Pandemic Diary: March 20-31

March 20

At the coffee shop, I tend to yell “take care” as customers exit as a way of saying, Get outta here, pal.

But now, I say “take care” to say, I charge you to guard yourself and your loved ones, lest you get a disease deceptively comparable to the flu, which will at best do nothing and at worst kill you and every person you passed in the grocery store this week.

After work, I go to the Roosevelt Whole Foods, and there is a line to get in. They have limited the building’s occupancy, and a security guard is standing by the automatic doors with a bottle of hand sanitizer. The queue snakes all the way around the building. There aren’t that many people, it’s just that everyone is standing six feet apart.

When I am at the front of the line and a customer exits, the guard says, “One can come in.” I approach and he squirts hand sanitizer into my hand, looking straight ahead.

Inside, the store seems normal enough. Then I see that the bulk food bins have been emptied. Employees are wiping down each used shopping cart. I see dots on the floor reminding us to stay away from each other. When I check out with my groceries, the person behind me is wearing long black rubber gloves.

After exiting (“One can come in”), I go to Matt’s house to make dinner and watch a movie. We roast vegetables and bake bread and while it’s all in the oven, he dances with me in the kitchen to Van Morrison and tells me that he thinks things will get worse before they get better, but that we will get through it and figure it out together, even if we are separated.

“Separated” makes me pause. What if there is a true quarantine and we can’t see each other?

March 21

Social media adds basically nothing to my life but it’s the easiest thing to pay attention to. When I check Facebook, I see that gatherings at Golden Gardens and Alki Beach have been banned. And beneath the status, instead of sad and angry faces, there are only hearts and likes.

March 22

Tomorrow, I’m going to leave my house and my job until further notice.

I requested time off from Mabel, and Brooke was completely supportive. I’ll miss the routine of making coffee, but I need to limit the number of people I see–or, in pandemic-speak, am exposed to. I’m going to stay in Puyallup with my parents. That way, I won’t have to be exposed to my seven housemates either. I’ll still go to church to record services until the building is shut down, and I’ll go to Matt’s house, but that’s pretty much it.

It’s strange. I’ve gone on plenty of vacations, but this isn’t a vacation. If it were a vacation, I would have bought a plane ticket and gone to New Mexico or Alaska or anywhere. I can’t go anywhere and I don’t know when I’ll go back to work. I’m afraid I’m overreacting. I’m afraid about money. I’m afraid of what I’ll do with myself. I’m afraid to be away from my house and my stuff and my space.

March 24

I weed Mom’s vegetable garden and don’t wear gloves. I want my hands to get really, really dirty, with the good kind of dirt that is visible and grimy but in a friendly way.

March 27

This is my third day in Puyallup. As long as I’m active and eat well and structure my day so I don’t end up sitting on the couch feeling listless, it’s good. If I fail to do any of those things, it’s bad.

And sometimes, it’s just bad anyway. Today, I’m at my worst.

I’m grumpy and unresponsive and even though I go for a walk and act nice, I cannot summon the strength to feel pleasant. The only thing I can do is work out, I guess. I should be grateful for having a place to live and family who loves me and savings to rest on, but today I’m just pissed off and scared.

We were going to go fishing tomorrow, Dad and Matt and I, but they just closed all recreational fishing as well as national parks, state parks, and national forests. That’s a big problem. Hiking was going to keep us sane. We were going to camp on the beaches and in the woods and that was going to make this time okay.

March 28

Matt and I go to the Tacoma waterfront and run a bit. He asks how I’m feeling again, and again, I get upset.

“I literally don’t know how I am. I do not know. I feel stir crazy and bored and stale and I have plenty of fun little things I could do, but nothing of lasting importance. I could work on my ‘career’ or whatever, but I don’t have one and I can’t be bothered. Plus I was so disciplined for so long with the book, so I feel entitled to not be disciplined now. And the book’s not even a smash hit, which is fine, I expected it, but it makes it hard to try something new. And everything is closed. I don’t know, how about you?”

We go to Metropolitan Market. He wipes down the shopping cart while I put on running gloves—“l know they don’t do anything, it’s just so I don’t touch my face”—and we shop. There’s a sneeze guard installed between the cashier and me. There are red dots on the floor to keep the next customer six feet back.

March 29

Matt and I take Luna, the neurotic family dog, to Black Diamond. Matt’s found a spot on the Green River where he thinks we could have a picnic. The spot, an old cemetery, turns out to be on a trail partly controlled by the state parks, and partly by another agency. We hike, but we can’t tell if we’re breaking the law or not.

Matt doesn’t count to twenty in his head when he washes his hands. He sings Happy Birthday to whoever he’s with. 

March 30

After a candid Zoom meeting with Karen and Brooke, we decided to close Mabel for a few weeks after all. So few baristas feel comfortable coming in, I can’t make the schedule work. And we don’t know how safe it is to stay open.

I drive from Puyallup to Ballard to deep clean the shop, and I’m happy to do it. I don’t want the chores to be done. It’s good to see even the two coworkers who are there and to have a task to focus on.

I pour myself a cold brew without ice because we dumped all the ice in the street. I wave at customers as they pass and tell them we are closing for a few weeks. To ones who own dogs, I offer Milk Bones.

I sweep up stray coffee beans. I stack jars of ghee and travel mugs in an armchair. I take down a poster for a Bernie Sanders event that’s surely cancelled. I push all the tables and chairs into the center of the room to sweep the corners.

The shop will be fine. We won’t go out of business. But we don’t know how or if we’ll get paid in the meantime, and we worry about our customers forming new coffee habits while we’re gone. We say we’re going to open on April 14, in two weeks, but I think it’ll be later.

March 31 

Tonight I’m wearing my sister’s powder pink Juicy Couture sweatsuit, watching Jeopardy!, doing a 2000-piece puzzle, and drinking a cocktail from a teacup.

It’s fun hanging out with my siblings and parents and dogs so much more. Everyone comes down and we just eat awesome food and it’s like a party, night after night. As long as we focus on being together, and eating, and having fun, and shrugging off the uncertainty of everything, it’s great.

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