I went to Zombie land today (also known as the home improvement store) because I’m in the process of some apartment repair and Dane and Davey needed more supplies. (When you get into a project like this, the supply lists breed like mice.)

Pulling in next to all the dualie trucks loading lumber was humbling. The dualies remind you that you are a woman entering a man’s world before you even venture inside. I slid the straps of my quilted leopard-print mask around my ears and began practicing my construction-speak on the way in. “Yeah, listen, gimme some almond switchplates, 3 with two and a 3, matching outlet covers, and 3 GFI’s. Oh, and throw in a white 30 inch range hood, self-vent.”

Thanks to Dane’s coaching and careful instruction I actually knew what all those things and I didn’t ask for “electrical thingies” in that embarrassing way women do. He teaches by the show-and-tell method, pantomiming his electrocution to explain the GFI, which I now know is a ground fault interrupter, and helping me count how many openings each switch-plate had (1, 2 or 3! Who knew? Seriously, I would have bought the wrong ones I’m sure).

My rehearsal was worth every minute. The clerk typed in my order, no questions asked, took my money, and then I moved to stand on an X in the delivery area, which is where this story actually starts.

Because you see, I haven’t been out in the world for over two months. And I found being thrust into the presence of all these people I didn’t know, who had also not been out in the world for two months, disconcerting, disorienting really. I was afraid of bumping into someone I knew and equally afraid of people offering to cut my hair. Who knew cutting your partner’s hair was the new disco dance?. Waiting on my orange X, feeling like a kid in kindergarten again, worried about who I would meet or who would cut my hair, I suddenly felt very silly because no one was making eye contact with me. People moved slowly and furtively past me as if they were on the other side of some invisible wall and were afraid of  getting caught and deported.

I know the politicians have said American is again open for business, but the grand reopening seemed forced and sad, hopeless even. Maybe helpless is a better word. And suddenly this awkward helplessness I was feeling, reached back and connected to something I’d felt 9 years ago.

For the first few months after my husband Perrin died, I didn’t venture out much. I didn’t want to have those awkward, impersonal encounters in the grocery store or post office. I hadn’t slept much or gotten my hair cut and I looked a wreck. My brains had fallen out and my emotions were all over the map and frankly, I was still working on feeling safe most of the time, just like now. My world was upside down and I was trying to make some sense of it, just like now.

Because my brains had fallen out, I couldn’t remember peoples’ names, which was embarrassing. Of course they couldn’t remember my husband’s name either, so I guess we were even.  “Oh! I’ve been thinking about you!” some vague acquaintance would say, “I’ll bet you miss Tadd. But we’ve all been wondering, was he a drinker” Who? Admittedly, Perrin is an unusual first name but Todd is a fairly ubiquitous last name. Not quite as common as Smith but close. Encounters like this made me want to stay inside.

Just like my grief then kept me on guard, socially isolated, and withdrawn, the COVID pandemic seems to be doing the same thing to me.

I’ve had so many memories arise lately from other helpless moments in my life, too: signing my Mom into hospice, taking the keys to my Daddy’s electric scooter so he couldn’t run away from the nursing home, and standing in a bitter November wind, listening to the kids in the marching band play hymns as people arrived at Perrin’s funeral, the black plumes on their hats blown back by the wind, tears streaming down their faces, and mine.

Memories are swirling with reality; fear is mingling with fact. Like kissing cousins at a cocktail party, this is my daily bread. These are my pandemic thoughts and I spend too much time on too many days sorting them all out. What will happen when we mingle, will infections rise? How many people will be evicted from their apartments  when 38.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment while corporations took the lion’s share of the small business loans. It’s business as usual and yet it isn’t. We’re navigating a whole new world.