Facebook friends became epidemiologists overnight. The sun kills it. It’s okay to order take-out, it’s not a food born illness (eye-rolling emoji). You can’t get it from your cat. Cats are carriers. Don’t let them near your face. Now is a great time to foster a shelter animal. Don’t wear a mask. Everyone should wear a mask. It’s now mandatory in LA. The president has metrics in his head. He points to them three times while the medical expert gets death threats for his truths. My hands are like leather. When nurses are fingerprinted there is a high incidence of unsuitable prints. Have we washed them away? Stay three feet away. Six feet. Stay indoors. Get outside. The sun will kill it. I order a cheap clip-on macro lens for my camera. A quarantine toy. I photograph the stigma of a hibiscus. It reminds me of the coronavirus.
How to Watch the Evening News
We’ve disagreed on many political issues. Most, actually, but he’s funny and kind and a good dancer, so I tried not to let it bother me. Now though, when we watch the evening news his incessant commentary infuriates me and I yell at him. I curse and slam things and have even called him names. Idiot. Asshole. I tell him I’m sorry, but the oppressive cloud of discontent lingers ominously. When he does that thing where he points his finger and starts mansplaining I lose it. I’ve taken to laughing and telling him he looks like a rotund Bernie Sanders. That usually shuts him up for a while and it’s better than cursing at him.
Over the past three tumultuous years I’ve maintained friendships with some, and distanced myself from others well before hearing the term social distancing. Some, even family members, have distanced themselves from me. But this is my husband, and we made those vows; in sickness and in health. While we have no symptoms of the coronavirus, our marriage is not well.
Would this quarantine be easier, I wonder, if I were single? If it were just me and the dogs?
No, I’m sure of it. Although our house is small, we each have our own space where we can retreat. I won’t change his mind and he’ll never convince me that he’s right. We agree that we’re not leaving the house for at least the next few weeks, possibly longer, not even to buy milk or eggs. I may have to drink my coffee black and THAT will really piss me off.
If I think of the other side, his point of view, I realize that he is as frustrated as I. We don’t know another couple like us, although I’m sure there are many. Most of our couple-friends are on the same team. My husband and I met late in life. Not the first marriage for either of us, we have no history of raising children together, family vacations, decades of arguments, anger and compromise. Will whatever force brought us together be enough to hold us there? That’s up to us. I miss laughing with him. And dancing. I especially miss the dancing. Tomorrow, instead of watching the six-o-clock news, I’m going to push back the sofa and put on some music. Then later, after he’s gone to bed, I’ll watch the late news alone, cursing quietly, so not to wake him.
Set a Spell
As a home care nurse in Baltimore, I learned years ago how to get in and out of a house without touching any surface with my bare hands. My first AIDS patient had open sacral wounds and explosive diarrhea. I was nervous, so I called my supervisor to for a reassuring pep talk.
“Are you planning to have sex with him? she asked.
I assured her that hadn’t entered my mind, or his.
“Well, are you going to share a needle with him?”
I hoped not.
“Get over yourself then and go see him. Just wash your hands.”
I’ve been stuck with dirty needles, filed the required incident reports, and gone for all the advised testing. Testing that was readily available. I’ve been in the roach-infested homes of hoarders where there was a baby rat in a potato chip bag on the dining room floor and an infant in a carrier on the table. Seeing an opportunity to model appropriate parenting behavior, I once picked up the baby. The back of his head was flat from the constant pressure of the seat. Roaches scrambled out of his diaper. Don’t even ask how many times we called child protective services. I had vivid dreams of bringing that baby home and putting him in a tub of bubbles, lathering his hair and dressing him in a clean onesie. I have disrobed in my garage and showered before I would touch my own young children at the end of my workday.
For all those years since, I’ve never touched the door handle when leaving a public rest room. If the trash can isn’t conveniently by the door, it’s literally a toss-up whether that paper towel will end up on the floor. Sorry. Not sorry. Move the damn thing. But there has been nothing, nothing like this.
For this too, I have a system. Pieces of tin foil folded into squares carried in a zip-lock bag in my purse to wrap around that shopping cart or handle. The plastic produce bag, fresh off the roll goes over my hand. I’ll turn it inside-out putting the tin-foil inside before it goes in the trash. (It’s been years since I’ve traveled with boxes of gloves in the trunk of my car). None of these efforts though, can guarantee I’m safe from exposure. A cough. A sneeze. Hands that have touched faces have touched that thing I’m about to touch. That pen. That can of diced tomatoes. That car door handle. I’m afraid of my newspaper tossed in its plastic sheath on the walk. Is it safe to touch?
So, I did what anyone would do. My husband and I went to the beach to watch the sunset. There weren’t many people there, even though schools are closed and it’s spring break. We sat far from other humans. Some boys came too close, tossing a football back and forth. I hoped it wouldn’t come near my husband who might reflexively pick it up and toss it back to them. Then spring break happened and folks partied in great numbers on the beaches until the beaches had to be closed.
Today I heard the estimate that most of us may eventually contract the virus. I miss having eggs and fresh vegetables, but I am warm and comfortable and not in need of assistance with the act of breathing. I can download books from the library. I suggest a hula-hoop gathering in our respective driveways and my neighbors show up with their hoops. In their effort, I find the hope I’m looking for.
It’s become a delicate balance, this being open to joy while not in denial of the harsh reality of the magnitude of fear and suffering and death. Someone in my old neighborhood, a condo community with an older demographic, suggests a parade. Those who want to march will wear hats and sing or dance, maybe someone will bring a kazoo. A ukulele. A coffee-can drum. The older folks can watch and wave from their balconies. My friend is chastised for her efforts. “It’s not a time for celebration,” she’s told. Others wonder, where’s the parade? They were looking forward to seeing their friends.
My neighbor set up flags, eight feet apart, and invited others to bring a chair and a drink to their lawn. We shared stories. Who has toilet paper and where they found it. Who made a big pot of bean soup. Who found a forgotten roast in the back of the freezer. I was reminded of those summer nights in Baltimore when the entire block would unfold their webbed chairs, and just “set a spell”. Neighbors coming together at the end of the day, hoping for a slight breeze and some friendly conversation. A way to put the evening news behind them, for just a little while.
–March 31, 2020
The Efficacy of Vitamin X in a Pandemic
Can you imagine yourself raging in public, slamming your fist on the counter, jumping up and down, screaming every curse word you ever heard and making up some new ones? Frothing at the mouth, droplets of spittle landing on the inside of your face mask, being your own one-woman riot?
Of course not. You’re known for your ability to defuse an emotional situation. For Christ sake, you even have a masters in pastoral care. You have learned to be still.
When you see the news footage of a man gone postal for being asked to put on a mask, or the guy slamming a fist into the hood of a car, you can’t begin to relate to that level of anger over something that’s in our collective best interest.
And then, suddenly, you could become that person. It happens in the local UPS store where you’re returning the HEPA vacuum cleaner bags you bought on Amazon, thinking you’d cut them up and slip them into a little sleeve of the face masks you’d make. Well, really, you thought you’d give them to your friend, who was actually making face masks, but it turns out the HEPA filters may have tiny particles that it wouldn’t be in your best interest to inhale.
That man stood so close to you with his mask not covering his nose, so why bother, and then said rude things that made you want to grab him and throw him to the floor but since he was twice your size you held back.
You’ve been in quarantine for over three months. This morning, when you called to schedule a telemedicine appointment with that guy who’s been your primary care doctor for the past five years, you couldn’t remember his name. It’s a known fact that social isolation and hearing loss contribute to dementia. You’re not entirely isolated because you have a husband who is ALWAYS in your house, but if you wear your hearing aids you can hear him so you don’t.
So, you put on your headphones and turn on the news. You see a group of angry gun-toting demonstrators at the Capitol Building in Michigan. These armed right-wing protesters are praised by Donald Trump as “Good People.” He asks Governor Gretchen Whitmer to “give a little.”
But how can this be? Why are they not arrested?
On the evening of January 20, 2017, the night before the Women’s March in Washington, DC, you, along with women across the country, shop unsuccessfully for a see-through plastic backpack. Rifling through clearance aisles at Target, you find some tiny plastic make-up bags, decorated with glitter, images of stiletto heels, Betty Boop, and Hello Kitty. Hello Kitty seems a good choice, but you need something hands-free and big enough to hold a wallet, keys, a water bottle, and maybe a small snack, a sample size bottle of Advil, and a couple of band-aids. Your cell phone. TUMS.
Unsuccessful in your search, you’re resigned to stuffing your coat pockets and carrying a plastic bag. Your smiles and civility are contagious, your dismay at the previous day’s pomp and circumstance tempered, for the moment, by the undulating sea of pink hats and amusing signs. No one carries a weapon. Not even a pointy knitting needle or a threatening crochet hook. Signs on sticks are forbidden because, well, they’re sticks.
In Raleigh, NC where it’s illegal to participate in a protest while carrying a weapon, a group of armed citizens march with demands of ending quarantine restrictions. No arrests are made because according to the police the protesters “aren’t protesting.” An image of a bearded, angry, probably gun-toting, maskless protester shouting, inches from the face of police officers, goes viral — no pun intended.
What do you do when faced with such irony? You can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. So, you turn off the news and take the dogs for a walk. Sugar, the big dog, is afraid of the giant Trump 2020 flag flapping against the pole at the home of a neighbor you thankfully haven’t met. You get that. You’re afraid of the damn thing too.
You relax a bit. You put on your headphones to watch the news and as expected, it’s HIM. He’s having one of his “press conferences” although you don’t understand why they let the press come since they are not allowed to actually ask questions. But no one has told Weijia Jiang, the reporter from CBS, and God help her, the silly girl has gone and asked a question. You’re happy because it’s the same question you’ve screamed at the TV during every one of these pretend “briefings” for the past six weeks.
She asks why it matters that the U.S. is doing more testing than other countries. Why does he make it a competition? And he gives her the look. His lips go into that tight circle thing that he does where if you put a picture of his lips next to a picture of an anus you couldn’t tell the difference. It’s a game of Name That Orifice. And he tells her, “Ask China.”
And for the second time that day, you feel the rage and almost — almost — know what it would feel like to be that person who slammed the counter, pounded the car hood, and screamed profanity. You write yourself a note to ask that doctor what’s-his-name if you could, please sir, have some Xanax.