Note: I wrote this March 19. National events since then have not been included.
By Amee Bohrer
At 5:57 a.m. 14 of us were waiting outside my neighborhood grocery store to open March 19. Anxiety about not finding any ground beef to accompany the Hamburger Helper I bought whilst panic shopping March 18 left me unable to sleep. I had finally began to feel afraid myself of what COVID-19 means for my future. For the past week I had been continually grocery shopping in spurts, but now I wanted to round up the few practical essentials I still needed– dish wash soap, dryer sheets– and stay at home.
As the store opened at 6 am., the carts were all aligned to the left. It was beautiful and quiet.
I swiped my cart handle with the sanitary wipes provided by the store.
We all dashed forward with our carts resolutely, clearly having an agenda of which items to grab first.
In the deli section, a petite woman loaded up half her cart with meat only, wearing latex gloves. I struggled to determine how much meat I truly needed and how much I could spend to have enough left for the other products on my list.
“You need help?” an employee asked me. But only I could answer that question, after several minutes.
Hot dogs were on sale two for $5, but there were no buns when I made it to the bread section next. So I put them back and grudgingly spent more than I had wanted.
Just the week prior, I had been unbothered. Then the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the dying of the Chicago River green was canceled and I knew things were getting worse. As a longtime former Illinois resident I know what a strong tradition that is and if that’s changing, it’s certainly unlucky.
Yet March 14 I had gone to a party with friends for “Fake Patty’s Day,” and it was all still normal. Sedgwick County had banned gatherings of 250 or more, but our group is not that big. We had a “Quarantine Playlist” going and wore as much obnoxious green as possible. We hugged and took pictures. On March 15 I attended Mass and was dismayed to see only a smattering of the faithful. There was no holy water, no altar boys helping the priest, no ushers. No Sign of Peace. Then all Masses are canceled in Diocese of Wichita indefinitely.
Next, Governor Laura Kelly mandated the school year end for all schools k-12 March 17. Classes will continue, but teachers will now teach remotely to avoid exposing students, parents and staff. Whoa.
Subsequently restaurants closed nationwide or reduced to drive-thru and curbside only. Major artists canceled entire concert tours.
People are wearing masks vigilantly. Customers at my work came in searching for thermometers and hand sanitizer.
President Trump declared a state of national emergency at a White House press conference on March 16, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less.
Now I’m glad I attended those events last week because there’s no ignoring that for now, this *is our new “normal.” We are now making plans to have online joint Netflix Party movie sessions.
I can’t hug my father, who I normally see several times a week. Luckily, we talk on the phone anyway.
I greet my social circle daily via status update, everyone becoming a reporter on social media of the breaking news and how it’s disrupting the careers and routines they’ve cherished. Our psyches are becoming exposed as we witness which of our family and friends are coping and which are in rampant denial. Some stay home, some insist on traveling.
Since I work retail, there is no working remotely. But I’m just grateful to still have a job.
My initial amused detachment has eroded. I have come to acceptance.
As much as I intensely dislike having to ignore my impulses to go into the community or making plans with my family and friends, I know that self-quarantine when not working is the right thing to do.
At least give it a try. Please, don’t ignore it, even if you’re in prime health and youth.
I feel grateful to live in Kansas, where the government is working pro-actively to protect us.
When the virus has been contained and people are recovering sufficiently, we will become ecstatic for the most mundane aspects of human interaction. We will embrace unabashedly, go to the movies, see our favorite bands play again! Crowds will blossom all over the country at house parties and public places we considered landmarks of our daily lives prior to this pandemic.
Until then, I’ll be making phone calls and cooking meals at home.