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Creative Nonfiction

My alarm went off at 6am. I hit snooze and dozed off for a blissful extra nine minutes. When my alarm went off again, I quickly shut it off, trying not to wake my husband, and I rolled groggily out of bed, grabbing my glasses off my bedside table.

In the bathroom, I decided to take a hot shower before I got dressed. It was March in New England, which meant that the mornings still held onto the chill of winter for dear life, and days weren’t much warmer, even though by then we were all sick of winter and anxious for the warmth of spring and the promise of summer. While I waited for the water to warm up, I scrolled through the news on my phone. My cats watched me placidly from across the room, like somehow even they knew something was up and it was best to not ask for pets or attention right now. Thousands of new positive coronavirus cases, thousands of new coronavirus deaths. I felt my heart rate spike with fear, even though I was safe in my apartment. Reading the news had gone from being something I did because it made me feel like a fully functioning informed adult to something I liked to avoid because it always felt like the end of the world, the end of America. My emotions ranged from genuine fear for the health and safety of my loved ones to heated anger at Donald Trump for his apparent lack of care for the American people.

I sighed and put my phone down, then stripped out of my pajamas. In the shower, I stood under the hot stream of water, letting it pound onto my neck and shoulders. I washed and conditioned my hair, and I used my favorite mango scented body wash. Focusing on the small pleasures in life always made me feel better, even if it was just an overpriced shower gel that made the entire bathroom smell like a fruitcake.

When I was done with my shower, I toweled off and began my minimalist getting ready for work makeup routine – mascara, eyeliner, moisturizer with SPF because I’d just turned 30 and was suddenly paranoid about looking my age, having consumed the constant narrative of stories about how women ceased to exist after age 29. I got dressed in khakis and a navy button down shirt because I was still unable to dress myself in a way that conveyed any semblance of personal style despite having worked in a corporate office environment for several years. Style, I thought, was for people with money, people who could buy an $80 blouse and not feel anxious or guilty about it, and on my meager annual salary that person was not me.

Before I left, I made an iced coffee and said goodbye to my husband. During my twenty-eight minute drive, I listened to a daily news podcast, which only consisted of more coronavirus updates. Just as I began to feel like I couldn’t listen anymore, I arrived at work.

All week, the vibe in my office building had been calm and strangely positive. We’d get emails consisting of coronavirus case counts for people who worked in the building who’d tested positive for COVID-19, informing us that these employees and the employees who worked near them were quarantining at home, that extra cleaning measures were in place, reminders to wash our hands often, reminders that hand sanitizing stations had been placed all around the office, that additional cleaning staff had been hired to keep up with the company’s efforts to protect its employees’ health and safety, but still no mention of moving us all to working from home. I knew what they were doing – they were trying to keep us calm, and for me, I had to admit that it was working. At work, the reassuring emails helped me focus on doing my job. It was when I left for the day that the real world reminded me that there was a global pandemic happening, and people were dying.

I parked my car across the lot, and during my walk to the building, I focused on my steps and took deep breaths to clear my head. Inside, I climbed the stairs and found my cubicle. I didn’t love the location of my cube – it wasn’t near a window, and it was right in the middle of the room, whereas my highly introverted self would prefer a spot in the corner, separated from other people.

I put down my things, grabbed my phone out of my bag, and turned on my computer. I liked to start my day slowly, finishing my coffee at a leisurely pace and catching up on emails before I started my actual work, but before I could finish skimming my inbox, my manager sent me a message on Teams. He sat at his desk nearby, so we could talk out loud if we wanted to, but in the early mornings we both preferred typing instead of talking.

Hey, he said. Make sure when you leave today, you take your laptop with you and anything else you need. I suspect things are going to crazy around here real soon.

My heart skipped a beat. Why? What did you hear? I wrote back.

I waited impatiently as he typed, watching the three dots move. Nothing yet, but I think it’s coming soon finally appeared on my screen.

What was coming soon? None of us really knew. I heard murmurs coming from the cubicles near mine, other colleagues discussing what was happening in the outside world after weeks of trying to pretend that everything was normal.

I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know what I wanted. Working from home had always appealed to me – no commute, sleeping in, staying in my sweatpants all day, frequent work breaks to pet my cats. But like this? I didn’t know what that would feel like. I also thought of my husband, who worked in retail and spent all day surrounded by the general public. How long could we possibly last through this before one of us got sick? What if our families got sick? What would we do, and how would we cope? If one of us ended up in the hospital, how would we afford treatment when there was no cure for this thing? I thought of the thousands of people around the world who had already died, who were already in the hospital, and I finally allowed the magnitude of what was happening to hit me in the gut.

         I rested my head in my hands for a moment, but quickly lifted it back up. I allowed myself to become distracted by work and let my daily tasks take up primary space in my brain. The distraction felt good, like I was maintaining some sort of control over the situation and of my life, even though I knew, in the corner of my mind, that we were all powerless.

         But then, around 11am, my computer dinged, letting me know that a new email had arrived in my inbox. I felt the words that I read almost before I saw them. Effective Monday, March 16, all colleagues will be instructed to work from home and not report to the office until further notice…

         It went on, but I didn’t need to read anymore. I heard the rise of chatter around me, and there was almost an excitement in the air. This was something new. No one in the building had experienced anything like this before. We were in uncharted territory. I caught snippets of conversations going on around me – “I don’t know how I’ll do this at home with my kids” “How long will we be home for?” “When are we coming back? How are we supposed to plan for this?” The questions, I knew, that were ultimately pointless, because right now there were no honest answers that would help any of us.

         “See? Told you,” my manager said as he came over to my desk.

         “Yeah, I can’t believe it,” I said. “This is so weird.”

         “I’m sure it’ll only be for two or three weeks, max,” he said. “Then things will go back to normal.”

         I nodded, hoping he was right, but I still felt unsure. I couldn’t tell if he was being optimistic, or if his words were just wishful thinking.

         We all ended up leaving early that day. There was a sense of finality when we said our goodbyes. “See you…sometime?” I said when I left with my bag containing my laptop and its charger over my shoulder, and we all laughed lightly because we really didn’t know when we’d see each other again. It felt like a real goodbye.

         This was the moment. This was when life before became life after, the exact moment. When I’d driven to work that morning, listening to the news and drinking iced coffee, that had been before. Now it was after. Now it was real. Now I had to deal with it like a real adult, instead of burying my head in the sand.

         After work, I drove to the store. I felt a sense of urgency, of impending doom. I didn’t have a shopping list, I just knew that I wasn’t sure when we’d be able to buy groceries again, and I had terrifying visions of food scarcity running through my head.

         The store was packed with bodies, full of people like me who had come straight from work and needed to get food in their houses NOW. I don’t remember exactly what I bought – a giant pack of toilet paper that would probably last my husband and I half a year, Clorox wipes, chicken breast, canned vegetables, a huge bag of rice, soup. The checkout lines were long; I waited close to an hour for my turn, and I spent more money at the grocery store than I ever had in my life.

         When I got home, I meticulously wiped down all of the groceries I’d bought with sanitizing solution before putting them away, fearing all of the hands that may have touched them before I brought them into our apartment. When my husband arrived home a couple of hours later, he immediately put his work clothes in the laundry and took a shower.

         That night for dinner, we made nachos. I craved warm, cheesy, creamy comfort food. I tried to make the platter of nachos look like restaurant quality, adding chopped lettuce, tomato, chives, sour cream, and guacamole. I’d also picked up a six pack of Angry Orchard, and I opened one for each of us. My husband and I sat down next to each other on the couch. We watched cartoons as we ate. The easy, funny entertainment felt like a mental break for both us.

         “Do you think they’ll close your store?” I asked my husband between bites of food.

         “No,” he said. “They’ll stay open as long as they can.”

         “They think we’ll be back at the office in a couple of weeks,” I said, parroting what my manager had said earlier that day.

         He scoffed. “You’ll be home all summer. Maybe longer.”

         “No way,” I said. “There’s no way this could go on for that long.”

         He shook his head and shrugged his large shoulders, taking a long sip of his drink. I knew he didn’t believe me, and I didn’t blame him. I barely believed myself, but I couldn’t imagine what was to come.

         We ate quietly for a few moments, the silence punctuated only by our crunching on nacho chips. “These are really good,” my husband said thoughtfully as he chewed. “Might be the best nachos we’ve ever made.”

         “Mm,” I said in agreement, popping another cheese covered chip in my mouth. With my other hand, I reached over and squeezed his hand. He squeezed mine back, and we held on tight.

July 02, 2021 01:05

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2 comments

Scout Tahoe
04:32 Aug 03, 2021

A shared experience is one I love reading about. Cheers that it's (hopefully I don't jinx it) almost over.

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Grace Things
09:53 Feb 12, 2022

Knock on wood

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