I kept dating during the pandemic. I was online anyway, using OK Cupid and a couple other online dating websites – OK Cupid is the best by far – and chatting online is perfectly fine in a pandemic. But then, eventually, two people get to a point where they feel ready to chance it.
One Year Later, April 4, 2020. “Out of madness? Boredom? Calm coolheadedness? Jeff and I are meeting for a date today in Warrenton to clean gravestones at the cemetery. I feel safer at a cemetery than in a supermarket. I’m not sure if I will be tempted to hug him hello, or goodbye, as I am a “hugger” kind of person usually. I suspect that he will follow my lead on that. I worry what he will think of my cough. For whatever reason I suffer with a cough that never goes away. So I will be wearing a scarf over my face. I have a couple masks somewhere, but I don’t know where. Maybe I’ll look for them. But in any case, since the first day this thing started to scare me, I’ve been extra aware of my coughing.”
Imagine that! Not knowing where a mask is. In this case above I was referring to some dust masks I bought when I had to clean asbestos-laden popcorn from my ceiling two years ago. Now I have a mask in my purse, two in the car (not counting the two spare paper ones in the jockey box), a couple freshly washed on the top of the washing machine, and probably one or two crammed into coat pockets.
April 5. “Total cases in the US: 308,426. Total deaths: 7,616. Trump has stopped talking about opening the country up by Easter. Which is good because that’s in a week. Total cases in Oregon: 999. Total deaths: 26. Benton county (where Tara lives): 19 and 1. Columbia county (where I live): 3 cases, no deaths. Requests and suggestions that people protect themselves on trails fell on deaf ears and authorities had no choice but to take it away from everyone. All Forest Service Trailheads in the PNW are closed because people were swarming the parking lots and hiking shoulder to shoulder on trails packed as much right now as during peak summer months.”
“News is filled with stories of China on the other side of the pandemic. It’s crazy to think of the hope of recovery somewhere already, while knowing the worst is still ahead for the US. A conspiracy-minded neighbor raised an eyebrow and asked how it could be as bad as everyone says if China has it under control already. “It’s got to be fake, right?” he asked. I reminded him 1) we haven’t been as aggressive as China was in lockdowns, and 2) they got a two-month head start on us. Financial numbers are potentially terrifying, but so far I’m not letting myself be terrified by it. We are solidly – blam – in a recession clearly worse than that in 2008-2009. Things financially are worse than after 9/11/2001. People on my financial podcasts are having discussions about how to identify a depression vs. a recession. During 2008-2009, the worst unemployment for the US was 10%. During the Great Depression, the worst unemployment was 24.9%. Right now, there is an economists prediction that the US will hit 32% unemployment at the worst. It would be the new Greatest Depression, if the numbers stayed there for an extended period of time. The second week of March we broke a record with first-time unemployment claims: 3.3 million. That blew our minds until the third week of March, when we broke it again with 6.6 million.”
When all was said and done: Bureau of Labor Statistics reflects that U.S. unemployment reached 14.8% overall in April 2020. Among Black Americans 16.7%. Among LatinX Americans 18.9%. And among 16-19 year olds, a whopping 32.1% (this measures those who are wanting to work but unable to, and is not counting those who are not looking for work). Tara, 22 years old last year, was among those who lost their job for all of 2020.
Still going through the growing pains of learning how to live in a different world:
April 6. “I’m on the phone more than usual. I’m on the phone more than I like, since I’m an introvert. And when I’m on the phone, I’m there longer than I’m used to being on the phone. It’s hard to sit still and be present and not get bored out of my mind. I now keep a packet of colouring postcards and four packs of fine-point felt pens on the dining table. That way I can doodle and colour and stay present for whomever I’m talking with. I also have beautiful hand-coloured postcards when I get off the phone, to mail to other friends. Win win. I noticed that instead of immediately burning cardboard boxes that I get, I’ve been keeping them. I have been mailing more stuff than usual. Mailing things to gift and to keep in touch, since I can’t visit.”
“The weather is slightly warmer and when the rain is light, I’ve been trying to get out to do my 5.5 mile power walks. In the past two weeks I’ve noticed fewer cars and more people. I passed a grandmother and three kids out walking yesterday. I crossed to the other side of the road, and hoped they knew why. One day I chatted with a woman who was building a fence. Her dog was going crazy to get to me and greet me, but she was holding him back, so I happily crossed the ditch and came over to stand next to them and petted the dog and chatted away. I had completely forgotten myself. She was not rude, but obviously unhappy. I thought she was mad at me for something. I said, “Ok, I’ll leave you alone now,” sort of joking. And she said, “Thank you.” I was hurt for about a mile and a half down the road, then I remembered: COVID-19!! I am an idiot. That poor woman.”