As I type this, we are on day seven of self-imposed quarantine. A handful of Darrlings have the world’s mildest cold symptoms–symptoms I would give exactly zero hoots about, under normal circumstances–that right now indicate that we could be actual timebombs of death. Social responsibility tells us to assume the worst, so we are in full isolation.
Since we are even more homebound than usual, I’m trying to use some of the “extra” time to write. Sadly, my mind is blank. I can’t organize thoughts that aren’t about this. And, to be honest, it’s not the virus that has me scared.
It’s the people.
Then again, I can’t complain too loudly, because I’m one of them. Kinda. Here’s how it happened:
Relevant background: I don’t typically keep a ton of extra groceries on hand. I’ll stock up on certain things to take advantage of a sale, but typically try to buy no more than what we can reasonably use in two weeks (with the exception of meat, which I buy in bulk and freeze). In addition to saving money, I am striving to run a zero-food-waste home, so this has been a good practice for us.
Shopping happens on Friday or Saturday, which means Thursday nights and beyond in the kitchen have the tendency to…shall we say, inspire creativity.
On this particular Thursday night, I was starting to see reports of grocery shelves being cleared. Not from that vague enemy, the fear-mongering media, but from my friends. My neighbors.
My grocery stores were getting cleared out.
And so, it was with an empty pantry and a sense of wide-eyed WTF that I tiptoed into the suburban war zone that is my local Target.
It was busy, but not bananas. Shelves were picked over; some were empty. The atmosphere in the store was off, yet strangely familiar. A few moments in, it clicked, and I recognized it, this mingling of collective purpose and dread. I had experienced it exactly once before: trying to get out of Boston on September 11, 2001.
It was at that moment that some limp, dusty wire in my brain was tripped. The enormity of what was possible flashed before me. Not enough people were listening to social distancing advisories. Too many people were underprepared. Too many people were panic-buying.
And my kids were going to eat, dammit.
Thus, a truly bizarre assortment of foodstuffs found its way into my cart. Oatmeal and rice for the grain-free folks? Sure, why not. Extra sugar and beans? Canned fruit? Absolutely, yes. Plus medicine, bleach, shampoo, toothpaste…if we were likely to use it in the next 90 days, I bought it.
So help me, I bought apocalypse marshmallows.
After returning home with/finding homes for my plunder, feeling both intensely proud and vaguely ashamed, I came upon this lovely little snippet, shared by a friend. It has provided me with quite a lot of food for thought:
OOF. Why don’t you just call me by name, you coward?
The bittersweet nostalgia of insecurity
I’m nine years old.
We’re living with a family of four who despises me. They lock me in the basement for hours, sometimes overnight. The minute my mother leaves the driveway, the lock clicks. Every time. The family puts cinder blocks over the storm door to make sure all escape routes are blocked.
There is no food and no bathroom until she returns. In the interim, I have a small space heater couple of ground-level windows, but otherwise, no daylight. It’s strange, eerie even, to live underground…stranger still to know you can’t safely come out. The floor is leaking, and a stale dampness permeates everything. Mushrooms grow out of the padless carpet. I catch pneumonia down there, in isolation.
Now I’m a mother of four. Forced isolation is a trigger for me. I look across the room and gaze at Wolfgirl. She is nine.
Yes, I am remembering.
Get in, get yours, get out
The other thing that is triggering me to infinity and beyond is the grocery store madness. The empty shelves, the quiet desperation to get what you need…
Now I’m thirteen.
My mother has moved in with her boyfriend, who lives in the next town over. I am alone, almost all the time. With no car, no cash, and no parents, getting what I need is an ordeal. A trip to the laundromat is a privilege. Medical care is a crapshoot.
Kitchen cupboards echo, stubbornly refusing to multiply their contents, no matter how many times I reopen them. I dig, hoping to find something that is not plain pasta or a handful of dry corn flakes. Please let there be something sweet. Hooray, an undiscovered jar of jelly in the back! My greedy fingers pop the lid, only to find a catastrophe of ants staggering drunkenly across the sticky surface.
I cry. I eat pasta.
At Christmastime, the landlord brings me a festive holiday gift basket, filled with crackers, peanut butter, and tins of tuna fish. He knows more than he lets on.
Occasionally, my request for groceries was heard. She would haul me out at some ungodly hour, and I would carefully choose the items that were cheap and would last: canned ravioli, ramen, Dinty Moore beef stew, egg noodles, frozen peas. This was my only chance, for who knew how long, to get what I needed. Before the lack dug in its claws again.
Now I’m a mother of four. My kids will have jelly.
Yes, I am remembering.
For the record, I’m fully on board with hoarder-shaming. No one person needs or deserves all the anything. However, I will defend to the death your right to have a reasonable stockpile of food, household supplies, and medicine. Especially when you are feeling insecure. Especially when other people start freaking out and clearing shelves. You are allowed to do what you need to do to feel safe.
Just, please…leave something for the next guy. Seriously. Don’t be an asshole.
Self-reflection and the abundance of lack
There is so much lack in our world right now. Lack of food. Lack of activities. Lack of hospital beds. Lack of doctors, nurses, ventilators. Lack of security. Everywhere, lack. An abundance of lack.
So…what part of me is being triggered by this? Cripes, what part of me is NOT triggered by this?
You might be triggered, too. Maybe your triggers aren’t as obvious as mine, your resource-insecurity more insidious. Maybe it’s less about the stuff and more about the way people have treated you in times of lack. Maybe it reminds you of the pain of a lonelier time.
Maybe it’s being home with the kids. Is there something about staying home that you associate with a failure on your part? Are you losing a piece of your identity? Are you so used to working with teachers, nannies, and babysitters, that you’re not sure you’re up to this full-time parenting thing? It’s okay to sit with the feelings this shift stirs up.
Maybe time away from home makes you feel safe and secure. Maybe not being able to drive where you like, shop where you like, eat what you like, reminds you of a controlling parent or partner. Maybe you still have a toxic person in your life, who you know is going to make this situation ten times worse. Maybe all this togetherness is going to throw harsh light on a relationship that’s not sustainable.
Maybe something about this state of constant uncertainty triggers anxiety you’ve been able to disguise behind home decor, or dietary restrictions, or something else you can control. Or maybe you find identity and worth in being The Strong One, and this mass panic is extra weight on your aching shoulders. Maybe you’re missing that person who was The Strong One.
So, if you feel like your behavior or mindset is “off” lately, it probably is. We are all off. We are all adjusting to a new normal, and processing the feelings and baggage that comes with it. The good news is, we may have an abundance of time to spend on self-reflection right now. Invite your feelings to sit down a while, and give yourself time to unpack.
Be gentle on yourself as you sort through whatever this is stirring up for you. Give grace to others, because you don’t know what this is stirring up for them. We are all in this together.