Exactly one year ago today, I decided to start keeping a COVID journal. Apologies to the followers who have heard me tell the story already. I realized that things were changing and that soon it was going to seem normal. I named my journal Noticed, and I tried to write things down that I noticed were happening because we were in a worldwide pandemic. My assumption was that I would stop noticing those things when they became “normal,” so I wanted to capture the memories.
On March 24, 2020, I went back through my calendar and my memories, and read old news clips and rebuilt my observations. But starting today, my comments are what was on my mind that day, a year ago.
A year ago today, I called Delta and cancelled my trip. Oh, that reminds me: I should still have a flight with Delta I can reschedule, because I “bought” it with frequent flier miles. Hmm, definitely need to make sure I don’t forget about that. Anyway, I was going to spend a long weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona to visit some friends. I didn’t go. Obviously.
“I finally called Delta. They didn’t want people calling unless their trips were nearly upon us. So I waited till the last minute. I got through pretty quickly at 8am, and got everything refunded, no questions asked. The bee people called and asked if it is ok if they bring the bees the end of April or early May. I tried to think of how bee delivery might not happen, but I don’t see why not.”
Below are some other things I wrote in my journal prior to March 24. I haven’t included them because…ahh, because because. I was scared I had cancer. I was swamped with finals projects. And I think most of all, I was too sad to follow through. My next OYL post after the last one, March 11, was supposed to be about the day I realized everything had changed. I think each of us knows which day the pandemic became painfully real to us. Mine was March 12.
But then everybody was doing One Year Ago stories, and it made me so sad because we are still in the middle of it. I had read up on the 1918 flu and I knew it could last a long time, but I foolishly thought to myself that it was a long time ago and those people lived in the dark ages and it would never happen today. So a one-year anniversary is unexpected and unpleasant. I’m ready to write again, now that the anniversary has passed.
Here are some things I wrote from March 12 – March 23:
March 12: “I got an email that the Shamrock Run was canceled. My Belle Brigade teammates were all mad about it, and one suggested a different run in a different town for us to participate in. March Madness was cancelled. G-7 was going to be a virtual meeting. I got an email that my Cherokee meeting was canceled. I got an email that the symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth was canceled. On the way home from school I decided to be proactive and go stock up on groceries. I didn’t need toilet paper, but went to look at the aisle for curiosity’s sake. The entire aisle of toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues was completely empty. It was just like the scenes we had seen on TV. Next aisle over was cleaners and disinfectants. Whole sections were gone. No bleach, no disinfectants, no bathroom or kitchen cleaners, no wipes. Well, almost. I giggled to notice that the earth-friendly all-natural cleaners were still available. I found out Disneyland and Disneyworld had closed.”
All those things, canceled in one day. I was just walking around sometimes with a maniacal giggle, “Wow! Can you BELIEVE this?” and sometimes with dread, and then mostly in stunned silence.
March 13: “Governor Kate Brown closed Oregon schools. Seth Myers, Stephen Colbert, and Trevor Noah all announced that they would no longer be doing studio shows. I was feeling virus news overload and pulled out some old movies to watch.”
March 16: “Governor Inslee closed all bars and restaurants in Washington. After an interest rate cut to head it off, stocks crashed anyway. The gym was packed as usual. Greg said he wouldn’t close unless police showed up at his front door with guns. The gym was completely out of paper towels, so no one could clean the equipment, and I felt like my hands were virus vectors. I was uneasy until I got home and showered.”
March 17: “West Virginia got its first case and now all 50 states are in it. I got a robo call from Portland Orchestra, cancelling all performances through May. Will’s mom watched her first online Catholic service.”
March 18: “I pulled up to the gym at 6am and saw it dark and quiet. Greg had not been kind enough to tell me our appointment was canceled. I got a blast on my phone from VA that said not to worry, they had things under control, and had already administered over 322 tests nationwide. That’s terrible and embarrassing. I couldn’t believe they’d even publicize such a low number when South Korea was testing about 10,000 a day. I watched more movies. I find I’m reaching out to people a lot. Is it because I have more time? Or because my phone is constantly in my hand?”
March 19: “I took my final exam online with no problems. I called Tara to make plans to visit on Saturday. I wanted to visit the very next day, Friday, but it was too short of notice for T and B. I double checked travel options and the only essential travel restriction was the US-CAN border. Friends and family were getting agitated on facebook, and their moronic selves were exposed. A former co-worker said earnestly and hopefully that she heard some psychic say it would all disappear overnight, and another friend agreed and said God would simply take care of it. My mind is blown at how simple-minded even earnest, interested people are. My friend from high school was frustrated to the point of madness because he used percentages of death to compare regular seasonal flu to COVID-19, and decided that we were all overreacting. My mind is blown at how fecking DUMB so many, many, many Americans are. I did not realize so many people are truly this stupid.”
I was distressed to think of my friends and neighbors and family as “stupid,” and it led me to write a post called Pandemic Epistemology, in which I convinced myself that they are not stupid, but have not yet had the chance to learn (or have not chosen to employ) critical thinking.
March 20: “Tara and I had a long talk on the phone about whether or not I should make the 2 1/2 hour trip that we usually don’t give a moment’s thought to. In my mind I was annoyed that I should have gone that day and now traveling would probably be put off limits. T and I shared all our worries, and T said they were concerned about infecting me, older and more at-risk. Argh! My kid thinks I’m in an at-risk group! But we both ended the phone call deciding I would come. In Oregon we don’t pump our own gas, and I wouldn’t interact with anyone along the way. It would be safe. Will’s online trivia game wasn’t working well because too many people were logged on.”
March 21: “Gov. Brown said that nonessential travel was discouraged, and the official word would come out Monday. I called Tara again. This time we decided not to do it, with the understanding that this had been our last chance and that life would surely be locked down soon. We were both very sad, but just not willing to take the risk. Tara was very uncomfortable about going to work, and very frustrated with their boss, who is elderly and not in robust health, and yet is taking no precautions whatsoever at the smoothie shop. Tara said their hope is that during the shop’s normal closed days of Sunday and Monday, that will be time for the state of Oregon to force the shop to close, otherwise Tara is going to quit. In my disappointment not only of not getting to see Tara, but also not going out into the world, I left my house anyway. I drove to Scappoose to drop off recycling and get gas and try again to find some toilet paper. I never joined the fracas, so all I have on hand is what I would have had anyway. Enough for about two weeks probably. I was surprised to see plenty of traffic on Highway 30, and in the towns it seemed like most stuff was open as usual, with a business empty here and there. There was no TP at the store. I brought a container of wipes with me, and used them on everything: opening the recycling bins, holding the basket, pressing in my PIN onto the keypad when I paid.”
And that was my last chance. I have technically “seen” Tara since then. T and their partner, Brynnen, came three times in 2020. The first time we didn’t wear masks but stayed apart. Their two most recent visits were for the holidays, one in November one in December. Brynnen stayed in the car, T and I kept masks on. I stood back and watched while T delivered goodies inside the house. We chatted from 10 feet apart, then waved and blew kisses into our masks, then they drove away. Ugh. Heartbreak.
March 22: “I watched more movies. I keep remembering this disease-spreading game that Tara used to play, called Pandemic 2. The object was to kill off as many humans on the planet as possible, by spreading disease. That night I dreamed that I got COVID-19 and was infecting everyone I saw. It wasn’t a nightmare, more like a hassle.”
March 23: “Gov Brown issued a stay at home order for Oregonians. Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay at home order for the state of Washington. I was able to mail off a care package to T and B, with most of the stuff I was going to take to them if I had made the trip. On the way home I noticed new Keep Out signs in two driveways. Coincidence maybe. It felt ominous though. For some reason, as soon as I saw the second one I imagined people freaking out and getting mean. I could easily see our country having a hate explosion. I envisioned small fortresses like in Mad Max or The Postman.”
Oy, I didn’t intend to end it on an ominous note, but I guess in the wake of the race-motivated murders of six Asian women and two others in Atlanta, I suppose it’s a chilling validation that my fear was a premonition.
I think it’s funny that on the 12th I said I didn’t need any toilet paper, and a week later I was already trying to find some to no avail. Don’t worry, I found one store eventually, that had a single 4-pack on the shelves. I grabbed it. And the smoothie shop closed on Monday, to Tara’s relief. And then it never opened again, to Tara’s sadness.