More than ten weeks have passed since we’ve been stuck in phases one and two of our state’s virus response, but some old habits linger. I have not completely absorbed the rules of the new normal.
We do fine with friends. Our patio is a safe zone and we’ve had a few individuals and small groups here to dine. But those huggy greetings we were used to? Long gone. The walk through my house to reach the patio? Take the outside path, please. Now we mask up, pace off the distance between us, and enjoy a glass of protective bleach together. No. that’s wrong. I was riffing on the suggestion of our president that perhaps drinking bleach would kill the virus.
My friends know the rules, but with strangers that’s not always the case. Last week, my husband and I drove to a nearby city looking for a medical equipment supplier. We got lost. My phone refused to help. I did what I normally do when lost: ask another human for directions. I shouted to a maskless man walking across a parking lot; he rushed over to our car. I panicked. Wait. I have to find my mask. Who told you to come up to the car window? Oh, that’s right, I did. After carefully studying his phone map, the Good Samaritan sent us on a wild goose chase. Not only were we still lost, but possibly exposed to the virus.
While continuing to cruise around in despair over not knowing where we were or where we were headed, I asked someone else for directions. Not only did this guy — also determined to be helpful — stick his unmasked face into the car, but he took hold of my phone with all ten fingers.
In the end, his directions were accurate and we found the business we’d been seeking. It was closed. One failed mission that increased our chances of being exposed to the virus.
Since we’ve been told that nine or ten days after exposure, we’ll know whether we’ve been infected, in situations like this, I count the days up to ten, and think, We’re good if we can survive until a week from Saturday.
Despite a few incidents of forgetting, I’ve made big changes in my behavior. A neighbor offered me dahlias from her yard and we met in the middle of the street, both wearing masks. My husband and I walked out of a shoe store because the mask-wearing clerk was talking annoyingly loud and we weren’t sure how many layers of protection stood between his mouth and ours.
A bizarre consequence of our semi-quarantined life occurs whenever I open a new book which, inevitably, has a scene involving people moving about in restaurants, theaters, on sidewalks, in planes, and I cringe. Then I remember that the book takes place in a fantasy world, where people are going here and there in groups like we used to.
Perhaps if I were younger, I’d feel differently. Seniors are not only at greater risk of dying from the virus, we’re also victims of virus-related scams. A friend of my husband’s emailed him a notice announcing that the federal government was sending $750 a week to all seniors to stay home during the pandemic. Of course it was a scam. I don’t know anyone my age who’s not staying home. And we’re already getting a federal subsidy. It’s called Social Security.
Today I read that Europe’s opening to tourists (not Americans; we’re banned) has led to large increases in cases. We’ll not have tamed this pandemic until we have vaccines, two per person, and many arms vaccinated. By the time we join a crowd for anything, we’ll have broken the habit of wanting to be anywhere near strangers.