Althea shifted in her chair, uncomfortably fidgeting and trying to pay attention to the news broadcast. She wanted to know what was going on in the world, but she was struggling to cope with the stress and anxiety it was causing her. She'd always managed her stress by window shopping or visiting with friends, but those options had been stolen from her. For two months she'd been confined to her home under lock down. She'd had her groceries and supplies delivered. For two months she hadn't seen her grown children or her grandchildren. The world that had once seemed huge was now the size of her own one bedroom apartment. Nervously twisting her hair, she turned off the TV and called her friend, Jackie.

“Hey, Althea! Good to hear from you? How've you been?” trilled Jackie. Jackie was perpetually cheerful so Althea was hoping the feeling would rub off onto her the way it always had in the past.

“Uh, not so good, Jackie.” Her friend seemed instantly concerned and this helped to soothe Althea's feeling of isolation. She quickly told her friend about how she'd been feeling; the long nights, and endless days that blurred together, the constant drone of the TV being the only thing keeping her from living in a silent world, devoid of human voice.

“Oh, you poor thing. I'll admit, I hadn't thought of your situation. My kids are still living at home so I've loved all this down time.” Althea patiently listened to her friend's stories about the crafts that her kids had done with her, their antics in trying to avoid their school work, and her husband's latest attempts at building a shed. Her heart ached more than ever. Her friend wasn't capable of understanding, not really. On top of that, she wasn't in a position to help even if she did. Althea politely ended the call with her happy friend and contemplated who she might know who was in a similar circumstance. She thought of her sweet middle-aged friend, Shelley.

“Althea! I haven't heard from you in forever! How are you sweetie?” Shelley called everybody sweetie. It was her maternal personality shining through. Shelley had never been able to have children of her own so she mothered anyone and everyone. It had always been a balm to Althea, whose own mother had passed on years ago, and had never been very warm even when alive.

“I'm kinda struggling, Shelley. Could I talk to you for a bit?” Althea murmured.

“Well, of course! You know I'm always here for you, sweetie!” Althea marveled at how Shelley always managed to be there for everybody, all the time. She gave freely of herself and with joy. Althea sighed in relief and began describing her feelings to her compassionate listener.

“Well, Althea, it sounds to me like you need a companion! Have you considered adopting a pet? They make great little friends and you'd get more joy than you can imagine! My three dogs are like my kids- you know I could never get pregnant, but these little babies just make my day!” Shelley gushed.

Althea drooped, glad her friend couldn't see her face fall. “Well, it's a good idea, but my landlord won't allow pets. He says I can have a fish but, well, they aren't very, um, cuddly. And they're silent, so...” Althea trailed off, her hopes of finding a solution for her oncoming depression dwindling. She had considering telling her kids how she felt, but was horrified at the thought of making them worry. She was the mom. She couldn't burden them.

“Ah. Oh. I'm not sure what to advise then, sweetie. I'd come over and visit you, but, well it's obvious why I can't. Call me anytime though, okay?” Althea agreed, even knowing a phone call was no substitute for real company. She needed human interaction face to face. She had even tried talking to the news anchors as she watched, but would never have admitted to that level of desperation to any of her friends, no matter how close they were. Once the call was ended, Althea went back to bed. It was 3:00 PM.

Several days later, Shelley called Althea. “I just wanted to check on you, see how you're doing, sweetie. Any better?”

“Uh, sure Shelley,” Althea lied, “I'm fine. Just started a new hobby, actually.”

“Oh, how wonderful! Well, we all have our bad days. I'm glad to know you're okay. Call me if you need anything!” Shelley hung up.

Althea had been too embarrassed to talk about her new hobby, and was infinitely relieved that Shelley hadn't asked. She'd finally gotten out of her apartment and drove around town. It had seemed so unfamiliar to her, like she hadn't seen the same buildings she'd grew up around for years instead of months! She'd spotted a building she'd never been in, never been tempted by. She slowly pulled in and sat idling on the lot, wondering.

A few days later, Althea sat hunched on her sofa, waving her glass as she argued with the TV- again. “We'll get through this together,” she parroted mockingly. “What a load of horse shit! What a liar! Platitudes! That's all this is! Bastard...” she slurred. Althea had never been one to use foul language, but what did it matter? No one was here to offend. The governor was trying to reassure people, but was he going to come talk to her in person? NO! Was he going to pay her rent that was three weeks overdue? NO! She was in this alone. Alone, drunk, and angry, Althea continued her tirade until she'd finally started to nod off. She never felt the liquid spill down her shirt as the glass tumbled from her limp fingers.

Days passed much more easily for Althea while she enjoyed her new “hobby”. She bought whiskey instead of paying her bills. Once her unemployment check finally came in she only paid what she had to in order to keep her apartment and then she spent the rest at the liquor store. Her friends didn't know- she didn't tell them. No one knew because she was alone. No one knew her pain and no one was there to coax her from her addiction. A year after the lock down had ended, Althea was still drinking. Her friends had backed off after trying in vain to help. She'd lost her job and her apartment. Homeless and helpless in the face of her personal demons, Althea was no longer Althea. She was just another random face in a shelter, a wino on the street, being ignored and disdained by a population that had never understood that for some, the harm was real and permanent. For some, we were never in this together.

May 06, 2020 17:16

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