Regarding Happy Hour, Greasy Eggs, and Other Things I Miss

coronavirus

I really miss being around people in places.

I should probably be more specific here, as I don’t necessarily miss things like waiting in the slowpoke line at the Speedway to pay for my gas at the counter because the credit card reader at the pump broke. Or maybe I do? Now that I think about it, I do have some nostalgia for wandering through a convenience mart to find a perfect savory snack for the next leg of a road trip. There’s some magic in asking the cashier for the key to their disgusting bathroom, because we’ve been driving through cornfields for four hours, anxiously anticipating the arrival to our spring break destination.

(We missed spring break this year. And at the rate that we’re going weather-wise up here in northern Illinois, we might be missing spring all together. Horray for 2020.)

But I really do miss the electric bustle of my local spots, like where I normally pick up my coffee on the way to work. They finally knew my name. Getting local shopkeepers to know me by name became this badge of honor over the last few years. We moved around a lot before we bought this house, so putting down roots in one town and being on a first-name basis with business owners became a symbol of belonging and familiarity.

I hope the coffee shop owners remember my name when I finally return. I hope they’re still there when I return.

I miss my office. I miss the security guard in the lobby who never smiles but nods an acknowledgment as I clickity clack by in my heels with my coffee and my scuffed badge. I miss the mechanical sounds of printers printing papers, of hundreds of fingers pounding out emails, of coffee mugs reheating in the microwave. I miss the smell of the greasy eggs in the cafeteria. Sally, who works behind the counter, has been serving delightfully greasy eggs in that cafeteria for over 20 years. I wonder what she’s doing during this quarantine.

Is her husband making her delightfully greasy eggs so she can finally rest her feet? I hope so.

I miss wandering around the mall on the first warm afternoon of the season. I miss drifting in and out of stores that have propped open their doors to let the spring breeze in. The higher end stores light fragrant candles on lacquer shelves. I can’t afford stuff in stores that light candles on lacquer shelves, but it’s fun to chat with the shop girls and eavesdrop on old rich ladies stocking up on embroidered tunics. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss wearing blouses. You know, legit blouses, with buttons and pretty detailing and low stretch tailoring.

I’m scared to put on anything “low stretch” these days. The tailoring will most certainly tug and pucker after weeks of mindless snacking. I’m going to give myself some grace on that.

I miss getting a text from my sister at the end of a long work day. “Do you happen to be nearby? Want to grab a beer?” We live on opposite ends of the same town, and we’ll quickly pick a midpoint spot where we can grab a pint and vent before heading home to our families. I miss hopping onto the stool as the bartender wipes down the counter and slides a happy hour menu in front of me. I miss our perfectly synched exhalations before our glasses clink. I even miss the intrusive interjections of the drunk old guys who are on their umpteenth round of Old Style tall boys, watching Jeopardy and complaining about their wives.

I wonder what those guys are doing with their afternoons now. Probably drinking tall boys, watching Jeopardy, and still complaining about their wives – or, rather, TO their wives.

I miss date nights with my husband. I miss the familiar laugh of our favorite server and splitting a ½ price bottle at a quiet corner table, talking about our kids as if we didn’t just see them 15 minutes ago when we dropped them off at their grandparents’. (We don’t drop them off anywhere now. They’re always… right here.) I miss grabbing a night cap after the perfect dinner, and spending an hour in a musty dive bar, people watching. I miss making mental notes of their odd idiosyncrasies, as they conduct their sloppy mating rituals like peacocks in heat.

I miss picking our kids up from their grandparents’ and honking the horn as we pull out of the driveway. I miss waving bye to my parents as they stand in the front window in their pajamas – waving bye until next weekend, when we’ll meet for church or coffee or to take a walk around the downtown market, just to get some more quality time in.

I miss the kids’ teachers. I miss the other parents from the bus stop. I miss watching the little kids run up and down the sidewalk, playing tag as they wait for Ms. Mary to pull up in that big yellow bus as she does every morning at 8:00. I miss watching them stumble up the bus steps like little turtles, their gigantic backpacks spanning from neck to knee.

I miss asking them what they did at school today. I already know what they did at school today. They basically taught themselves math because I have never heard the term “number bond” before. Sorry, guys.

I miss the band concerts and play dates and impromptu nights out with friends and the leisurely errands on Saturday afternoons. I miss the chaos of rushing to karate class and music lessons, and texting people that I’ll be there soon when I haven’t even left my house yet.

I miss leaving my house.

I know, with time, this too shall pass. But I still miss the things that time has already passed over, those moments that we’ll never get back.

But mostly, I just really miss being around people in places.

Self-Isolation: An Unexpected Emotional Tripwire

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My family and I were sitting on the couch last Wednesday, watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” on TV Land, as we always do. It was the one where Marie is badgering Amy and Robert about the thank you cards from their wedding. While we laughed about what a nag mothers can be, I anxiously stared at my laptop, waiting to start my virtual physician visit.

The day prior, I woke up feeling off. Super tired, scratchy throat, an occasional booming cough that seemed to launch straight from my sternum. I was nervous about coronavirus, but my rational side had already decided it was something scary that happens to other people. When I got the call from the doctor, I ran up the stairs to my room so I could take it in private. I didn’t want to scare the kids – they had no inkling that I was even sick. By the time I scaled the mere six stairs to the upper landing of our split-level ranch, I was completely winded. I started the call sounding like I was fresh off a cardio session.

The doctor informed me in a very matter-of-fact tone that I most likely had COVID-19 and I should act accordingly. This was likely his 100th consult of the day and his bedside manor was shot. He explained that I was low risk – 36 years old, clean bill of health, non-smoker, with no known contact to a COVID-positive person. Of course, there was no way of knowing that for sure. Illinois had been in shelter-in-place mode for weeks and the only time we left the house was to grab groceries, and we did that sparingly. Still, despite my efforts to keep my distance, the grocery aisles were narrow and teeming with mask-less shoppers. I counted the days since my last grocery trip – four days.

Low risk meant no test referral. He explained that a positive test wouldn’t change the treatment plan since we’re just managing the symptoms, not the virus itself. He prescribed me an inhaler, a slew of vitamins and orders to take Mucinex, and then instructed me to self-isolate for seven days.

I’m not going to dwell on the illness itself here. I’m not knocking on death’s door – not today, at least. Fatigue, labored breathing, erratic body temperature, yada yada yada. You can Google “COVID” and get the run-down of every possible symptom. Fact of the matter, this is a highly infectious, nasty little virus that seems to manifest differently in each person. Simply stated, it’ll make you feel like a crappy sack of potatoes. Instead, what I felt compelled to do on this, my fourth day of my isolation sentence, is to share the emotional symptoms.

When you’re infected and isolated, your physical body becomes a battlefield, and your spirit becomes the collateral damage.

I knew that this was going to be an emotional rollercoaster the minute I walked back down the stairs to tell my family what the doctor said. My 11-year-old daughter burst into tears. I tried to convince her it was not a big deal and she sobbed back, “How can you say that? They cancelled school because of it!” Okay, good point. Well, I’m going to be okay, I rebutted. She asked how I could be so sure.

I wasn’t sure, not sure at all. Regardless, I felt my job at the moment was to reassure my children so I promised I would be fine. It felt a bit hollow, but they bought it.

My husband stripped the linens off our bed. We decided that for the isolation period, I would stay in my daughter’s room and it would be off limits to everyone. No one could use the downstairs bathroom except me. I wouldn’t leave the room except to go to the bathroom and occasionally sit in my socially distant chair in the living room. We tried the “social chair” for a night and decided not to do that anymore. For one, we weren’t sure if the mere act of me breathing would be putting a toxic cloud into the air. And then there was the fact that I could not sit upright in a chair for more than 15 minutes before I had to lie down.

When you’re infected, you’re not supposed to touch anything in the house. If you do, it needs to be immediately sterilized. My husband is taking this very seriously – not allowing me to self-serve and when I do slip up, he puts on the gloves and grabs his bleach concoction and starts to spray.

Words cannot express how awful it feels to watch your doting husband furiously scrub his hands to the point that his skin is peeling and cracking – all because he touched something you touched. I watched him scrub his hands after accidentally touching my hands when he was giving me pills. If there was a sexy scale, with Gisele Bündchen on the one side, well…watching a man sterilize himself after touching your body – that’s the complete opposite of Gisele.

And as I wallow in this self-pity, I have to emphasize how critically important it is that he take these steps. He has to do it, and it’s no picnic for him either. He’s having to slather on moisturizing hand cream like an old lady at a Clinique counter. He has to hand deliver all my quarantine snacks. Trust me, if you think it’s shameful how many rounds of secret quarantine snacks you’ve had today – imagine having to ask your tired husband to get all of them for you. I had to stop making eye contact after the fifth round of Triscuits.

And then there’s the situation with my kids.

I’m not the most tender, physically affectionate woman in the world. But to not be able to hug, kiss, or snuggle my children under these circumstances? It’s torture. Yet they’ve been so well-adjusted through all this. They respect the distance. They make me cards and leave little bins of miscellaneous toys and treasures to serve as mementos. They go about their days as best they can. It’s been a cold winter and recently we’ve enjoyed glimpses of spring. As such, they’ve been outside playing basketball in the driveway, taking walks through the wooded prairie path, and drawing pretty pictures on the sidewalks. And all the while, I stare at them from the window of my isolation chamber, like a creepy pandemic ghost lady.

I have an N95 mask on the bookshelf near the window. I once considered putting it on and poking my head out the window at dusk to see if I could spook them, just for kicks.

I did not. There’s sick, and then there’s sick. I know my limits.

When it comes to navigating this whole thing with my family, the lowest point was this afternoon when I walked down the stairs to go to the restroom and my 6-year-old son, recoiling in feigned horror and disgust, exclaimed, “NO! DON’T COME NEAR ME!” It was a throwaway joke. He forgot it as soon as he said it, quickly re-focusing on his tuna sandwich. My daughter and husband seemed unphased by his silliness.

But I’m not going to lie, it felt like a dagger to the heart. Oh, how I wept. If only coronavirus could be expelled through my tear ducts as easily as it entered them.

I know this whole thing will be a mere blip on the radar in a few years. A bad memory, and probably a good story for my grandchildren. It’s a good story now, isn’t it? Everyone keeps reminding me that it’s going to make good material for my blog, maybe some future memoir or screenplay. I’m certain it’s made good fodder for other people’s dinner conversations. While I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from my co-workers, friends, and community, I’m also fighting the insecurity of being a circus side show, a compelling curiosity for people who up until now have only experienced coronavirus through the news.

“This girl I knew from so-and-so has it,” they can say during their next Zoom happy hour. Wow, interesting!

As I deal with the emotional and physical ramifications of this uncomfortable situation, I seek the humor. I try to conjure a joke or enjoy topical internet content. Unfortunately, some of the memes have lost their luster now that I’m on the other side of this. But I’m conditioned to crave that levity, so I’m constantly trying to downplay my feelings in the spirit of “perspective.” After all, things could always be way worse. I could be gasping for breath, I could be in the ICU, I could be on a ventilator, I could be dead.

I’ve seen a lot of posts from people trying to dole out a harsh dose of perspective for people. They’re even bringing Anne Frank into this – disregarding people’s struggles with isolation by reminding us that we could be crammed in an attic right now. I suppose that’s fair, but what benefit is there to this unrelenting invalidation of people’s emotional response?

More repressed trauma, of course. It’s the American way!

And since we always MUST find the silver lining of everything – oh God, the requisite silver lining, the positive takeaway, the KEY LEARNINGS – I guess I’m grateful for the opportunity to rest. I’ve been using a newly gifted oximeter to check my blood oxygen levels for the last few days and I’ve been happy to see them in normal range, despite the wheezing. Sometimes I wonder what the oximeter would have said a week ago, just before I fell ill, when I was in the throes of a grueling 60-hour work week.

Because I’ve been forced to just sit here, I’ve learned so much more about my daughter by staring at her bookshelves and open notebooks and doodles. I’ve felt an immense tug at my heartstrings as I’ve looked the photos with her sweet little friends. She’s accepted that she’s probably not returning to school this semester. The last exciting weeks of 5th grade, the grand exit from elementary school, will be spent in this house with her parents and little brother. She won’t complain, she’ll let it roll off. But I know, deep down inside, she’s hurting.

As I reflect on this, I recognize that whether sick or well, old or young, we’re all slogging through this unchartered territory together. We can keep stocking up on Tylenol and toilet paper, research the merits of hydroxychloroquine, and suck on inhalers in lieu of any real at-home treatments. But what we shouldn’t fail to care for is the emotional repercussions of this journey.

Because at the end of the day, the collateral damage is usually the most costly.