I wrote this in March, right after we were given the work from home order and toilet paper reigned supreme. We had just dipped our collective toe into the surreal world of the Covid-19 pandemic.
So Far Away
About 40 minutes on the freeway. That’s not all that far, really. I’ve driven it a few times a month ever since he left home to go to college. We go to eat, to the grocery store, to the movies, and there for a while to the laundromat. The last trip was two weeks ago when I took him to the grocery store.
“But Mom, I have plenty of food. I’m good, really.” My son probably is telling the truth. But he acquiesces, knowing I will insist on stocking him up with canned goods, paper products, and some treats that I know he likes but might not spend the money to buy.
The store isn’t terribly crowded, and everyone seems to be practicing social distancing. I have on a hoodie and spend a good part of the time with the front up over my mouth, in lieu of a mask. The arms pulled down over my hands, even though I have brought wipes with me to sanitize the buggy handle. And the child seat where I set my purse.
We make our way through the store, and I observe the things that are in good supply as well as what previously filled the empty shelves. There are ample amounts of canned fruits, but canned vegetables only have off-brand collard greens and some black-eyed peas huddled far in the back together. Soap is in abundance, but no hand sanitizer, nor any alcohol or aloe vera gel to make your own. Lots of flavored water, but nary a bottle of spring water – store brand or designer label.
At home, he unloads the haul while I wash his dishes. Not the first time, and likely not the last. We talk about trivial things. How his glass stovetop needs to be cleaned. His theory about his duplex neighbor possibly moving out. How the house smelt of hamster cage when he turned on the AC for the first time of the season.
We don’t talk much about the elephant at first. The one standing between us as we dance around whether or not to be too close. To hug, to touch. We finally talk about news articles and press conferences. About numbers and countries and medical supplies. About supply and demand, and helplessness.
We never once let ourselves say we might not return to a recognizable normal for a long, long time. Both of us are still working. Me from home and he goes into an office. I plead with him to sanitize his work area every single day. I worry he’ll become lax. I did just wash a few days of his dishes, after all.
He assures me the staff cleans the spaces between shifts, and he does too because he doesn’t trust them to be thorough. That makes me feel a bit better. But just a bit. He’s in a call center doing surveys for the CDC and other health agencies. The irony of that isn’t lost on me.
The day seems off, different from our other visits. The elephant has moved to the edge of the room, no longer between us, but still lurking. We never run out of things to say, usually. But today we just seem to be passing the time until I go. Back to my home, just 40 minutes away. But now separated by a chasm, a governor’s order, an unseen menace. And an edge of fear sidling up beside us.
I’ve never felt so close to him. He’s never seemed so far away.