. Like this was all perfectly normal. Like, yeah, duh. Hazards and horn when you’re having a reaction to the pandemic vaccine. Like always.

The nurse said she’d been distracted by me, my story.
And I think we smiled at each other.
It was such a weird moment. It WAS a “soul” moment.
I don’t know how else to describe it.
I mean it was one of those rare, but highly possible, moments in life (that are there if you are open to the possibility of them) where you see another person’s soul: THEIR whole life, up to that moment when your eyes meet, flashes before YOUR eyes.
It’s like the end of Hesse’s Siddhartha.
You know?

That’s the best explanation I can give.
Make sense?
Then open yourself to the possibility that someday you might see into a stranger’s soul. And they might see into yours’. And that’s one of the distinctly awesome parts of being human.

After I saw into another human being’s soul,
I drove back down the mountain to Tucson.
So far no bad reactions to the shot.
I have my second and final dose at the end of February.
Right around the same time I have my next scan
which will be a CT scan since my last PET scan was “ok.”

This morning, well.
When I woke up I immediately went to the news.
Trump had already flown away.
Like a bad fucking dream. Only it’s not a dream
and we can (and should) celebrate today, but tomorrow
we have to go back to work. America, we have a TON
of work to do. Particularly on matters of race. I think you know

In any case, I had the privilege of watching the inauguration this morning with my students over Zoom. We live streamed and watched together, talking in the chat window. I sobbed when Biden spoke. We all yelled out at different moments in his speech like we were listening to a sermon, which, in a way, we were.

In AP, I pointed out rhetorical moves in his speech and asked my students:
Two hundred years from now, what will an American high schooler, reading this speech, need to know about the intended audience? About us?

We talked about how today was a beautiful day, but also that today was not a magic day, not a day that could make all of our cares and worries go away.

Those of us who live to see another day will wake up in America tomorrow.
The real America. Which is to say the same America where two weeks ago White supremacists shat in the halls of The Capitol and threatened to hang the vice president on a gallows that was erected in front of the building itself. Like these nazi motherfuckers are Medievally insane, and they are among us. We are STILL that America, and we are being given a moment to change. The window of opportunity will be small, I’m afraid. Because I am well versed in cancer, let’s just use a cancer metaphor here, shall we? Let’s say America has cancer. It has, like me, stage iv cancer. But unlike me, America’s cancer is super aggressive. The only treatments available for America’s cancer are largely experimental.
We need to treat our country like a body on the brink
of death.
Because it’s that serious.

As for me, I am moved by the past two days.
I don’t know how to define what I feel exactly, but I know among my feelings are hope: hope about the country, about my health, about the lives of the people I love.

I am full of trepidation in all respects, but there’s only one possible direction:

My wife, this morning, posted a status update that said “Precedented times.”
And I loved this because when I opened my eyes this morning I looked at the ceiling and thought “Okay. You’re going to turn on the news. Everything will be on fire. Shit will be blowing up. It’s going to be madness, but he probably will somehow be sworn in.” And then I turned on the news, and while the ghastly pallor (wanted to give this entry a Gothic twist) of the past four years still heavily hangs on this nation, this morning was pretty damn precedented. Like, I had my coffee, I watched a peaceful inauguration with my students (granted we’re all online because of the pandemic, and the nation’s capitol looks like a war zone, and I’m fairly tired because I had to drive back yesterday from a mountain in a snowstorm where I went to an army base for the first dose of a brand new vaccination — but if you IGNORE all these parts, it’s a totally precedented inauguration day).

For today, for everything, hope.



Allison Gruber

Educator, essayist, feminist, human.