I am bunkered in my home now, going out less, at least most days. Even my son, who lives with me, keep our distance from one another, at his request. He still goes to his job at the supermarket, which has become a place of dread for me, instead of simple joy, because of the maddening crowd, to steal a line from a Thomas Hardy book title. The hurried resolve of the shoppers there, the new found lack of neighborliness, and all the empty shelves, it’s depressing and anxiety provoking. I pity the store’s workers for every employee is pressed into service to re-stock those emptied shelves. They’re constantly exposed to all the crazed souls passing nearby, some bare inches away as they work, waiting to snatch up for whatever item they seek, and some slipping past them on their way to other aisles.; all this is anathema to me. There’s always full parking lot, and I cringe on those days I do go for I do not like the feeling of panic that comes over me, the horrible sense that all these people are the vectors of my potential demise.
But most days I do go get a coffee. Though the local coffee outlet has become hollowed out – no one’s allowed to sit or linger anymore, just grab and go as they call it. I rush inside to pick up my pre-ordered drink, and, obeying the rules, I do not stay for long, do not say much to the tired baristas. Yet even this simple, short excursion to get coffee someone else prepares is a journey my children would prefer I not take. Then I return home, retracing my route in reverse, if it’s not a day to face down the mob at the supermarket.
I’ve become overly familiar now with nitrile gloves that I don before going out, and then tear off upon returning to this, my sanctuary, or prison, or just home. Which one it is depends on my mood and whether my usual ailment (not the one raging across the globe, but the familiar one that has assailed only me these 20 odd years) is acting up. Today, every part of my body itches. Odd rashes appear on my palms. I wonder what they’re trying to say, but don’t bother to ask. Instead, I try not to scratch. moving on to the rest of the day.
It’s a tiresome routine I’ve fallen into, this enforced solitude, though I am both prisoner and guard, so there’s no one but myself to blame for my confinement. That is how it feels, except for the times I go out. But I am faithful to the restrictions I’ve set for the most part. It’s possible to accept any kind of life I tell myself, standing at the sink, scrubbing my hands raw, then letting a spray of the hottest water they can stand wash away the soap bubbles. A ritual performed only after I finish restocking my own shelves. counting again what we have and do not have, what we need and what we can forego for a while.
Then its time to wash clothes and wipe down surfaces, filling my nose with the stench of bleach or ammonia, depending on which bottle I chose. All this before I can sit at the desk where my computer and screen await me. Checking social media, listening to podcasts, watching the videos on YouTube, reading articles online, seeing what latest hashtag is trending, knowing there is a world I can see but not touch – such is my day. There is no place other than this one for me. Though those other worlds intrude on my thoughts, which stream around my neural circuits before exiting to let new ones come in to take their place. It’s like Waiting for Godot without the benefit of amusing dialogue, isn’t it?
Today, I saw a picture of a man on Twitter, a boy really to my eyes, in a hospital bed, plastic tubes slipped over his head, with little nozzles placed in his nostrils. “Oxygen’s a helluva drug,’ was the caption he added to the image of his sad smile, weary eyes, lank hair, a flat image of his three dimensional self, lying there exposed but for his gallows humor. I wonder what it must be like, this thing we all wait for, and I believe we all fear, if not for ourselves than for our loved ones. We all participate in the same lottery, do we not, hoping to escape being chosen? Shirley Jackson would certainly agree, it’s not the worst analogy.
Then there’s my nap after reading a book with brief snippets of dreams, strange and beautiful as always, but soon forgotten. And then after awakening, I eat my last meal of the day, before moving to the couch in the family room to watch something on the television for two or three hours in the evening. Perhaps my son will come and speak to me for a while, or not. He has his own moods, his own needs, his own cares, and it’s a lesson to be learned anew whenever I see him, whenever we converse, that he’s not my concern anymore — though I am his, he’s made that clear. Some nights he joins me for a while, but most nights not. Safer that way. Lonelier, too.
Time to end this report. A long night of darkness lies ahead, buried beneath blankets. Perhaps this time I’ll sleep well. One can hope.