I’ve a wandering mind. Allowed to roam unsupervised, I never know if I’ll find myself planning the week, writing a blog post, or spinning into anxiety. Like falling down the rabbit hole of the internet, falling down the rabbit hole of my mind can be disturbing or entertaining. Sometimes I have literally no idea how I got to a thought, and only patiently walking back the mental steps can I figure out how I went from Doritos to the life cycle of the barn owl. It’s often not worth the effort and I just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Long ago, I can’t remember when but quite a few years back, somehow that mental rabbit hole landed on me ruminating on society and intimacy and cleanliness. I remember imagining a society in which the entire populace wore gloves, and you knew you were trusted and accepted if people went without gloves in your presence. Wish I’d done more writing back then; I would have liked to have seen how I fleshed that out, what society was like, how it got to that point.
This morning I ventured out for the first time in over two weeks. My parents needed groceries and there was no way in hell I was going to let them leave their house to get them. Yeah, yeah, grown-ass adults and all that, but even the pharmacist commented that he was glad I was out getting their prescriptions and not them. I drank my coffee, double checked the shopping list, and gathered my supplies.
Disposable latex gloves.
Scarf to cover my face if the store was crowded.
Mask to cover my face when I delivered the bags to my folks.
The grocery store wasn’t crowded, unusual for a Friday morning. Aisles were clear, the produce section emptied of portable display cases so as to have wider spaces. Signs were posted everywhere, reminding shoppers to stay six feet away from others, black tape marking where to wait at the deli, the butcher, the pharmacy. More signs announcing limits on toilet paper, milk, rice, cleaning supplies. Surprisingly, there had been a run on ice cream, the freezer nearly empty of frozen dairy goodness.
Gloves on, it’s tough to maneuver plastic produce bags. Discovered that today. And if you spin the bag to twist the twist-tie shut, it will grab and twist the tip of your glove and you will stand there in the produce section looking like an idiot who’d left the cave for the first time. On the bright side, not a single child in the store to hear you muttering fuck this fuck that fuck all the things under your breath.
There was a palpable sense of…not fear, exactly. Discomfort? Uneasiness? Sadness, for sure. No one made eye contact, as though we’d spike a fever and start coughing right there next to the pickles if we did. So many people wearing gloves, masks if they had them, scarves around their faces if they didn’t. Passing other shoppers in narrow aisles would have been comical if the reason hadn’t been so deeply sobering. Eyes down, dash, don’t breathe. Try not to stand too long in one spot, because someone else may need something close to where you are standing. Give everyone a wide berth, as wide as possible.
Groceries delivered to the porch, wearing another pair of gloves and a mask. I could talk to my parents through the screen door, but for a family as affectionate as mine, masks and gloves and six feet of distance is heartbreaking, while necessary. They wiped down their groceries with Clorox wipes as they brought the bags into the house, just as I did when I returned home. Then I stripped off my clothes to the laundry and took a hot shower.
In two weeks we’ve become the dystopian society of my ruminating mind. Gloves on while in public, avoiding others’ suddenly larger personal space. Soon the most intimate thing we could do with another person will be to remove our gloves, clasp hands, and breathe the same air, less than six feet apart. Society has changed drastically in a blink of an eye, and while there is so much that needs to be destroyed and rebuilt, I fear the most human of all things…touch…will be the most permanently changed.