The Week That Everything Changed

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Waking up this cold, but finally, blessedly, starting-to-warm March Monday morning to a world that’s very different from the one I woke up to last week.  Early last week, the Coronavirus was still joke fodder.  Bustling about my new kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a special dinner for my folks last Tuesday, I joked with them about our drink options, noting – with a spectacular eye roll – that Corona beer was assuredly not on the menu.

Then in the span of a few hours Wednesday evening, somewhere in between You-Know-Orange’s disastrous address, Tom Hank’s sobering announcement and seemingly all professional sports getting cancelled en masse, the entire world changed, and there were no more jokes to be made.

Thursday morning my husband and I went out for groceries just in the normal course of our lives.  After 15 years of living within the very limited storage confines of a two-bedroom condo, we’ve had a difficult time adjusting to the space of a four-bedroom home, and so we rarely – still! – have anything on hand that we won’t be immediately consuming.  Old habits are hard to break.  So we needed groceries, and toilet paper!  Down to our last roll, we were.

Despite the early hour, the store was busy, and steeped in a palpably electric kind of mania, like gathering storm clouds.  At one point another shopper and I – both gloved, both trying to keep our distance – reached for the same pack of cheese, and she leaped back, hands clasped to her chest, in legitimate terror.

I had heard distressing stories about toilet paper shortages, sanitary paper hoarders and unscrupulous disinfectant fencers, but I was convinced all of that was happening “somewhere else.”  Certainly not in polite, well-reasoned Canada.  And I had already made all of the dismissive, “Do they know it’s a respiratory virus and not a pooping virus?” jokes.  So I was completely unprepared to turn down the personal care aisle at my local grocery store – never, ever the place you’ll net a reasonable price on such items – to find it completely ravaged.

As I stood in the denuded aisle with a few other disappointed shoppers, Mr. Finger Candy emerged from the front of the store with one precious 12-pack of 9 mil-ply Cashmere.  He tossed it to me with a saucy smile that I assume was worn by the very first caveman to lug home a particularly badass kill, at which point I frantically buried it in our cart like Lorraine Bracco disappearing half a kilo of coke down the toilet in Goodfellas.  Mission thus accomplished, we paid for our purchases – a bit more than we’d normally buy, but nothing outrageous – and headed home.

Thursday afternoon the border restrictions, travel bans, cancellations and closures began in earnest.  The stock market self-immolated.  The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.  Chaos and confusion asserted themselves as the overriding themes of the day.

The American Disney parks closed, an act that legitimately frightened me to my core.  I long assumed that the ghost of Walt himself would have to come down with the Coronavirus before they shuttered those parks.

I clearly wasn’t the only one spooked.  The news – local, national, international – was suddenly filled with stories of empty shelves at grocery stores and long line-ups.  And the dim lizard part of my brain, the one Stephen King often refers to as “the panic rat,” began to worry.  We had enough food and supplies to see us through the week, but nothing beyond that.  And despite assurances from retailers that there was going to be lots of stock going forward, new social distancing measures were changing how we shopped, and there was no guarantee we’d be able to do our groceries in the same manner, and with the same choice, the following week.

And so it was with that thought in mind that we ventured out to Walmart Friday morning for a (reasonable) cart full of soup and cereal, pasta and rice, canned veggies, ramen and an absolute crap ton of coffee.  We were already doing well on cleaning supplies and hand soap (thank you, Bath and Body Works) but there was no additional toilet paper to be had.  Hot buy of the apocalypse.

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And with that, we came home, where we’ve been in semi-self-isolation ever since.  Which doesn’t actually feel that different from regular life.  We’re just washing our hands a lot more and trying to steer clear of vulnerable populations.  You do what you can, and you try to stay calm.

I’ve no idea when the world will be “okay” again, if it ever was in the first place.  I’ve no idea what will be waiting for us on the other side of this experience.  But I do know it’s okay to be a little scared and a whole lot confused.  To mourn what we’ve lost, and learn to live without.  To adapt, and change, and hopefully come out of the other side of this new nightmare better people – or at least better prepared people – one day at a time, one shopping trip at a time.

Stay healthy and helpful, friends.

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