At the beginning of the pandemic, glued to the news reports, stunned silent by the changing world. We watched with horror as the number of cases and dead ticked upwards. There was no time for the political spin, the data raw, truth, while the words not spoken shouted, “what next?” Our answer, we don’t know and our anxiety notched up.
Stores shuttered, the world’s population on lock down, shaking our heads as we wrapped around the reality that this was the entire world, the entire world. We stand in lines yawning into oblivion, patiently learning the new way of the world, apart, though together in our quest for hand sanitizer, food, toilet paper, human contact.
As essential workers, we dressed, showered and went to our places of work constantly aware of touch surfaces. Was it yesterday that we touched seemingly everything without a care? Our hands raw from sanitizer though wondering is it really enough to ward off our unseen foe? We worried at ever turn that we were exposed, exposed someone else. The virus, invisible, though lurking at every corner. We longed to be home. Outside my office window, the world had stopped. The normally busy avenue reduced to a couple of cars.
We imagined the non essential workers at home, safe, though with more time to spend looking at the news, paralyzing themselves with fear. Every day the fear of the marketplace stronger, worried if they would have a job again one day and then trying to live on the government money offered and wondering when that money would end.
We watched with horror as our Prime Minister gave away daily our children’s children’s money and wondered how the future would look? How we would pay it back? How many generations would bear the burden? We think about people in developing countries with no money from the government, their income stopped, how would they survive?
The news our lifeline, “What is happening in Italy?” “USA?” “Europe?” Blindsided as we were by the beginning, we didn’t want to be caught unaware and so devoured everything on the pandemic. Would we ever travel again? We watched with terror our hard earned investments tumble, making us poorer, the future uncertain and the thought of any travel unlikely. Our borders closed, our thoughts turned to Canadians trying to make it home without success, stranded on cruise ships bobbing along in the ocean without a safe port.
The stores we used to frequent not available, restaurants offering groceries for sale, we sometimes took the risk though were left with the fear that in our quest for normalcy we exposed ourselves, exposed others.
With every sneeze, cough, sore throat we wondered if we had the disease, if our affairs were in order. We wondered if we did get the virus, would our life be spared, would the people we loved be spared? How many of us would be alive at the end? When was the end?
We baked and cooked more, bread, cookies, sweet treats and indulgent dinners laden with cheese, fat, and carbs, while our waistlines expanded. Exercise videos and new gym equipment had us thinking we would emerge better, healthier people, then quickly tossed aside as our thoughts were crowded about whether we would ever have our lives back as they were, then wondering if we really wanted all the parts of our former lives, then eating more bread and comforting ourselves again.
Our hair grew, our roots exposed, we took to cutting and colouring our own hair sometimes with disastrous results. Our best results we shared on social media. The worst hidden for now in the cocoon of our homes.
We communicated online with photos of us in happier times, family photos, vacation photos, graduation photos from before and memes where we would find the humour in the situation. Most days it was a reminder of what we had lost.
We imagined harried parents of school aged children, setting up zoom meetings for their kids, teaching without training and trying in the face of fear to shield their children from a world of no touch, uncertainty, while wondering if they could pay their bills, would they lose their homes?
We thought about the young adults that would graduate this year without celebration. Their friends so important at this time of their lives, reduced to face time and facebook updates while they sheltered with their parents, their planned summer jobs on hold, the future uncertain. This was likely not how they imagined this milestone year.
We thought about couples who planned for a wedding in 2020 and how those dreams ended overnight, postponed until next year without a certainty that next year will be any different. We think about couples that married anyway in small ceremonies without their grandparents, friends and families to witness.
We wondered about people who are homeless throughout the world and how sheltering in place is not an option. People whose homes are abusive and staying home means more time for abuse without end. We thought of marriages that were barely hanging by a thread unravel completely, the first order of business, divorce.
We imagined life in nursing homes, with no checks and balances, their occupants wondering if they truly had been forgotten. The disease ravaged through, the death toll ticked upwards. People who had forgotten many things, and soon would forget the people that they loved, the window closing. We brought flowers and chocolates and glimpsed them through a window, our heart full, our fears allayed, for a brief moment, though wanting more and leaving sadder wondering if we would ever hug them again? Would they know us if we did?
We thought about people admitted to hospitals alone, then dying alone all across the globe though especially where the disease had a stronghold, their final breaths not witnessed, their last moments fearful as they left this world unlike they came into it, alone.
We thought of the funerals, the loved ones left without comfort while they grieved, standing at the grave site and then going back home to be alone in their grief.
We thought of the many developing countries we had visited and with growing understanding realized their fate much worse than ours, bodies stacked in the street, healthcare non existent, dignity gone, while the disease devastated.
We watched movies and recoiled as we saw on the screen, groups of people and were fearful for them until we chided ourselves, its just a movie from before the virus, social distancing was not needed. How quickly we had changed.
We hear, “the new normal,” though know that this is not normal. We are unwilling to accept this as our way of life. Normal will only be when this is over we decide, though we are unable to see through the labyrinth of possibilities as to how this will end or when.
We hear about how a vaccine is just around the corner and though we wish we had the naivety to believe just for a moment, we know that this is not the case. The narrative created to provide us with false hope, though hope all the same.
We watch people using masks incorrectly, wear them in their cars, stores, and hate the masks and what they represent. The gloves drive us crazy as they and their mask counterparts are littered in parking lots. The rules in the stores change, the plexiglas screens go up, the arrows tell us which way to walk. We forget something, try to back up, but its no use, we walk to the end of the aisle, then to the next aisle, then back again, where we again forget the item and abandon the idea completely. The store shelves bare and we panic wondering if we too should be buying up the place, our rational selves take over and we walk on, though hesitate and wonder if we should walk back.
The lock down is lifting. I travel to work, my commute longer, the parking lot crowded. I travel in the elevator with another passenger, the first in many weeks, we avoid conversation. I expertly use my knuckle to press the button, avoid touching my face and then use hand sanitizer once I leave the elevator. Outside my office window, traffic accidents, sirens and the cacophony of sounds from a bustling world are heard. Traffic snakes and slows through road construction, tempers flare. The silence is missed. My coworkers and I discuss our plans for the evening, the week-end, our options greater, something to look forward, to not take for granted. The myriad of choices yawn though we choose the safety of home. The virus remains, our present normalcy could end abruptly just as it began, or it could change into something worse. Still, I shall hang onto the words of a good friend who said at the beginning of the pandemic, “happy days will return.” We can still hope.