My author bio says, “If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared…” No truer words, my friends. No truer words. Except, the aliens aren’t here yet and I’m already falling apart.
Honestly, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d cope with something as world-altering and life-changing as Covid-19. The only apocalyptic novel I’ve written features aliens, and the one I’m plotting features aliens because while I will acknowledge that we’re more likely to f*ck up the planet than any visitors, it’s always easier to blame someone else.
This post is not about blame, though. Or even about the virus that is currently infecting hundreds of thousands of people, threatening lives and livelihoods. It’s about my reaction to all of this. I am not okay.
I’m a plotter and a planner. I’m probably the only person who didn’t rush out to buy toilet paper over the past two weeks. I already had over 200 rolls in the basement, nestled on wire shelving next to 200 cans of beans, about twenty boxes of pasta, several family size jars of sauce and innumerable cans of diced, crushed, and fire-roasted tomatoes. I also have peas, green beans, corn, beets, and sauerkraut. The sauerkraut is past its sell-by date. The first time I took my husband to our local supermarket’s twice-annual Can-Can sale, he bought a case of it. But, hey, it still tastes okay and it’s a vegetable.
I have two months of cat food put aside, and several bags of litter. I’ve got cartons of long-life milk and vegetable stock. I have over 3000 books upstairs. There are 60 unplayed games in my Steam library. Spring is here and my garden will soon need attention (if not already). If I get really, really bored, I can pull out the chainsaw and finally deal with the three trees that have been rotting along the ground in the forest covering my back acre.
I’m good. I was prepared for this—or for a storm to knock out power and close the roads up here again. It’s all good.
Except, it’s not.
Part of it is that being trapped at home with enough bum fodder (Aussie slang for toilet paper) to last me until the heat death of the universe is not my idea of a party. I mean, my family is here, but… okay, deep breath… they’re introverts. I know. I’m trapped in a house with two people who are perfectly happy in their own company.
To be fair (to me), I do pretty well in my own company—when I choose to be in my own company. Which does happen. Really, it does. I love going to movies on my own. I prefer to hike alone so I can listen to the sounds of nature. I’ve traveled overseas alone. I work from home five days a week—alone. I do jigsaw puzzles alone, I’d really rather cook alone… You get the picture. I can do it. When I want to do it.
But while I’d rather not reach around my 6’4” 200-something pound husband to do what I need to do, having him in the kitchen with me is important. I like to talk and I like to be with people.
I work from home, but I also put in a large number of volunteer hours at my local library. I get out to lunch once a week with one of my critique partners, sometimes twice. I head back to the library in the evenings and on weekends for group meetings and workshops. I plan people-y outings for the introverts I collect. When all else fails, I chat with the guy stocking fruit at the supermarket and exchange theories of everything with whoever is working the checkout. Earlier week, I cornered the heating repair guy in the basement for, um, it was a while, okay? It was so good to have someone to talk to. I could tell he felt the same, even with a six-foot gap between us. I had to abandon him to his repairs after he tried to tell me the Chinese had invented the virus, but for a while, there, I was making a new friend.
Basically, I’m social. When I’m at the theatre alone, I’m absorbing the crowd energy from everyone else watching the movie with me. When I head into NYC for the day, I can sit in the park and absorb the people-ness of everyone wandering by. I talk to strangers. I have a collection of people in town who know I’m the one who will talk to strangers, or almost strangers, meaning an outing with me usually involves odd conversations with different people in random parking lots.
Before you suggest social media and FaceTime as an outlet for all this socialness—it doesn’t really work for me. I can’t absorb the energy of other people when I’m not near them. I can’t see them laughing or rolling their eyes. And social media is a trash fire! Especially now. I actually have to limit the amount of time I spend online because it often leaves me more depressed than uplifted. Also, I’m over fifty and my eyes are bad. I hate texting on my phone. I can’t see anything and autocorrect hates me.
What’s a technologically challenged extrovert supposed to do when the world shuts down?
Write a blog post about it, apparently, and here we get to the point—yes, I sometimes have one. So, um, you’re not alone, okay? Yesterday was a rough one for me. After reading four pages of a book without internalizing a single word, I picked up my phone and checked the headlines—again—and fell down a rabbit hole defined by the hypothesis your blood type could indicate how susceptible you are to Covid-19. I’m type O, which according to nascent research, could be great. I didn’t feel great, though. Because the people I love are not type O. Cue anxious spiral where I’m left alone in a house with no introverts to hassle and 3000 books I can’t read. I don’t want to live in that world.
I have no advice to give. None. I’m sorry. What I do have to offer is that right now, I feel very human. I feel fallible. The things that usually give me joy no longer suffice. I’m convinced my seasonal allergies mean I’m on my way to intubation. I’ve been calling my dad (in Australia) nearly every day. I’ve reached out to friends and relatives I haven’t spoken to in a while. I’ve remembered why I no longer drink alcohol.
It’s hard. This is all very hard. But all we can do is press on. I’m planning a social media break this weekend in the hope that forty-eight hours without headlines empties enough space in m my mind for me to adapt. To learn to cope with this new normal.
I have a house, I have food, I have my family, and my friends. I have so damn much. Maybe that’s why I’m so afraid? This probably isn’t a good time to take stock, but a lot of us are probably doing just that. Either way, take it easy, my friends. Be good to yourselves. Be kind to others. Remember that distance need only be physical.
Finally, remember to look outside, if only to confirm the world is still there, totally real, completely unaware of whether we are or are not coping – and maybe give thanks that the aliens haven’t decided that now would be a great time to visit.
Featured image is an artist’s impression of a supermassive black hole (sorry, not sorry). Courtesy of NASA/STScI/AURA. doi:10.1088/978-1-6817-4609-8ch6