A few days ago, I realized that if I was going to bake a cake for my husband’s birthday, I’d need a few ingredients. With that in mind, I decided to stop by my local Fred Meyer store after work. Social distancing and COVID-19 pandemic be damned.
What a nightmare.
The first red flag, the one that should have made me turn around and get out of there, was the fact that there were no shopping carts available. I had to stand in line in the lobby and get someone’s cart as they left the store. Not only was half the free world shopping ahead of a possible quarantine, but the store was severely understaffed. (And who could blame them? Would you want a cashier’s job right now, where you get to touch stuff that other people have touched all day long?)
And yet, I persisted.
When I finally got a cart, I noticed that there was no Purell available anymore to sanitize the cart handle. I was not the only one in that store that was pushing the cart with my shirt sleeves. A lot of people were wearing masks, too, and many were swerving as far away as they could from other patrons that they passed.
I had a hard time finding the products I required. As you can see from my photo below, whole aisles were empty. A lot of items were in unexpected places. I spent an hour finding what I needed, and as I fed off the tense atmosphere, I started grabbing things that I didn’t need, just in case. Because you never know.
All the paper products were gone. And hand sanitizer? Forget about it. The milk had been picked over, and the soup aisle was sparsely stocked. The only bread available was of the French variety. Oddly enough, there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But you couldn’t buy a fruit rollup for love nor money. The section of the store where they sell clothing, auto parts and small kitchen appliances was completely deserted.
I saw two women arguing over the last bag of flour. It occurred to me that I’ve never been in a position where I couldn’t obtain whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, as long as I had the money. The thought of having the money and yet having to go without is new and scary. How fortunate I’ve been.
After spending an hour desperately searching for everything (whether I needed it or not), I felt like weeping. It was just so overwhelming. Our world has changed so quickly that it feels impossible to keep up. But my adventure had only just begun. Now it was time to see the cashier.
The lines were so long that they snaked down the aisles. And everyone was quiet. So quiet. I realized, suddenly, that the store did not have music playing as they usually do. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It felt like a riot could break out at any minute, but how do you blame an invisible virus for turning your life upside down?
While standing in line, the thing I dreaded most happened. I had a coughing fit. I tried to suppress it by clearing my throat. I pulled my stomach in so far it felt like it was trying to pass my spine. My eyes were watering. And I had left my cough drops in the car. I coughed helplessly into my elbow. I suddenly felt unsafe.
Everyone around me looked at me nervously, and some tried to move away. I was afraid someone would call security or something, and I’d be dragged out of the store without my hard-won purchases. So finally, I broke the silence.
“I swear to God, y’all, this isn’t COVID. It’s allergies. I’m being treated by a doctor. There’s no lung involvement, and no fever. I swear to God.”
That confession seemed to break the tension. Everyone started talking at once. About their allergies. About their relief. About how crazy all of this is. One woman actually apologized to me for her visceral reaction to my cough. I told her that I didn’t blame her. I’d probably react the same way under the circumstances.
Finally, I was able to check out. Someone was waiting for my cart at the door. I have never been so happy to go home in all my life.
I told my husband about the crazy experience. I had dinner. I watched a little TV, and then I went to bed early.
Around midnight, the dogs started barking. My husband was coming in the front door, laden with grocery bags. He had been shopping at a store that stays open late. Because you just never know.
For the first time, I feel like I’m not writing for you, dear reader, but for future generations who will wonder what this pandemic was like. They’ll be able to read all the articles about disaster preparations, deaths, and political maneuvers, but there will be fewer things about what the experience was like for the average person. We are living history. So if you’re reading this decades from now, hello from across the years and miles, from Seattle, ground zero of the American outbreak. May heaven help us all.
Ugh. I have a cold. And it’s a weird one. No stuffy nose. No fever. A sore throat for about 20 minutes. Then, chest congestion and coughing, coughing, coughing for weeks. And the worst part: vertigo.
The ground seems to be rolling like a storm-tossed sea. And whenever I turn to look at something, the rest of the planet seems to lag about a second and a half behind me. It’s messing with my head. I can’t think straight. I can’t focus. I can’t blog. And I’m tired. I’m so very tired.
And yet, here I am, at work. In a stupor. And my ever-lengthening personal to-do list is a source of anxiety. I feel like I’m not keeping up with my end of the marriage. All I want to do is sleep.
And, is it a full moon? It must be. Because everything is weird. I feel like no one, including my computer, is understanding anything I say. I’m struggling to make myself clear. And people are acting strange. No. It’s not a full moon. In fact, we’re approaching a new moon. Oh, who cares? Nothing seems real.
It’s raining. A jeep stalls on my drawbridge, backing up traffic. I call a tow truck.
Did I call the tow truck? I remember calling someone… I think I called a tow truck. Oh. Here comes the tow truck. Somebody must have called a tow truck. But is it the tow truck I called? Should I call off my tow truck? Screw it. They’ll figure it out.
It’s time to go home. I shouldn’t be driving. But I want to go home. My socks are wet. How did my socks get wet? Now my feet feel all clammy. Cough.
Yay. I made it home. The dogs are happy to see me. I feel like I’m in the eye of a puppy hurricane. I’m not sure, but I think one or two of them even levitated for a minute there. I let them out to do their business. I’m glad someone is taking care of business.
My husband is off finding us a replacement car for the one that got totaled a few weeks ago by an unrepentant idiot. I should be helping. I can’t even seem to help myself.
I let the dogs back in, and I head for bed, peeling my wet socks off my feet along the way. No human being can hug you as good as your mattress can. Finally, I can go to sleep.
Except, no. I can’t. I have to pee. Groan.
I get up. I head for the bathroom. I trip over one of the dogs and land flat on my face in the hallway. It’s the only thing I’ve done all day that doesn’t seem to be in slow motion.
My back. I wrenched my back. God, but it hurts.
Fuck my life.
I get up. Slowly. Carefully.
The dog refuses to apologize.
I go into the bathroom. I pee. I decide to take a leftover pain pill from a previous klutzy escapade as a preemptive strike for the back pain that’s headed my way. It’s hard core. It’s heavy duty. Don’t try this at home.
I crawl back into bed and sleep overtakes me.
Gently down the stream…
My dreams are the stuff of a Dali painting. But I don’t care. I’m asleep.
Until about midnight, when I hear my husband letting the dogs out. I’m sure he’s been home for many hours. I get up.
My back feels okay. My feet are dry. I’m warm. I’m home. I’m not as dizzy as I was. I still have the cough, but hey… progress. I’ll take it.
I putter cautiously into the kitchen, where my husband stands at the door, waiting for the dogs. I snuggle into his arms.
“Is this a dream?” I say, sleepily.
Because everything is so good. I love my life now. I love my husband. I love my dogs. I love my house. I love my job. Everything is just so freaking good.
“No,” he whispers. “You’re awake.”
“Thank you for being real.” I say. And I go back to bed.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream…