Things started feeling surreal yesterday. The thing is, not much has changed for me, my wife and our kids. I already work from home full-time and we started homeschooling at the beginning of this school year. We've actually been spending more time as a family and it's been pretty great. The biggest change so far is that the kids can't go to their weekly dance class.
But... yesterday felt different. We got up and puttered around like we do every morning. Ate some breakfast, drank some coffee. It was Sunday and our church has gone fully online until further notice, so we tuned in for the 11 o'clock "service". Our church has been prerecording the service on Saturday morning and then airing it every hour between 9 and 12 on Sunday morning. This is the second week of online services and both messages have had the coronavirus as the focus. How do we keep calm, how do we help our community, etc. We can't even escape talking about it in a space that normally feels like our "safe space".
We bought a new house in February in a small city in Ohio, and it's perfect. We have much more space for the kids to play, an area for homeschooling, and I have a dedicated office. It's also surrounded by woods which is beautifully relaxing no matter which window you look out. Unintentionally, we bought the best house we could live in during these times. I've stopped mentioning it to people, because although I feel fortunate, I also feel guilty for talking about it.
The same goes with my job. I changed jobs the week after we moved into our new house. I now work remotely for a company in Utah, but previously I had been working for a local lawn-care tractor company here in Ohio as a web developer. They were bought out by a large corporation two weeks before I switched jobs. Last week our governor declared a Stay At Home order. The corporation deemed themselves as "essential" and are keeping my old workplace open.
My friend who works there on the assembly line is understandably stressed. "They believe all of their facilities are safe and that we shouldn’t worry because they’re taking precautions," he tells me, "but the only precaution we’re taking is wearing gloves and trying to maintain a six foot perimeter from anyone else. We work on a factory floor, so that’s basically impossible. They’re supposed to be checking our temperatures, but they aren’t. They say that if we want that, then we should do it at home. But people have expressed that they aren’t going to because a large majority of the floor, including our manager, thinks it’s a hoax."
After the church service, we drove to Home Depot to grab a pick-up order. Just a couple hoses to replace the ones I accidentally left at the old house during the move, and two seed trays for growing flowers. The family all hopped in the car for our first outing in several days. The kids enjoyed the nice 30 minute drive, but my wife and I saw things a little differently.
Although there were still cars on the road, there weren't nearly as many. Parking lots stood either empty or with just a few employee cars. We passed at least four speed traps, which made it seem as though the police officers didn't have much else to do. A digital billboard read "STAY AT HOME ORDER IN EFFECT" in big red letters, making me feel a little guilty for going out to get a few trivial items.
As we passed a nursing home, my wife pointed out a few people outside talking through windows to their loved ones.
Our new house has a ton of big beautiful windows that let in a lot of natural light.
"What if people start stealing and hoarding? We have so many windows that would be so easy to break," I confided my fear to my wife one evening. What seemed like a pro when we put an offer on the house suddenly felt like a con.
"Please," she responded, "Not in front of the kids. Let's talk about it later."
We arrived at Home Depot, and I left the family in the van to go pick up our order. I was a little worried that there wasn't curb-side pickup, but I reminded myself that I just need to stay six feet away from everyone. I walked past a couple shopping carts, with a sign beside them that said "SANITIZED CARTS", and into the store.
I walked over to the pickup counter and got in line behind three other customers, all of us awkwardly standing fifteen feet apart. Red tape on the ground marked where the second in line needs to stand so that they are six feet away from the customer being served. Every five minutes, a voice on the PA also reminded us to employ social distancing measures.
When it was finally my turn, I walked up and told the employee my name for the order. As I waited for her to confirm things, I leaned on the wall of cardboard boxes in front of the counter. Noticing that the boxes were empty and not wanting to crush them, I stood back up. It then occurred to me that these boxes were a makeshift 6 foot barrier between the employee and customer.
The employee walked away and disappeared into the rental area, which had been converted into a holding area for pick-up orders. I heard a fridge door shut behind me, and turned around to see a teenage girl walking away, drink in hand, from the drink cooler that's only two feet away from me. To prevent anyone else getting that close to me, I moved away from the cooler. The kind employee filled a cart up with my items, and with a smile told me that I'm all ready to go.
"Stay safe!" she said.
Returning to the car, my wife jumped out with a spray can of disinfectant and a bottle of hand sanitizer. She started spraying our purchases down, while I sanitized my hands. Then we packed everything in the trunk and headed out.
Later on, we got home and sent the kids outside to play. I started cleaning the dishes while drinking an early afternoon beer, and everything began to feel normal. I turned on the latest Radiolab episode to keep me company and Jad Abumrad started explaining the numbers surrounding COVID-19.
I looked over at our windows and started thinking about how many 4x8 plywood boards I would need to cover them all. Then it dawned on me, nobody would want to break into a house that possibly has coronavirus.
It feels like I'm writing a short science fiction story from a story prompt, but this is our current reality. Some people, including some government officials, are saying that this will all be over quickly, but they're ignoring the numbers and their reality. This might be the new normal for a while.