Asking For a Friend

I’m good at following directions, and the goals of shelter in place are straightforward: stay at home, don’t go near people, wash your hands, pee in jars. Pretty simple.

I visualize safety precautions on a spectrum. Way over here is pre-covid, when we went everywhere and my kids licked all the things. Way over on the other side is what we’re doing now. We aren’t going anywhere, we aren’t in direct contact with anyone, and all licking is kept to the bare minimum.

But as businesses and humans start to open up, we enter this super messy gray area where I already know I’m going to have a hard time, as a human and as a mother, deciding what is safe for us to be doing. How much contact is safe? How much risk is acceptable?

I’ve already felt this odd phenomenon where I don’t feel safe – I feel vulnerable. scared. hypervigilant. – but at the same time, I am safe. I have food, water, clothes, shelter, my family. In the same way, we’re all supposed to behave as if we are sick – staying away from people, wearing masks, washing hands – in an attempt to not get sick or get anyone else sick. Or, maybe we are sick and we don’t know it? It’s both. It’s Schrodinger’s sickness, in the same way that it’s Schrodinger’s safety. We’re both safe and unsafe, sick and well, all at the same time.

Now let’s spread a thick, bitter layer of anxiety over this delicious dumpster fire. Staying home makes me feel safe. Well…safer than I do out in the world. I can control my surroundings here and there’s a very limited amount of exposure we have to the outside world. As we open up, of course that gets much harder to control and, if I know myself, anxiety will increase henceforthwith. But, anxiety is a tricky devil, and there’s also the thing where tapping into my social support network – in person – decreases my anxiety. Dude, I miss hanging out with my friends. Like, a lot. So, again, as we open up, I’m going to have to constantly decide: how will this social engagement increase my anxiety due to my exposure to others’ germs? How will it decrease my anxiety because social interaction is healthy for humans? Where shall I hide all these jars of urine?

You see the constant, ever-present dilemma. I’m already exhausted.

Another factor that’s tough for me is not having an end date. All the uncertainty is difficult and I’m for sure gearing up for a marathon, but even the runners who sign up for a race know exactly how far they’ve gotta run. I have no idea how to pace myself. Shall I freak out all at once, or would it be better to space out those panic attacks? Asking for a friend.

One realistic (I hope) goal I have for this summer since all the things have been canceled is getting to the beach. Any beach. With the least amount of people possible. It’s the best place I can think of to go during a time like this: it’s low risk, high fun, outdoors, and free. I don’t care if it’s raining on a Wednesday morning, if that means we can go and be safe(r), then we’re fucking going. Get in the car. We’ll be like backpackers – we’ll carry in everything we need to survive and we’ll carry it all back out with us – food, water, plastic potty, and whatever waste is deposited therein. We won’t stop for nothing. You need to pee? Here’s a jar. You want ice cream? Fucking churn it yourself.

This is gonna be the best summer marathon ever.

 

The Silver Lining

This post picks up where my last one left off, last Friday the 13th.

The next day, we woke up to snow. We couldn’t believe it. All winter, we’d been hoping for snow, wishing for some, and nothing. Until schools close and the world starts shutting down. It started snowing again during the day, and they were the biggest, fluffiest flakes I had ever seen.

THIS IS THE SILVER LINING! THIS IS PERFECT! I yelled as my family and I gawked out the window. My kids scrambled to put on shoes (no jackets) and ran out into our yard to play. Still wearing my pajamas, I put on a jacket, hat, and snow boots and decided to sneak out the front door to stand still in the (relative) quiet.

Several neighbors were outside also enjoying the weather, including my next door neighbor with their young son. Earlier, we saw our neighbors across the street letting their two retrievers frolic and play in their front yard. They looked like they were having the time of their lives.

“They should have their dogs on leashes.” my son dutifully said. He’s heard me complain in private and chastise people in person for not having dogs on leashes. It’s not safe for all involved, and I’m proud that my son now knows this.

“You’re right. They should be on leashes.” I replied.


I stood on the sidewalk and looked up. The fat flakes were falling so slowly that I could pick one out and position myself so I could catch it in my mouth.

I heard a shout from across the street and I looked up just in time to witness one of the gorgeous dogs get hit broadsided by an oncoming truck. It all happened in slow motion and all at once.

My other next door neighbor burst out of his house and started screaming. Apparently he had been watching from inside. He yelled at the owner something about how the dog should have been on a leash and pick him up, get him to the vet, RIGHT NOW. I also heard a voice whimpering oh no, oh no, oh no and realized it was mine. The owner ushered the still upright and walking dog into their house and closed the door. The truck was long gone; it never even slowed down.

Realizing there was nothing I could do, I turned around and made eye contact with my neighbor and his son. Oh god, I hope he didn’t see, I thought, and not knowing what else to do I turned and walked into my house and burst into tears.

I kept peeking out my window because I wanted to make sure they were going to get the dog emergency care. I saw a man come out and empty out the trunk of a car. The next time I peeked, the car was gone.

Over the weekend I kept watching for the car, and it didn’t come back until 48 hours later. I am both desperate and terrified to know how the dog is – too terrified to go and outright ask.

Needless to say, that event definitely spoiled my day and probably my entire weekend. I took a ridiculously long shower, trying to wash off the trauma. As a trauma therapist, I’ve heard every disturbing narrative you could imagine and many you can’t, but I’ve never actually seen something so traumatic. I also can’t tolerate violence toward animals, real or fabricated.

I spent the rest of the day manically cleaning my house. None of us went anywhere that day.

Since then, we’ve essentially been sheltering in place. On Sunday I saw on Facebook that our local library was closing the next day, so I ran out and checked out a buttload of books and DVDs to hopefully last us for a long time. My husband called in sick on Monday and then went to work on Tuesday only to pack all of his office supplies into his car so he could continue working from home. Besides walks around the neighborhood, grocery shopping, the dentist, and one trip to the pediatrician because my kids continue to be sick, we’ve been hanging out at home, just trying to hang on and get well.

I’m pretty terrified. I’ve said it feels like we’re waiting for an invisible tidal wave to hit us and the anticipation is crushing me. I’ve had to shake off the ridiculous expectations that suddenly mothers are supposed to homeschool their kids like we don’t have enough shit piled on our backs. Not only are mine still ill, but they are confused and frustrated and do not take well to their mom trying to get them to do fucking worksheets. To hell with all that. We’ve been taking temperatures daily, we’ve been watching a lot of movies, and we’ve been taking walks, reading books, writing letters to grandparents, and doing art. On our walks, I’ve been carrying chalk and writing positive messages around the neighborhood. Once the rains come and wash them away, I’ll go out and do it again. Not sure if I’m doing that for myself or for others, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.

I’ve been meaning to compile a list of the positive side effects we’ve been experiencing as a result of all this chaos.

  • We get to sleep in
  • We don’t have to worry about being on time for shit
  • All the hilarious memes and videos and late night shows being broadcast from celebrities’ couches
  • I don’t have to make school lunches every night
  • My husband is home during the day
  • My house is going to be spotless by the time this is all over
  • Our carbon footprint has been drastically reduced! Both on a local and global level; how exciting is that?! Perhaps this experience will drive lasting change.

Now go wash your hands and stop touching your face.