I have been living in fear, just like everyone else, since the pandemic reached our shores. But today, I have had another jolt of dread and anxiety, a fresh reminder that this earth is (successfully) trying to shake us off like a bad case of fleas before we make the planet uninhabitable for all creatures.
Today, I went back to work at the Russian Book store, the first time in more than six months, since the initial Corona lockdown in March. Over time, the store has morphed into an international package delivery office with some Russian books and knick-knacks. There is a sign on the door that reads: Must wear a mask inside the store, state law. What the governor of our state didn’t take into account is that a lot of people, including Russian immigrants, simply don’t give a shit. For example, a man walked right in, talking to me in Russian, and, abiding the letter of the law having a mask — in his hands — admittedly his fingers were covered. He talked for a bit, and walked a few more steps in until, not at all in any hurry, he finally put the mask on his face, where it would actually make a difference. By now, he could have breathed his COVID-y breath all over my desk. And what could I have said or done? I WAS wearing my mask. Short of pole-vaulting over desk and the stacks of international CDs, grabbing the mask and forcibly putting it on the putz, my options were limited.
There wasn’t a part of me that didn’t clench up — from the top of my scalp to my toes — involuntarily. Fear that resides, like an angry platypus, around my intestines, spewed out in icy shards to my extremities. As a true coward, my fight-or-flight instinct generally lands squarely on flight. Yet if I were the one to run screaming from the store, I’d be labeled the crazy one. So, very bravely (for me), I just froze. I’m pretty sure he asked me about the restaurant next door, and I said that they are open, but not for lunch any more. And just as quickly, quicker, actually, he left. He nearly ran out of the store, and I did not try to stop him.
Another man (masked) brought two boxes to be shipped. I told him that the UPS picks up packages today, and I could not guarantee they would be picked up today because I could not guarantee I could finish labeling them in time. He said he didn’t care, as he was going to leave them to be picked up either today or next week. Then we started on the paperwork. The paperwork takes at least 20 minutes, and usually closer to 30. But we did it in record time, he paid and then he left. I was finishing up the last box when the UPS man showed up — the timing was perfect. Then, I washed my hands for at least half a minute.
When I am at home, when I go to the store or take a walk, I have a measure of control over my surroundings — or so I tell myself in order to sleep. But sitting in a little store, waiting for people to pop in with or without masks — that makes me feel like a sitting platypus. But the thing is, I really want to work, even if for one day a week. I want to leave the house, I want make a couple of dollars (that is not too much of an exaggeration). Yet my fear is fighting me every step of the way, and at this point it doesn’t even feel like an irrational fear — it leapfrogged into the realm of paranoia.
This level of watchfulness is not a sustainable feeling, nor does it promote an easier, sustainable life. The first step is admitting that I have a problem. Done. The second step is telling myself it’s OK to feel the way I feel. All right, I’m acknowledging it. Third step … I don’t actually know what that step is. I assume it has to do with meditation, taking a walk, aromatherapy, a hot bath, read a book on platypuses, or some other taking-care-of-yourself method. Maybe I should give them all a try. It’s just difficult to hear words of wisdom over my own screams in my head.
Recently, I bought myself a snarkily sarcastic T-shirt that reads, “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” which everyone reads with a slight hint of hysteria. But maybe, just maybe, I can find that balance between feeling safe and not feeling trapped. And, I can take a deep breathe, then breathe out slowly, and sigh, “It is fine. I am fine. Everything is fine.”