The Worst of Times (the Best of Times?)

And make sure you say I’ve been at it since January.

Everyone’s writing about the virus. It’s the only game in town. Quarantines, fear, unemployment, death. Deep, personal, life changing topics. Today my daughter Sophie got in the game. “I’m supposed to write about how an incident affected me personally. The coronavirus doesn’t work, it affects everyone.”

“No, I think that’s valid,” I said, “Write about how it affects just you.”

Susan weighed in: “Talk about how your mother keeps asking if you’re OK. About how your dad constantly checks the stats.” Sophie started walking away.

I called after her: “And make sure you say I’ve been at it since January.” An early adopter. I want credit for my foresight. I was tracking the pandemic before anyone I know.

On Sunday, February 2nd, running a trail, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. “We need to move our retirement investments out of stocks.” I saw a crash coming. I read this exact scenario in a post-apocalyptic novel. Monday morning, the market opened low and started climbing. I laughed off my fear.

I get no credit. Yes, I checked the stats, but I did nothing with my knowledge. We lost our savings like everyone else. Now the coronavirus is old hat. It’s everybody’s topic. But there’s nothing else to write about. I wake up, check the news and then go into work all alone. I keep things running but I don’t start anything new. Containment mode. I never know if I’ll be coming in tomorrow.

Today, my governor locked down the state. I saw it coming for a week. Each day, he added a few more counties to his stay-at-home order. I think he felt bad about creating extra work for his staff with his piecemeal approach. He added the rest of the counties in one shot.

Now we’ll all stay at home. I’m kicking myself. I needed to buy a lawnmower. How will I cut my lawn?

Others are panicked as well, but mostly about haircuts. Three years ago, I wrote about the Hair Wiz—a low-tech product from the seventies. You insert a razor blade into the tines of a plastic comb. As you comb your hair, the Hair Wiz cuts it to a uniform length. My post, a humor piece, is getting at least fifteen hits a day.

Eli’s going nuts. “Let’s go get that lawn mower at Lowe’s. Let’s get carryout. Can we at least go buy some ice cream?” Thirty more days is a long time for a fourteen-year-old to be cooped up with his family. And truth be told, I think it will be longer.

The low point of my day is Zoom. It’s the only time during the day I interact with anyone outside of my house, but I still don’t like it. I’m too self-conscious to be plastered on the video screen. I hate participating in conversations where I can’t read body language. I always start talking at the wrong time. Either the last person isn’t finished or the next person is already starting.

Today we had two Zoom meetings. The second one was about how we can interact with library patrons remotely. One of the new features: staff member’s pets will make book recommendations.

During the meeting, I texted a picture of Eli’s bearded dragon to our communications director with the caption: King Tut likes dystopian. I didn’t get a laugh. For the past two Sundays we’ve had Zoom happy hour with Susan’s family. Fifteen people. I’m not much of a people person, but I definitely prefer them in real life.

Starting tomorrow, I need to drive with a letter from the governor’s office describing how my job is essential. Library finances doesn’t sound overly important, especially when the library is closed, but we still need to pay our bills. A couple of times over the past few days, the gravity of the situation has caught up with me. Each family unit is hunkering down in a protective crouch, trying to survive. Whether it’s loneliness, mental health, joblessness or the actual virus, we all have an enemy lurking, stalking us.

When I’m not checking virus stats, Zooming, or hyperventilating over our crashing society, I’m enjoying gratitude. I like the company of my wife and kids, and I’m seeing more of Sophie and Eli than I have in years. My home is comfortable and close to nature. Susan and I are both working.

And as of today, we’re all healthy. 2020 has been a weird year so far. I think I’m simultaneously creating some of the worst and some of the best memories of my life.

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