journey to the front lines

I’m really good at sheltering in place. For the most part, my life isn’t that different from before the ‘rona hit. I’m patriotic just by never leaving my house, except for our daily walks around the neighborhood, which are patriotic in their own way… neighbors popping out to chat from their front door (we stay on the sidewalk, well within social distancing guidelines).

But, after two weeks at home, my fridge got low and few days ago, and I had to make the Costco run. The first Costco run since our state (New Jersey) put all the official restrictions in place. In a matter of 14 days, the idea of leaving my bubble caused anxiety. My husband has been working, flying around the states, but I’ve been quarantined and the prospect of a routine shopping trip suddenly felt like a big deal.

Something so simple and basic, all of the sudden, daunting. I didn’t know what to expect.

The whole drive there I felt that nervous energy. The steady stream of thoughts went something like this: Will I encounter friendly people, or aggressive jerks? Will I find items I need? Is there an item limit? What if people yell at me for shopping, for buying so much? The last time I’d gone to Costco (the day after the official Oval Office broadcast from our president) there’d been armed cops in the toilet paper aisle.

I’m generally not an anxious person. I’m outgoing, yet as I age I do find myself more weary with crowds and closed in environments. And since I’ve become such a shut-in, this tendency to fear crowds really lit up.

I purposefully went to Costco in the late afternoon, knowing I was possibly missing out on some items, but hoping to avoid long lines.

Luckily, there were no lines. I walked right in. The staff was the same efficient, busy workers they always were. I tried to remind myself to stay 6-feet away from everyone, which is kind of hard in aisles. I took my time and found everything I needed. Sure, eye contact was minimal, and most people had masks or plastic gloves on, but otherwise it felt normal. I made small talk with a few customers and employees, my first in person communication with strangers in weeks.

I needed that.

I think I’ve been spending so much time wrapped up in my little hovel, consuming news, isolated from real world experiences, and because of this a simple routine task became suddenly something to conquer.

It makes me a little nervous for when life becomes normal again. Ever since the Colorado movie theater massacre, I can’t sit in a dark movie theater without a nagging worry. Am I going to have even more issues in crowds in the future? Will the practice of wearing masks in public eventually become the norm in American society? Back when I was a flight attendant, it wasn’t that uncommon to see tourists from Asian countries wearing masks, and this was a decade past SARS. Are we about to turn into a nation of OCD germaphobes?

It’s a fine line between awareness and paranoia. I have faith that we will get past this massive hurdle, this massive challenge. One day life will return to is chaotic mess. I know I need to lead by example for my kids, so I keep trying to take it one day at a time, and trying to get out of my own head and worries about the future. And if all I need to do to remind myself things will go back one day, and the world isn’t a scary place, is just a simple shopping trip every 14 days or so, so be it.