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The Supermarket

Berkley, Michigan

Mostly we’re waiting. Mostly we're puttering, trying to achieve some semblance of normal life, despite this insistent background hum of anxiety. So we wait, and we try to figure out what to expect. None of the answers fill us with confidence.
Peggy and I are privileged—if that’s the right word—to be able to live at maybe 80 percent of our pre-virus lives. At least for now. I am acutely aware that this is not true for most people, is completely the opposite for many, and is catastrophic for more than we can bear to think about. I think about people already ill with other things. People either losing or terrified of losing their incomes. People on the front lines of our deplorably meagre medical defenses, who risk their lives with every breath they take in their work environment. 
So yes, I am keenly aware of the privilege I enjoy—if that’s the right word. The fact that Peggy and I are in the high-risk category somehow seems a cop-out, but it keeps me here in the house. I might as well write. It's what I do, after all, but it doesn't feel especially useful.
So far, Berkley isn’t showing overt signs of the spread. Just caution. And edginess. Everybody knows what’s coming, but nobody knows when. We don’t yet know of anyone who is infected. But the viral arithmetic is almost beyond comprehension.
Or maybe the edginess is just me. Hard to tell lately. Yesterday morning I had an unusual few hours. I was up before 5 a.m. (not unusual, alas). I was checking the news and working up some rage at Republicans, to whom I assign responsibility for our idiotic level of preparedness—for the 40+ years they have spent undermining science, expertise, and simple competence, all with a transparently malignant purpose unheard of in an industrialized democracy (if that’s what we still are). More on this another time. 
But as this rage was percolating, it morphed into an obsessive trepidation about the commitment I had made to make an 8 a.m. trip to the supermarket (the new Woodward Corner) for one last grab at some groceries to put away or freeze.
To be sure, Peggy was not happy about this idea, and while I would have let her forbid me, we basically agreed that it was still early in the crisis and there were some gaps in our supplies that it would be really nice to fill. Was this reasoning sound or suicidal? Remains to be seen. But the prospect of performing this ordinarily effortless task was now more daunting than I expected.
Which is when an unfamiliar feeling consumed me, which I can now say for sure was terror. It was intense, it was more than just a background hum, and it almost brought me to tears. (It did bring Rachel Maddow to tears when she closed Friday’s show eulogizing the NBC cameraman who died of the virus).
The hardest part is not knowing if you’re doing everything—or even anything—right. What if you screw up? What if something bad happens? What if you do everything right and something bad happens anyway? What if you do everything wrong and nothing bad happens? What if bad has already happened and you won’t know for a week?
All we know for sure is that we’ll never know how we got it. Or from whom. Or how long ago. Or what we did or didn’t do to catch it.
With this in mind, and with terror coursing through my veins (notice how every little thing feels like it's coursing through our veins these days, sort of like, say, a virus), I set out for the supermarket.
It’s not that it was crowded by normal standards. But there were definitely more people than I cared to worry about keeping six feet from. Still, I gloved up, Lysol-wiped the cart handle, and headed inside.
It was hard. It did little to reduce my stress level. Everyone was vigilant, most were respectful and polite, some were a little too cavalier about the six feet thing. I wasn’t the only one moving from aisle to aisle avoiding anyone coming in the other direction. I didn’t want to squeeze by them, but a few times there was no choice. Violations of the six feet rule were inevitable, but I never got closer than a meter (the W.H.O.’s guideline), and I always faced away from the person. Was this smart? Was it effective? Who knows? I’ll find out—or not find out—in a week or two. But in terms of its strategic goals, the mission was successful. Our well-stocked house is now more well-stocked. Privilege again.

Comments

  1. Thoughtful piece and oh so true . . . I'll look forward to your next, hopefully with less terror cause that's a hard way to live (but you know that).

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