Yesterday I went to Home Depot. My roommate and I took all the recommended precautions…washed our hands, didn’t touch our faces, sanitized the carts, and made sure we had our lists ready so we could make an expeditious trip. Two-hundred dollars later, we went home, used the resources we had bought for various plans to promote sanity and sustainability, and went to bed. This morning I woke up with a raging emotional and guilt-ridden hangover.
The cashier at Home Depot was named Ron and looked to be in his mid-70’s, perhaps with Parkinson’s. He had shaky, weathered hands, a kind but tired smile, and a thick, gruff voice; the kind of voice you’d expect from a rusted red wheelbarrow that had logged years of arduous hours in the sun. You know, if wheelbarrows could talk or whatever.
My roommate and I picked up dozens of seeds, plants, and projects. Each seed packet was small, thin, and hastily strewn along the bottom of the cart, obstructed by large plants on top. This made the checkout process rather cumbersome for Ron. There was no “6-foot-distancing” protocol setup, so Ron and I sort of assumed positions as we would have during pre-COVID days as he began check-out. His quivering hands reached around the cart for the seed packets and I practically held my breath, trying not to breathe on him. My heart was breaking and my thoughts were racing as I stood there:
Is this honestly how f*cked up America is? That a 70-something-year-old man has to be working during a pandemic because retirement isn’t enough to live on? He should not be working. And I shouldn’t be here. These are not essential. Should I be standing further back? Should I have wiped down everything with disinfectant before checkout? I want to help him, but what if I’m asymptomatic? What if trying to help just makes it worse?
In the midst of my mental spinout, Ron started making jokes. He’d shakily struggle to pick up a packet and ask,
“Did I offend you in a previous life?” or “Did someone send you here to torture me?” I began laughing, trying to turn my head away at the same time.
“Maybe you’re doing time for karma, Ron!” I said jovially, following up with, “Just kidding, you seem like a good man.”
“Ohh, I was bad. Not anymore though — had to cut that out.”
I told him, “Me too.”
With the conversation barrier broken, I wanted to know more.
“How long have you been working here, Ron?”
“Oh, I retired six years ago from my business in the mid-west,” he said, moving from seed packets to scanning the veggie starts, “but I got bored, and came here to work in the lumber department.”
He explained that he wasn’t usually a cashier and I told him I wasn’t usually at Home Depot. As our conversing continued, I painfully wondered if he actually started working at Home Depot because he got bored, or if he was just being reserved, like most normal humans.
After a few more jokes about swapping shelving-lessons for portions of my veggie bounty, we parted ways.
I woke up to a forwarded article from the LA Times: Choir Practice Turns Fatal. Coronavirus is to Blame. The piece was about a group in Skagit County, Washington that met for choir practice in early March. Prohibitions on gatherings had not yet been announced, (there were no COVID cases in the county at that time), but the group took precautions; everyone came with their own sheet of music (to avoid sharing choir books), hands were sanitized at the door, and it is said that social distancing measures were abided by. Forty-five of the sixty attendees wound up with COVID-19; three are hospitalized and two are dead.
The article highlighted the growing body of evidence that the Coronavirus might be transmissible through aerosols — teeny tiny particles that can live in midair for anywhere from minutes to hours.
I finished reading and immediately laid into my roommate, (a reaction I’m not proud of), about our trip to Home Depot. I’ve been very reluctant to leave the house, stating that any time we “go out,” we are putting ourselves at risk — and obviously what’s worse — potentially putting a high-risk individual on their deathbed.
“This is exactly why we shouldn’t be going out,” I said to my roommate, in a more combative tone than I planned.
She assured me that we took all the precautions necessary and that by following said precautions, it is easy to NOT spread the virus. She told me we did the right thing by saving up our list and consolidating our errands.
“If Ron dies because I’m an asymptomatic-silent-carrier-killer I’ll never be able to live with myself,” I said, ignoring whatever she’d said, and then tried to reiterate some facts about the virus’s contagion levels that I’d read in the LA Times article.
We went back and forth a little bit, and ended with, “love you,” and “love you, too,” but I didn’t feel settled. I still don’t feel settled. I feel guilty. I feel like I really fucked up and I feel like even when I try to present facts, I sputter like an uneducated rambler because the truth is, I don’t know what the facts are and they seem impossible to find out.
It’s easy to weed out unfounded claims related to COVID-19, like the one started by a Floridian politician who said: “If you stick a hairdryer up your nose, it’ll kill the virus,” but when it comes to simple yet crucial pieces of information — everything is shrouded in corona-confusion.
People without symptoms were berated for wearing face masks, and now NOT wearing masks is being considered as a colossal, deadly mistake.
My friend’s nurse told her that taking ibuprofen will straight up kill if you have COVID, yet fact checks report no evidence of that claim.
A doctor showed 22 million viewers how to wipe down groceries from the store, and then he got chastised by scientists for his extreme precautions and lack of understanding.
And I thought it was okay to go to Home Depot, and now I’m in a sea of regret about killing Ron.
I don’t know…maybe Ron is going to be okay, but I don’t know if he will be and I don’t know if it’d be my fault because there is too much noise and silence all at the same time.
The world has screeched to a halt—until you open the screen of your laptop and everyone seems to have a YouTube video or article or piece of advice from a friend-who’s-a-doctor-who-knows-another-doctor that supports whatever you want to believe most.
If you want to believe that going to Home Depot is fine, there’s a video for that; if you want to believe that you’re an asymptomatic killing machine who’s perpetuating the spread of this virus, there’s an article for that, too.
It must sound like I’ve lost my marbles—like I’ve watched one too many episodes of Tiger King from my quarantine corner. I’m just frustrated, I guess. And I know it’s no one’s fault. This disease is called the “novel coronavirus,” for a reason—because it’s new, novel, never been here before. Everyone is doing the best they can…except for Trump who literally seems to be doing the worst he can, and then some. (That’s for a different article.)
Often times, I write to process. In writing what I don’t know, I suppose I’ve realized that all I can do is hold on to what I DO know:
The sun came up this morning
My roommate is not the enemy
Andrew Cuomo and Dr. Fauci are f*cking heroes
When I react with anger, it is almost always stemming from fear
Healthcare workers deserve high-fives and endless praise into eternity
I can continue to do my part by staying home and practicing social distancing
When this is all over, I'm going straight to Home Depot to bring Ron a bunch of vegetables.