By the time you read this, what I’ve written will be a mere time capsule — a frozen moment in our ever-changing sociological and physiological status. Columns are supposed to be timely, but with a new chronicle being made in hourly increments since the coronavirus outbreak, this week’s musing is bound to be old news. So, consider this a history lesson. A look back at “the olden days” of last week, when life was entirely different than it is today.
About a week ago, I was in at a Latin bar in Key West, in a conga line with my teenage daughter and a horde of sweaty strangers, dancing and laughing, entirely carefree. A few days later, the governor of Florida announced the mandatory closure of all bars and restaurants across the state to combat the global coronavirus pandemic.
At the Key West airport, waiting for the flight home from our ill-timed mother-daughter spring break trip, I waffled between thoughts of cautious indignation and secret panic as news blared on an overhead television at the gate.
“Everyone must be overreacting,” I mumbled to my daughter, Lilly, with a dismissive huff. “I read that at least half a million people die of the flu every year, but over 95 percent of people infected with coronavirus recover, so why should everything shut down?”
Lilly, who I had insisted wear gloves and a scarf over her mouth and nose while traveling, shrugged. A minute later, a woman nearby coughed. Lilly and I glanced anxiously at each other. With gloved hands, I pulled my own scarf up over my nose, my eyes darting suspiciously.
Was I overreacting, too?
My husband picked us up at the airport. On the way home, he updated us on the state of emergency in our area. “I’m working from home until further notice, your hours at the library have been cut, we have to pick up Anna from college because her classes are online for the rest of the semester, and we have exactly twelve and a half rolls of toilet paper left at the house.”
At home, we laughed about how ridiculous people were acting, but our underlying instincts told us to gather our family into the safety of our nest and hunker down.
The next day while imposing my own self-quarantine, my mind continued to waver between skepticism and dread over news reports. Between pity and pride in human beings. Between greed and gratitude for our personal belongings. Between confidence and concern over our finances.
Gun sales soared, stocks plummeted, schools closed, hospitals filled, death tolls rose. Yet governments acted responsibly, citizens volunteered, an economic stimulus package was enacted, and random acts of kindness abounded.
By the end of the day, I needed a break from thinking about serious things. I’d cook a comforting home-cooked meal for my family, and we’d all watch a movie. For a couple of hours, we’d pretend like things were like they used to be.
While I had been in Key West, my husband had gone to the base commissary to stock up on “the essentials.” I opened the fridge to find two cheap frozen pizzas, sports drinks, a bag of oranges, a head of iceberg lettuce, salami, a loaf of bread, milk, eggs and various half-used condiments.
Ironically, the sparseness of our food supply made me suddenly realize what I’d taken for granted. I found a wrinkling yellow pepper and a red onion to spruce up the pizzas. The radishes and carrots in the back of the vegetable drawer were still good, so with a half-bottle of Italian dressing, I made a tossed salad, too.
I still wanted to believe that the pandemic was just an overreaction, but as my family ate, I knew that, real or not, this crisis would reset my values. I would be grateful for family, for neighbors, for the military, for healthcare workers, for my job at the library, for my hairdresser who covers my greys, for restaurants, for first responders, for wrinkled peppers, for frozen pizzas … and yes, for twelve and a half rolls of toilet paper.