It has been three months since bars and dine-in restaurants closed, gyms and movie theatres shuttered, and we were ordered to stay at home as much as possible. As a single woman in my early thirties, living alone with an overweight tabby cat and an array of houseplants in varying stages of expiration as company, the initial prospect of being confined to my two bed, one bath apartment and working from home for the foreseeable future was mildly alarming.
I’ve always been an active sort of person, and so I started out by going for daily walks before I began work, venturing around the park and through the eerily quiet streets lined with boarded up shop fronts and deserted cafes. Armed with a medical-grade face mask and a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer, I’d make my way around the neighborhood as the sun climbed up into the sky above. It wasn’t quite the same as the elliptical machines and weight circuits I’d come to know and hate down at the 24 Hour Fitness, but it kept me moving.
Of course, the grocery stores were still open, as were certain restaurants for takeout and delivery. Instead of eating out with friends and co-workers three or four nights a week, complete with appetizers and a glass or three of wine, I was now inadvertently saving a whole heap of money by sticking to Uber Eats, store-bought merlot and semi-nutritious home-cooked meals. I’d even taught myself how to make lasagna from scratch.
About a month into our shelter-in-place orders had taken effect, I ran into my neighbor – literally – in the hallway outside his apartment, directly around the corner from mine, as I was leaving for my morning walk. I saw him sometimes as he came and went through the front entrance of our building, from the window next to my desk where I now sat working each day, which gave me a perfect view of the path that led to the street. We’d only met twice, briefly exchanging pleasantries as we passed, but now, he’d become the first physical human contact I’d had in weeks.
“Sorry,” he grunted as I picked up my phone from the floor, having dropped it as we’d collided. “Walk of shame.” He turned the key to his apartment and disappeared inside.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m no stranger to the concept of returning home after the sun has already risen, following a night spent in someone else’s bed – but I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. He knows we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, right? Am I really sitting in my tiny apartment with no real connection to the outside world, day after day, while he, and probably many others, are simply going about their usual business?
From that day on, I paid closer attention to what was going on outside. I’d notice my neighbor coming and going at strange times, frequently accompanied by one of several women that I’d eventually come to recognize. I’d see the young twenty-somethings from the first-floor meeting up with their friends just outside, hugging and laughing, with no regard for the social distancing messages constantly blaring from all channels. I’d watch strangers pass each other in the street, brushing shoulders without making an effort to move aside. Sometimes, they’d be wearing masks, but usually they were bare-faced.
I glanced over at my own mask, hanging next to my keys and purse by the front door. Should I even be bothering? Should I be throwing caution to the wind and acting as if everything going on in the world right now is a mere overreaction, like everyone else seemed to be doing? My eyes traced the wall and landed on a framed photo of my parents, both in their late sixties – my diabetic father, and my mother who just last winter had been hospitalized for pneumonia. I hadn’t seen them in nearly two months, and for what? I’d read that older people with medical conditions such as theirs were particularly vulnerable to the virus and hadn’t wanted to risk passing anything to them ever since the news of the pandemic broke.
But, of course, they still needed to venture outside for groceries and essentials – what if they happened to go to the same store as my neighbor? What if one of my neighbor’s female visitors had unknowingly been infected, and had passed the virus on to him? What if he had then stood behind them in line, or had used the same shopping basket, or had simply walked past them a little too closely?
I picked up my phone and dialed my parents’ home line. My mother answered.
“Hey, Mom. I’m ordering you and Dad some groceries. What do you need?”
That was a month ago, and in that time, my parents haven’t left the house once. They haven’t needed to – everything they need – from food to prescriptions – is available online.
I haven’t left my house either. Every time I go outside, there’s a chance that I’ll end up being a link in the chain that kills someone.
It’s just not worth it.