Pandemic Diary: April 28-May 9

April 28

Here’s a weird habit I’m picking up in quarantine: obsessing over my body.

I blame it on having so much extra time, but I will stare at myself in the mirror until I’m sick of it. I vacillate between profound delight and violent indifference over how I look at different angles, in different outfits, with and without makeup.

I have been running a lot more lately–partly to train for the Social Distance Run in three weeks, and partly because my mental health demands it–and I’m always sucking in my stomach wondering if it’s getting smaller, or flexing my legs and wondering if my hamstrings are bigger. I can’t tell. My weight hasn’t changed, and I know that because I weigh myself all the time.

My hair is long enough to put up now, so I dye it and braid it and fuss with my gray hairs. I drink green tea (green tea makes you prettier, the blogs all say so) and order a swimsuit for the summer and consider purchasing a second pair of sunglasses. I wonder if I can pull off aviators now that I have a “runner’s face.” I study my cheekbones and eyebrows in the mirror, showing my profile off to myself. Sometimes I even feel like I’ve been wronged, having such a beautiful face that people must not be able to see beyond the flawless complexion to the human being inside.

Then, all of a sudden, I am angry and can’t get away from the mirror fast enough. I scoff and empty the virtual shopping carts and slam the laptop shut and do something else, because who cares. No one cares. No one cares if my layers are shaggy or my toes have calluses. So I go run, not to get sexy, but to get out. I do things that do not involve fixating on my appearance. How much time have I wasted on it already? 

Also, why would I buy a second pair of sunglasses? How many sunglasses can a person wear at once? One pair. President Trump was so nice to give me that stimmy check and solve all my problems; why would I spend it on sunglasses?

And then a few hours later I wonder if I’d be classified as conventionally or unconventionally pretty, and which is better, and if one could call my eyes “striking,” and if my hands look better with or without nail polish, and I’m driven back to the mirror again.

May 5

In Puyallup, it was easy to ignore what was going on. In Seattle, it’s not. Woe to those who shop without masks, or open doors with their bare hands, or pass people on the sidewalk. I go into the shop and see my coworkers for the first time in over a month, and we are all wearing masks, breathing our own breath, saying how it’s good to be back but not the same. We clean the place and put tape on the floor to keep customers distanced, and remark how strange everything is, and how used to it we have become.

After work, I go to my boss’s Airbnb up the street. I will stay in the basement unit around the side of the house. It has a small kitchen and a small living room, perfect for one. There are three bedrooms, and I agonize over which to use. I choose the one with the yellow bedspread and extra lamp because it looks cheerful.

I arrange some clothes in the closet–most of my clothes are at my real home, and some are at my parents’ and Matt’s homes–and go to Trader Joe’s for the first time in six weeks, where I purchase food only I will eat. After cooking and talking to a friend, I go to sleep in the big bed, and I’m almost scared to be there, even though I know the neighborhood and the street.

It’s just that this is a turning point. I live in Seattle but I’ve been in Puyallup for a month and a half, pulling weeds and running miles and staring at my face. Now I’m back in Seattle, in yet another house that is not mine, furnished with someone else’s items. Tomorrow I’ll go back to work with a mask and gloves on. It’s like we’re returning to normal, but we aren’t. It’s enchanting and dismal at the same time.

May 6

I open the coffee shop in the morning and after an initial rush, business slows to a crawl. Everyone wears face coverings, and if they don’t, they apologize. They are not allowed to pour their own cream and sugar, and it goes without saying that the restroom and seating are unavailable. It is hard to hear one another between the masks and sneeze guard and coffee grinding, so I don’t get to catch up with my favorite regulars.

Here are things you can’t do with a mask on:

  • Drink water or coffee. 
    • Not even through a straw!
  • Eat toast. 
  • Unlock a phone with your face.
  • Wear lipstick.
  • Coherently speak on the phone.
  • Keep sweat off your upper lip.

May 7

We baristas now have to touch the iPad for the customers when they pay for their drinks. This involves asking them if they would like to leave a tip. It is awkward, but we are making so much money, more than when we had normal hours and twice the sales. Yesterday, we apparently had a customer leave us $50.

A woman comes in and I ask if she wants to leave a tip on her seven dollar transaction. My finger hovers over the “20%” button, since that’s the most common answer. But she wnts to input a custom amount.

“Do one hundred.”

I input $1.00.

“No, one hundred dollars.”

One hundred dollars?” I shout tactlessly.

“Yeah!”

“Nuh uh!”

“I’m glad you’re open! And you guys have been out of work!”

“Oh my holy, holy cow, that’s incredible. Thank you! You made my day!”

 Later, a woman comes in and orders a coffee. As she retrieves her wallet, a man I assume is her husband comes in and says, “I need to use your bathroom.” 

“Sorry, ours is closed,” I said. 

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, sorry. I know it’s a pain in the butt. I don’t like it either.”

“What, because of the COVID?”

“It’s a pretty standard procedure.” 

He looks to the back of the shop in the direction of our bathroom, then says to his wife, “Come on, let’s get out of here.” She gives me a sad shrug and follows him out. 

May 8

Matt and I drive to see his parents for the first time since Christmas. They live south of Astoria on the Oregon coast, and when we creep into the backyard at 11:30 p.m., his mom is waiting up with bell peppers and chicken breasts. Matt grills them and we remark how warm the air is—we don’t even need jackets!—before sitting down to a midnight dinner. 

Matt and I have agreed to visit on the condition we camp on the lawn. His parents have been reassuring us that they are healthy and staying put, and we have been insisting that it is not their contamination we fear. 

“If you get cold in the tent, come inside to the guest room,” his mom says. 

“We’ll be fine out here.” 

“Will you at least use the guest bathroom?” she asks.

Matt and I look at each other.

“That would be nice,” he concedes.

May 9

Matt’s dad greets us in the morning wearing latex gloves, a blue bandana over his mouth, and a jaunty straw hat with an American flag ribbon. Instead of his usual hug and handshake, he waves at us. We wave back, and so begin a long morning drinking coffee on the patio.

All day, we dance around Matt’s parents. One of his brothers comes with his wife and son, and we dance around them too. We stay outside all day around the unlit fire pit and get sunburned: it’s a rare 80-degree day on the coast. When quarantine started, I was still wearing my puffy coat and wool hat.

At golden hour, Matt, his nine-year-old nephew, and I ride big beach cruisers around a golf course and down a boardwalk, where we ditch the bikes and run over a sand dune into the ocean. The coast stretches miles in either direction until it fades into Tillamook Head on one side and sunny mist on the other. 

We ride back into his parents’ neighborhood and find a grassy lane behind some houses. We ride until grass gets caught in our bike gears and we can’t go any farther. To his nephew’s delight, Matt orders us to heave our bikes over a fence and then scale it: it’s the only way we’ll get out back to civilization.

At night, it’s just his parents and us again. We sit across from each other in the garage in camp chairs and listen to Matt’s dad talk about Astoria in the old days and his mom reminds us that these are stories we’ve heard before. She catches me yawning after an hour and tells us to go to bed.

On the way to the backyard, his dad pats us on our backs. 

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