I remember taking a cart away from an older woman, who was putting her groceries in her trunk, so she didn’t have to walk it back. Wrapping my hands around the handlebar, without the workers having sprayed it down first.
I remember strolling the produce aisles, shopping for Sunday dinner, placing the sweet potatoes directly in the cart as to not waste the plastic bags. That’s where I ran into an old friend.
I placed my hand on hers as she told me her child with cystic fibrosis was not doing well because of “some virus going around.“ “It’s like the flu on steroids,” she told me. “Oh yes, I think I heard about that on the news,” I told her, feeling sorry for her son, and quietly grateful my family didn’t have any pre-existing conditions, we didn’t need to worry.
“I don’t know where he could have caught it, he’s home-schooled and has private aids that come in and help,” she said. “And none of them have been sick.“ We hugged and before leaving and I gave her a kiss on the cheek.
I remember when my ill-timed sneeze was met with a “bless you,” not a “stay the fuck home,” as I browsed up and down the aisles. I stopped at the cheese counter and sampled a new soft goat cheese on a wheat cracker. The cheese purveyor nodded in approval as I reached in the plastic bubble for a second cracker. My son, sitting in the front of the cart, attempted to reach in and I told him, “No, I’ll get it for you.” Who knows how dirty his little toddler hands were. I reached in again and gave him a cracker. The lady in the apron smiled and we continued on, stopping at any other chalkboards that read “Free Samples.”
I remember gossiping at the hair salon that afternoon as mom had her hair curled and set. The same group of ladies congregated on the first Saturday of every month for as long as I could remember. The same hairdresser had even done my hair for the prom, more years ago than I care to remember. A row of blue-tinged, white-haired ladies sat talking about their deceased husbands and gifted grandchildren, legs crossed exposing their orthopedic hose. Mom’s best friend was a long-time rival, they'd known each other since childhood. They were both 'Little Miss' competitors. Still rivaling after all these years, comparing dead husbands and varicose veins. She would be dead in three months, joining her husband at Walden cemetery. Mom wouldn’t even be able to pay her respects at a wake or funeral. She would later announce she had officially “won,“ because she lived longer.
My son sat on my lap as the ladies fawned over him on their way out to their waiting husbands and children, stroking his chubby cheeks and rubbing his little palms with their wrinkled fingers, blue veins poking out of their paper-thin skin. Mom would dab her nose and keep the tissue in her sleeve until it was time to dab again. My grandmother used to do the same thing.
I remember my husband’s warm embrace whenever I walked in the front door, a time before having to strip naked in the cold garage and rush off to shower and decontaminate. My toddler son would run past us off to play, without washing his hands, changing clothes, or spraying the soles of his shoes.
I remember standing in line with the other worshippers every Sunday morning, before dinner. Waiting our turn to cleanse our sins, to take a sip of Christ’s blood out of the community chalice, as the pastor pressed the wafer in our hands. And shaking our fellow worshippers hands offering “peace be with you.” We’d stay after the service for coffee and homemade banana bread in joint fellowship. Unknowing that, within months, the virus would wipe out many of the congregation.
And I remember having our traditional family dinners every Sunday. Loved ones passing bowls of homemade food. Handing each other bowls and spoons of casseroles, without a thought of sterilizing the handles or sanitizing our hands. Sitting at the round table, laughing and telling stories. The conversation would turn ominous, about some “weird virus in China,” we were thankful it was so far away and couldn’t hurt us. Feeling bad for all those people, so far away.
I remember sharing dessert with my son. Serving spoonfuls of chocolate cake into his eager little mouth, then feeding myself. His older cousin laughed as he squirted the whip cream into his mouth and then taught his younger cousin to do the same, white cream poking out of the corners of their mouths as they laughed, spraying the cream out in a fine mist.
I remember holding my best friend’s newborn baby, full of hope and excitement, that Sunday night. Kissing his forehead as he gripped my index finger. I brought over a chicken casserole for her to freeze. It was a “Sip and See.” A chain of visitors and well-wishers came and went to see her new bundle. Everyone was so happy, hugging each other, and passing the baby around. My girlfriend and I laughed when I picked up her glass of champagne and drank it by accident. I finished it anyway.
I remember, months later, taking the blue latex gloves off after the nurse left the room, to hold mom’s hands. The noisy machines blurring my mind. The tick of clock and the IV bag dripping in time. Her hands had to be tied to the bed so she didn’t pull out her IV or the tube in her nose. But she didn’t seem to mind. I took a hairbrush out of my purse and fluffed her hair evenly like they had done at the salon, not too big though, she hated that. I took a lipstick out of my purse and dabbed her lips with pink to give her some color. The nurse said it was fine as long as it didn’t have Vaseline, because it's flammable. I rubbed it off anyway.
I remember when I didn’t know what a ventilator was, and when I didn’t have to worry there wouldn’t be enough.