I’d just returned from a run, leaving the front door open to let in some fresh air through the screen door. Acknowledging the last few weeks’ seemingly rare conflation of above zero temperatures with semi-sunny skies. The dogs barked, alerting me to the fact that either a squirrel was passing through the shrubs, or a dog was walking on the sidewalk or we were in danger of being robbed.
I stuck my head around the corner of a room to assess the disturbance and saw my former neighbor standing by the porch. I hadn’t seen her since February, despite the fact that we live less than a kilometre from each other.
I opened the door to say hello, stepping towards her to give her a hug when I suddenly remembered: quarantine, social distance, pandemic.
It was a strange moment, an instinctual deference to social behaviors I’ve observed and executed for 45 years stopped in its tracks by an abrupt recollection of pandemic protocol.
I wasn’t supposed to hug my neighbor. I was supposed to stand at least six feet away from her, ideally while wearing a mask. And really she shouldn’t have been at my house in the first place. Weren’t there helicopters circling overhead, judging the proximity between people and making inferences about their relationship to one another? Weren’t my other neighbors going to report us, two unrelated people standing six-ish feet apart in broad daylight?
I’d seen a video clip earlier that morning, despite my best efforts to stick my head in the sand and ignore the continuous barrage of doom upon doom laced with snippets of an orange-faced man saying unintelligible things. It was of a woman in Michigan protesting the government’s stay-at home order. She was clearly fed up with the state of affairs, angrily revealing the top of her head with its vast skunk stripe declaring that ink black was not, in fact, her natural haircolor.
That Michigan woman bore an eerie resemblance to my former neighbor in tone and countenance, except, judging from the particularly brassy hue of my friend’s hair, she had not allowed quarantine to reveal her true colors.
Or maybe she had.
I’m a rule follower by nature, hugely uncomfortable with conflict or dissent of any kind. Any time I’m trapped in a conversation with someone I am not married to, and they are disagreeing or naysaying about anything at all, I can be seen nodding my head sympathetically, a study in patient listening. But underneath my placid exterior, I am plotting an immediate exit.
‘Do you even know anyone who’s gotten sick’, she fumed.
She had me there. Other than my friends Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, I know of exactly one person who has fallen ill with COVID-19. And he lives in the States.
‘It’s just ridiculous! Walking around the store with masks on? Justin Trudeau talking about speaking moistly? Yes, people have died, but more people are dying from heart disease and cancer. And here we are just walking around Costco, following pylons like little sheepies. Back in December and January, why weren’t they making people wear masks on flights and checking their temperature at the airport?’
Despite my law abiding nature and my inherent discomfort with the tenor of the conversation, she was of course, not wrong. Could it have made a huge difference if there had been more restrictions around traveling earlier in the year, when news about this virus first began to catch hold? Even Bill Gates seems to think so.
But when the powers that be consider economic health, public services, human life and mental health in the face of a potential catastrophe, is it possible to get it exactly right?
Platitudes and hashtags abound to assure us, much like the emperor’s clothes, that things are happening and everyone should do their part and it’s all for a very good reason. Flatten the curve! Stay home! Shelter in place! Staying home saves lives! Social distancing saves lives! We’re in this together!
All while alarmist reports of imminent doom cloud every news outlet’s website. ‘Worst recession ever!’ ‘Unemployment will reach 25 percent!’ ‘What if there’s a natural disaster during this pandemic?’ ‘Schools will be closed until Fall 2021!’
What are we supposed to think?
Ergo, my tendency to scroll mindlessly through Instagram rather than let my mind be further perturbed by truth, speculation and other people’s panic attacks. I’d rather speculate about what Harry and Megan are doing than contemplate a Hunger Games-like existence, killing squirrels for my dinner while living in dilapidated squalor, with dirt on my face and my signature decade-old blue Calvin Klein shirt from Costco a threadbare remnant of my former well-heeled life.
Amusing visuals of me looking like Jennifer Lawrence and being able to kill an animal with a bow and arrow aside, it has undoubtedly been the longest month of anyone’s life. Whatever your economic situation, your family composition (and dynamic), having the proverbial rug pulled out from underneath you, ordered to a solitary existence without being able to kill time at a public library, bookstore or Winners takes some getting used to.
Fortunately, in addition to dire news reports every three minutes, we also have access – in this prolific age of social media and questionable news – to top ten lists! and hot tips! authored by self-appointed experts on how to cope, nay thrive, during a pandemic.
Honestly, of the barrage of information and hashtags that have overwhelmed us these five weeks, the lists have been particularly irksome.
The weather sucks, you’re trapped in a confined space with people you usually only see for 2 hours a day at best – thanks to school and after-school activities and work commitments – you’re possibly unemployed, underemployed, or fully expecting to be either at a moment’s notice and most of your self-soothing mechanisms have been taken away.
Maybe taking up sewing, putting rainbows in your windows, learning a new language, or getting your body ready for a friend-less, beach-less, vacation-less swimsuit season is not, in fact, what will save you during this time. Maybe, when your life is stripped bare, instead of filling it back up with other people’s well-meaning ideas, you just live a bare life for a while.
Sort of like people did in the 80’s and 90’s.
PS. Two things that have actually helped my sanity: having dogs and watching Schitt’s Creek.
PPS. I might try sewing later today! Stay tuned……