Two and a half weeks into my family’s decision to socially isolate and one day after our state’s “stay-at-home” order kicked in, I had to mow our yard.
The anxiety I felt about this almost suffocated me.
The neighbors on both sides of our house had already mowed, and our grass was growing tall and uneven. It was a beautiful, early spring day with no reason to avoid mowing except for the fact that I was petrified to go to the gas station to fill up our gas can.
I had to mow the lawn
My husband couldn’t do it. He had gone to see our daughter (nine months pregnant) and her husband early in March, right before the world as we knew it blew up. We didn’t think it was safe for him to fly home through Atlanta, so he stayed, several states away, waiting on the baby and working remotely. By the time my granddaughter was born, the military base my daughter and son-in-law lived on was locked down, and I wasn’t able to get to them. I thought of my daughter, facing labor, learning to breastfeed, and me not being there.
I reluctantly pulled the mower from the garage, unscrewed the gas cap and peered inside. A wave of relief flooded through me. There was enough gas left over from last fall for one more mowing. I made a mental note of appreciation for our laziness, for our forgetting to prep the mower by emptying the gas tank for winter.
I struggled with crushing anxiety
During the first two weeks of the outbreak, I compulsively scrolled through social media, unable to focus on anything but how quickly life had changed. I watched with envy as people posted pictures of family game nights, of completing long overdue house projects, of the stacks of books they were reading.
I couldn’t get my life together enough to sweep the kitchen floor. Crippling anxiety flooded me at every turn. I became obsessed with figuring out how to get groceries without coming in contact with anyone. One week after social isolation started, I woke up at 5 a.m. to get to the store by the time it opened at six.
It was eerily quiet and empty – no beans, no bread, no flour or sugar, and of course, no paper products. I grabbed what I could off the shelves, pancake mix instead of bread, brownie mix instead of flour and sugar, and rushed home, peeling off my clothes and throwing them into the washer. I stood, sobbing, under the stream of hot water in the shower, for a very long time.
I found myself doing things I would have never dreamt of doing before the pandemic. One night at 3 a.m., I bolted out of bed and put in an online order for $60 worth of toilet tissue. It wouldn’t be delivered for five weeks. Between myself and my son’s family, sheltering with me while waiting for their house to sell, I thought we could make it if we conserved what we had.
I kept ordering – a puzzle, a kite, cough drops,120 bags of green tea. It didn’t matter that those items would take a month to arrive. The idea of not being able to secure possessions frightened me almost as much as contracting the virus did. In my more lucid moments, I chastised myself for my privilege. How long had I taken my ability to abundantly meet the needs of myself and my family for granted?
I called my 82-year old mother twice a day. She was safe, and inside her townhome, and lonely. I went to her yard, talked to her through the glass door, wondered when I could hug her. We both tried hard not to cry.
The governor closed school buildings in my state, and I, like teachers around the country, scrambled to figure out how to put meaningful lessons online. The reality sunk in that I wouldn’t see my students again, or even talk to some of them. The inequities of Internet access became apparent, and what about the students who didn’t have transportation to the lunch pick up sites? I emailed all 150 of my students, heard back from half of them, but where were the others?
My student emailed me
A student emailed me:
“Hi, Mrs. Stratton, I just wanted you to know that I finished that book we were reading. I really liked it. At the end, I even shed a few tears. I hope you are doing okay.”
I pictured her face, saw where she sat in the second row. I emailed back, giving her a link to a site where she could download free books.
“Keep reading,” I urged. I would write that phrase in at least thirty more emails over the next two days.
When I really became scared, when my allergies kicked in and my throat felt scratchy, when I was too tired to focus on anything and my stomach twisted in knots, I would hide in my closet and take my temperature, usually two or three times a day. Did I have it? Was the congestion I woke up with every day due to the waves of pollen floating through the air, or did I walk too close to someone when I was exercising? Should I have worn a mask?
I watched the news, ached for the families losing loved ones, losing their jobs. I felt the guilt of financial security. Then my middle child called. She had lost both of her jobs, and her grad school classes were going online.
“I’m lonely, Mom,” she said. “This is so hard.”
We figured out how to rent movies through YouTube and started having regular Friday movie nights. We arranged for grocery pick up, and I began placing food orders a week ahead of time, trying to anticipate what we would need. I FaceTimed with my husband and youngest daughter, the new mother, imagining the smell of my granddaughter’s newborn head, listening to her tiny voice.
I watched the news, prayed for the doctors and nurses, for those who were sick, for a cure, a vaccine, an end to so much suffering.
We ordered pizza and it arrived like magic on our porch, no contact with the delivery driver. We dumped it onto pans, threw the boxes in the trash outside, washed our hands. When we sat down to eat, I had to swallow past the lump in my throat. The pizza smelled and looked so normal, like something from the other side of a great divide.
Yesterday I needed to mow the lawn again. I loaded the gas tank into my Honda’s trunk and drove the few blocks to the station. I wiped down the pump handle and the card machine with one of our remaining disinfecting wipes. I used hand sanitizer when I got back in my car, even on my credit card, and I washed my hands and changed my clothes when I got home. I was a little bit nervous, but I was okay.
I didn’t take my temperature. Instead, I filled the mower with gas, and began pushing it in slow circles around our yard.
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