For those of us not in Seattle, the timeline has felt cinematic: Friday, I picked up my mother- and brother-in-law from the airport, having had minimal concern that they weren’t going to make it in or that it would be a bad idea for them to travel. Monday, I dropped them off concerned that they wouldn’t be let back into their cities. Last week, I flew to Chicago and washed my hands at every opportunity. Next week, I have a cancelled ticket to Chicago because my mom just got off chemo and it just feels wrong to tempt fate like that. It’s like in Independence Day when Jeff Goldblum went from riding his bike around his office to sitting half-dressed and fully drunk and blithering about giving aliens a cold in the span of an hour.
Even though COVID-19 has been around since December (thus the ‘19) this whole thing feels like ripping off a band-aid, exposing the raw, unready wound beneath. In January, Fox pundits were making racist proclamations about China, and I was both appalled and unsurprised. But on Saturday, I went to the supermarket on my block, an Asian supermarket called Good Fortune, and easily found everything I was looking for, except wheat flour, which isn’t really a staple in Asian cuisine. So I went across town to Trader Joe’s only to discover bare shelves and empty freezers. And further still, at Kroger, the water and toilet paper, which used to be housed in aisles unto themselves, were completely out of stock. Now I am appalled and, perhaps naively, surprised.
These people, the ones with the houses full of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and, weirdly, wheat flour, are aware that Asian supermarkets have the same suppliers as everyone else, right? They just stock different things. The fish is more fresh and duck eggs take up a larger portion of the display, but they’re not importing their produce and home goods from China. And where they are, I’m fully sure it’s not covered in still-living virus material.
So at the store, I bought a dozen eggs because we were almost out and I refilled my prescriptions and I impulse-bought a box of Trix cereal (now with Trolls: World Tour marshmallows! Just what every twenty-nine-year-old needs) and went home, already looking forward to when things returned to normal and the worst xenophobia was safely tucked behind a television screen. But the band-aid was still coming off, taking hair and protective layers of skin with it.
I’ve started “working from home,” which is a big joke because I have to be at work to do my work, which doesn’t matter because so much of my job has been postponed indefinitely that I might as well not even try to do it. At first, like many people, I was excited by the prospect of not working; I’m in the extremely coveted position as a TINK to be able to live without my salary as my well of PTO dries up, and even if I lose my job because of this outbreak (unlikely) I’ll survive unemployed for a while, like I always have before. But it’s literally only day three of my work-from-home-athon and I can feel my whole being bucking against the restraints. My depression-prone brain drags me back to bed or the couch for hours at a time, my confused body doesn’t know what day it is anymore, and my stomach cries for comfort food or, really, any food, even though I’m barely using the calories I’ve got.
The finish line keeps moving: we need a vaccine or a cure or major healthcare reform in order to usher back our former world, so it could be April, it could be August, it could be 2021 before I have my life back together in a way my brain and body can understand and appreciate. So our unprepared wound will be exposed for weeks, probably months, and we’ll all get to know each other uncomfortably well, while simultaneously forgetting what the warmth of human touch feels like.
Will we successfully socially isolate our way into a truly flattened curve? Will the young and healthy among us, who may carry the virus with few to no symptoms, commit to this weird limbo even after the novelty has passed? Will we come out of this as a better, stronger society? Will the sting of the adhesive ripping against our tender skin be an experience we can learn and grow from? Or will it continue to expose the wounds we have struggled with over all our existence? Tribalism, short-sightedness, depression, intimacy… we could consume ourselves without even giving the virus a chance, as we have tried to do many times over the millennia.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.