This post continues a series on our experiences under COVID-19, inspired by the realization that “we are all field collectors” in the effort to someday tell the story of what happened in 2020. Consider this an invitation to write your own stories of pandemic life, and to submit for publication on this blog–guidelines here.
By Faith Ellestad
What are you guys up to?” I asked my friend the other day.
“You know, social distancing,” she replied.
There it was, the world’s newest verb. The grammatical emblem of our new reality. Waving to the neighbors through a tightly-closed car window. Wearing vinyl gloves and a mask to the grocery store. Texting your son in New Orleans “Are you remembering to social distance?” Realizing you are going to smell permanently like a Lysol wipe unless you are lucky enough to score a bottle of Purell, hopefully with Aloe, because it smells less acrid and is somewhat less harsh on the hands, but you take what you can get, if anything.
I quickly realized that I would need an attitude adjustment to help my family through these challenging times. I crafted a “plan of positivity” that included being determinedly chipper, discovering and preparing delicious new recipes, sorting through all the closets, getting rid of all the junk stored in the basement, and organizing the garage. Of course, the others in the house would then take their cues from me as we sheltered supportively in place with a minimum of discord.
What a Pollyanna I was. It’s amazing how quickly a three-bedroom, two-bath house shrinks when three adults are suddenly stuck in it, unable to leave at will to do errands or shop.
And let me share with you my opinion of “open concept”. It’s cruel. Every loud noise or cooking smell or small disagreement is magnified and funneled into the shared space.
We were all finding this new state of affairs much more challenging than we had anticipated but I, author of the grand plan, was the first to crack. It took about two frustrating days. I was annoyed to discover the family found my forced good cheer irritating. Then the pharmacy had neither my prescription (although they had called to let me know it was ready) or hand sanitizer. The grocery store was out of corned beef, bread, lettuce, and frozen peas. I forgot cat food, and all the birthday cards I looked at for my son were either gross or stupid. Later, I realized that I had left my only two surgical masks at my mother’s house which we had sold the day before, so they now belonged to the lucky new owners.
Over the weekend, as my mood darkened, I mostly watched the news and cooking shows. I did parts of three crossword puzzles and decided not to bother with makeup. One of the cats developed a bladder problem. What to do about the vet? Fortunately, the issue resolved while the cat sheltered in place on my pillow, but I was reminded, to my continuing chagrin, how complicated formerly simple tasks would be.
The Monday before St Patrick’s day, I didn’t get dressed until after lunch, choosing instead to slouch mopily around in my yoga pants and pajama top. I was on the edge of tears all morning, and finally in desperation my husband suggested a walk in the Arboretum. I had already abandoned my plan to lead the way with good cheer. Or adventurous cooking. We had frozen chicken pot pies for dinner.
Bootstrapping myself into a version of normalcy the following day, I took a break from the constant barrage of bad news to honor my partially Irish heritage with a savory St. Patrick’s Day meal complete with corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and Irish soda bread. Even though my husband is ethnically more Norweigian, we felt a touch of family solidarity, togetherness notwithstanding.
On Wednesday, I received a letter from the Minneapolis Nursing Home where my younger brother resides, announcing that due to Covid 19, no visitors would be allowed for the foreseeable future. I’d been planning to visit him as soon as the weather was reliably travel-worthy, but I was too late, and now I won’t see him until the threat is over. The fact that he is in a nursing home, even though he gets great care, is unsettling at best, so I cried. Again. And my husband came to the rescue. Again. He’s been checking a birdwatching site on the internet and suggested we go on a drive to see some migrating waterfowl, something we used to enjoy doing together. A little drive and ray of sun and a couple of white fronted geese helped. Again.
Good news on Thursday. Not about the virus, which had been increasing exponentially, but about my older brother and sister-in-law. I got a text that they had decided to return early from Florida. This had been a huge concern, so one less thing to worry about.
Friday, the gloom returned. I had a headache, and Tylernol Severe Sinus wasn’t helping. My brain was the mental version of a detached retina, half dark, half blurry with diffuse anxiety about my son who lives in New Orleans.
Saturday, I decided not to shower, just have coffee while I watched The Pioneer Woman. A rerun. Geez. Also, one of the cats threw up. Repeatedly. On a bright note, the house smells better, like Woolite Pet Stain and Odor remover, my new favorite scent. Again, my husband urged me into the car for a little fresh air.
Don’t even ask about Sunday. I suspect my family was hoping I would move into the garage, but they refrained from suggesting it.
By Monday, I felt better. I got dressed before noon, ate yogurt instead of chips, and decided I’d probably dye my hair after all. It occurred to me that I might not be the only depressed person in the house.
Now, a couple of weeks into the social distancing, were adapting a little better. On our drives, we’ve found that old cemeteries are good places to stroll around. Very few living souls are there to cough on you, it’s peaceful, and oftentimes a little window into history. Not macabre, as I had feared.
I really am going to try harder, sometimes anyway. I’m learning to shop online, but that may not be a really good idea. You can find ANYTHING on the web. Jeans, kitchen tools, a rug shampooer. It’s hard to stop finding stuff. I even ordered a month’s worth of cat food.
Last night I watched more news. So many brave people, all trying our best to hold things together, dreading the possibility of this horrible virus affecting our families. Stress and anxiety just don’t stop, nor do the tears.
So I’ve decided to stop watching news 12 hours a day. I don’t want to feel like crying all the time. Today I turned off the TV and made chocolate chip cookies. Of which I ate several. Now, I’ll have to hop back online and order more yoga pants (they’re so forgiving), due to the potential weight gain, which could start this depression cycle all over again. It doesn’t take much.
I guess I’ll need to get better at hydrating, because I’m pretty sure I’m not done crying yet. And clearly, my husband, is not done driving Miss Crazy.
© 2020 Faith Ellestad
Faith has been writing to amuse her family since she was old enough to print letters to her grandparents. Now retired, she has the opportunity (and with Covid restrictions, the time) to share some personal stories, and in the process, discover more about herself. Faith and her husband live with two elderly cats in Madison, Wisconsin. They are the parents of two great sons and a loving daughter in law.