31 March 2020

Empty Pockets, Empty Streets

 Five and I drove to Target today. I told him we needed to go buy seeds, but the truth is he just really needed to be in the outside world. He's been cooped up and sleeping a lot so I'm trying to ward off depression, mostly by driving around and letting him play music. Target sits in the outer ring of our local mall, which has been shuttered by its management company, Simon. It's strange to drive all the way around and see the vast expanse of empty lots. It's a stark example of what is happening all across America now as retailers shut down for an indefinite period of time.

The mall, however, is an impersonal chunk of brooding, barren architecture. Its miles of closed concrete walls allow for a rather distant, macro view of the crisis facing us. The individual toll comes into relief when driving through our small downtown. Businesses which have been open for decades sit dark, explanatory signs still in the windows. The liquor store, deemed essential, waits for customers to drive down our empty streets.

Retail directly employs 29 million Americans and supports 42 million jobs. Today, the Captain's company furloughed 90% of it's employees. We will not read about a rescue package for this industry, despite the staggering number of people affected by its decline.

I work at a supermarket. We are hiring. Three already works in my store, Two has an interview tomorrow, and Six has applied for a full-time position. We are busy because we sell food. But even that isn't guaranteed as supply chains struggle and more folks lose their jobs.

I'm not sure we're going to get through this together.

25 March 2020

The Hulk Inside Me

My sister, Erin, is sheltering with two of her daughters in their apartment outside Phoenix. Her other daughter lives with her in Fountain Hills, and she has a newborn baby as well as two young girls. For their safety, Erin is staying away as long as possible. She texted tonight to say she's started a YouTube fitness routine and she and my nieces are organizing their apartment.

I wrote back that I wished I was getting stuff done, but it's mostly been laundry and food.
And sanitizing.
And school work.
And fixing the internet.
And picking up and mailing medications to Cap's parents in Florida.
And monitoring the college kids and their needs.
And following up on their job applications because everyone is out of work.
And worrying whether The Captain will lose his job.
And going to my job, because I still have one.

And being angry.

I am not limiting my exposure to social media or the news, but I never willingly watch President Douchebag. I cannot stand the sound of his voice as he stands there and lies about every aspect of this pandemic. People are dying and his only concern is the economy. His cronies are suggesting we grind up our grandparents in the capitalist sausage machine, as if their deaths will somehow stop the utter collapse of our financial and healthcare systems.

I say this as someone whose family relies on a retail corporation to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table: this idea is evil.

The president is evil. His co-conspirators are evil. This government is evil.

"Evil" is an old-testament kind of word that gets dismissed as hyperbolic, but I am at zealot-level rage. I'm Bruce Banner's secret. As a person who was raised a Christian, I've been struggling to reconcile the directive to love my neighbor with my moral imperative to recognize and reject Satan and all his empty words. It's an actual promise we made when we baptized our children. President Douchebag is not smart enough to be Satan, but he's a conduit for his works. So shouldn't I wish him dead?

Satan and I have met before, most notably during my active addiction. I like to think I can recognize his coy whispering in the world. But if my profound sense of helplessness unmoors me to the point of wishful murder, then that sneaky motherfucker may be winning a little closer to home. I'm going to have to stick with my current plan to love the people near me A LOT and hope it radiates out to the world. Possibly like the Death Star. Hovering over The White House.

Arrggghh. Jesus made shit hard.

Tonight I asked Cap if I could paint TRUMP IS KILLING US on a tarp and nail it to the roof. He said no, because it's a new roof. We agreed I could paint a sign for the front lawn. It's a way to express my frustration without hurting anyone.

I hope my neighbors love me.

20 March 2020

Groundhog Days

Five asked me on Monday if I have ever experienced something like this pandemic.

"Not really," I said. "It feels a lot like 9/11, in that people aren't sure what's going to happen next. And we can't travel. And we're waiting for the next bad thing."

A few days later the vibe is more like Snowpocalypse 2011. My mother had just moved in with us so we could care for her as she battled pulmonary fibrosis. Coming on the heels of Hurricane Irene, the early October storm dumped over a foot of snow onto trees still laden with leaves. That night we could hear them snapping in the woods, followed by the pop of exploding sub-stations. We were without power for weeks until a utility crew from Illinois made it into our neighborhood. Schools closed, Halloween was canceled, and The Captain and the boys had to trudge up our impassable driveway every few days to carry oxygen tanks down for my mother.

We finally got a loaner generator from one of Cap's friends, which meant we could run a refrigerator and space heaters for my mom and Cap's parents. But that meant I spent most of the day driving to find gas stations that could fill my gallon containers. With the remaining daylight I had to take care of everything else-food, kids, laundry, mom. By nightfall, I was exhausted.

This feels like that.

Every morning I wake up much later than I should. I spray disinfect the light switches and door handles and peroxide wipe the bathrooms and kitchen. I bake muffins or make pancakes because I have boxes of those and it makes the kids happy. Then I usually have an errand to accomplish-lizards for the crickets, mailing medications to my in-laws in Florida, gas for the cars. Every day Four and I have to accomplish school work, which is stressing him out. I try and make everyone go outside in nature once a day, including me and Cap. There is laundry to wash, dinner to make, and occasional sewing. I've put loops on towels and given everyone a hook so they have a dedicated place to dry their hands. Cap and I try and get a grip on paperwork and bills. That gets more scary each day. I make us play a game at night so we share some laughs.

I have eleven people sharing bandwidth as we school, work, and play from home. Two days ago I went to BestBuy and bought whole house wifi. Tonight I spent an hour on the phone with a remarkably patient and kind tech who helped me figure out why the nodes weren't connecting to my modem. At the end of the process I had to name my network and create a password.

When my in-laws return from Florida and ask why they can't connect to the internet I get to tell them to choose the one labeled TrumpSucks.

In these trying times, we have to claim our small victories. Because tomorrow we do this all over again.

18 March 2020

Love in the Time of Corona

When Two returned home from Puerto Rico, he asked if he could stay in Brooklyn with his girlfriend and her cousin, mostly to catch up on sleep. It had been a stressful few days for them as the island began shutting down in response to increasing numbers of coronavirus cases. I told him it was fine, but we should talk soon because the situation in our area was rapidly changing.

Two called on Monday to talk options. He wondered if he should just stay in Brooklyn to avoid bringing home any possible contamination. But if he did make it to New Jersey, could T and her cousin E come with him?

This was a test.

My natural inclination is to mother. I have five children at home, plus Art Girl and Six, who have been living with us for the past two years. We've known Six since he was in kindergarten with Two. He's vacationed with us since he was 12, and we've tried to be a safe harbor for him when his home life was tumultuous. After his parents moved in opposite directions but his job and school kept him here, we offered him a bed downstairs.

Art Girl was in Two's BFA program and had visited our house a few times. She reached out to me shortly after her third time in rehab. Her family didn't trust her recovery so she had no place to live. The Captain and I understood the risk in taking her in, but we felt uniquely qualified to help. I had thirty years clean and Cap is very goal oriented. Within two weeks of her arrival she had a job, meeting commitments, and obligations. We're happy to say that two years later she's healthy and successful.

Parenting is our jam.

Except, maybe, during a pandemic?

I admit to hesitating when Two asked if we could increase our quarantine quota. We hadn't even met T; their relationship was new. But I could understand his reluctance to leave her. When Cap and I first dated we spent five straight days in my apartment, skipping classes, eating in the park, and watching  The Young Ones. The coronavirus had the potential to separate them indefinitely.

I told Two to bring his friends here. It was more than the memory of yearning, young love that motivated me. It's easy to wish you could help, but hard to actually do it. It's easy to love from a distance, but hard to open your heart. It's easy to say you're a Christian, but hard to act like Jesus.

I picked up Two, T, and E from the bus stop on Tuesday, right before they instituted a tri-state 8 PM curfew. Cap and I welcomed them into our home with the understanding they may be here a while. Every day brings a torrent of new information to digest.

It's hard to process it all.

But it's easy to share the love.

16 March 2020

Pandemic, Lone Woman Edition: Our Cake Pop Moment

This week has been a helluva year.

My sister, Erin, flew out from Arizona less than two weeks ago.  It was a rather spontaneous trip, prompted by the need to accompany her mother-in-law back to New Jersey. Although we knew there were risks to flying because of the coronavirus, she strapped on her N95 mask, packed her handwipes and landed on our doorstep March 3. I had to work during the week but we managed to find time to relax, binge a Netflix series (I Am Not Okay With This: highly recommend) and laugh with the Captain every night on the couch.

Those were a few good days.

By Saturday, we understood what was coming. We already knew the virus was active in America but it was clear that it would quickly spread unabated, as our government had done nothing to prepare or protect us. We knew quarantine was an eventuality, so we started shopping. Erin ordered a case of 80 rolls of toilet paper delivered  to her house, along with tissues, paper towels and baby formula. My niece and her family live with Erin and her husband. There is a newborn in their house, and our early thinking was that the virus would act like influenza and place the very young and elderly at greatest risk, so Erin also managed to find Saniwipes online. I ordered peroxide wipes because they kill everything including norovirus, which felled my father-in-law last year. He has a compromised immune system so we were trying to keep him healthy. Did I mention my in-laws were scheduled to fly to Sarasota on the 9th?

On Monday, Four's school sent an email that they would close early Wednesday to discuss how to implement distance learning if it became necessary to close the school. We were officially fucked.

Every morning, Erin had been sanitizing all the surfaces in my home with Clorox wipes, and spraying the door handles and light switches with Lysol. She began disinfecting twice a day. 

After much deliberation about where my in-laws would be safest, we put them on a plane and sent them to Pappou's in Florida. We figured there was a good chance some of us here would become infected, seeing as how the Captain works in New York and Three and I work at a supermarket. In Sarasota there would be sunshine and open space and only three old people in an apartment. It seemed the better choice.

The next day, I drove Two to the same airport for his trip to Puerto Rico. There were no reported cases on the island, we have family there, and he would only be gone for five days. What could go wrong? That afternoon I made another run to Costco to buy large bags of frozen fish and chicken along with shelf stable fruit and canned goods. It was the last time I'd be able to get through the doors.

Wednesday arrived and all of America woke up in a panic. Erin started investigating flights home, worried she might be quarantined in New Jersey. I went to work at 8 AM and customers were already packing the aisles. By Thursday there was nothing left on the shelves. No meat, no dairy, no canned goods. Pharmacy and paper products were long gone. Cap had a retirement dinner that night for a colleague and he texted me from the train. "It's over," he said. "Today's the tipping point. The world's gone insane." Granted, he'd had a few drinks, but he wasn't wrong.

On Friday, my store ran out of produce. That was also the day Five had what we've come to call his "cake pop moment." When I told him Erin and I were going shopping-hoping to find a few more supplies-he asked if we were stopping at Starbucks.

"No, honey, " I said. "We can't eat food made outside our house anymore."

He just stared at me. "What?"

"We can't eat anything that we didn't prepare. Because of the virus."


He was depressed and cranky all day.

Saturday, Four's school alerted us they would be closed until further notice. I worked from 8:00 until 4:30, stocking our shelves with what remained in our cooler. People bought pounds and pounds of cheese and, inextricably, caramelized nuts. How are they a necessity? We sold a lot of Kerrygold because it was literally the only butter left in the store. The Captain and Erin got me at the end of my shift so I could drive to the airport with them.

I ignored the CDC directives and hugged and kissed my sister good-bye, unsure when I'd see her again.

Today my town closed our parks and playgrounds. We know they will shutter our downtown soon. I told my job that I would no longer be able to work day shifts because I need to teach Four. Three continues to go to work every day. There are no scheduled food deliveries yet. 

Two made it back from Puerto Rico, right as they instituted a curfew because of the escalating number of COVID-19 cases. Two is certain he was exposed.

I am worried for the health and well being of my friends and family. Businesses are going to close and people will be lose their jobs. Of the eleven people living in my house, I expect at least four of them to be unemployed by the end of next week.

This afternoon, Cap and I walked around Parks Lake. It felt good to be outside. We went home and finished cooking chili and rice, and after dinner we played Rummikub with the kids. It was nourishing.

Not as good as a cake pop, but close.