Victoria was a newborn, and after nine and a half months of pregnancy —which is like 9 1/2 Weeks the film, but slightly less sexy-Kim and slightly more enormous-Erin, slightly less sexy strawberry eating and slightly more ravenous devouring of the contents of the kitchen, slightly less Mickey Rourke on a motorcycle and slightly more get the frick away from me, similar breathing heavy and screaming, but for drastically different reasons —we were let out of the hospital, with a list of terrifying things you must do with proper precision or your wee one might not make it. I remember sitting in the back of the car after an episode with the car seat, and begging my sister to drive no more than twenty kilometers an hour while tears spilled down my face because the world felt so goddamned dangerous, and I felt so utterly helpless to help this tiny precious person whom it was my entire life’s purpose to protect.
Please pass the tissues.
Last night I went into Safeway for the first time after a month of being away, followed by a month of quarantine. It felt kind of like how I imagine bad drugs would feel, which for me would reference anything outside of the acetaminophen family. Or the plot of a movie that the kids would label “too creepy for Mom”. There was NO military order. NO six feet measuring sticks. People were just left to their own devices friends. There was no method for getting groceries into your bag or basket but to TOUCH them. We were all just running wild, handling things with germs on them, breathing the same very possibly virulent air! The blonde lady stands out in my mind because we were kind to one another and equally flustered and confused. I remember her face, and the way she had her hair pulled up in a slightly messy bun that said “best efforts”. We seemed to run into to each other all over the store, taking turns feeling awkward as one of us patiently waited for the other to veer her cart a plausibly safe distance away, only to realize that we had forgotten something that was now back behind the other. Pretending not to need it and circling aimlessly. Smiling from lowered eyes, the basic posture for the entire store, as if to look too closely at another might alert the armed guards that we were failing to take death seriously enough. The mood was somber. And just in case the surreal factor was not ramped up enough, the song playing on the satellite when I entered the store was Live Like We’re Dying. Are you even kidding me?!!! Too soon, Safeway, too soon. I looked around wanting just one moment of recognition, one exchanged glance, one small shared WTAF. Alas, no laughing was permitted.
I remember a tall balding man with broad shoulders reaching for things, faceless for his blue mask. I was married to him for an instant and he was bringing home the supplies, hugging me with his strong arms which felt nice after a month of no human contact, but then he was controlling about how we washed the food, and I felt intimidated by him and questioned the relationship.
A slim woman with bendy curls woven into her mask tended to her garden of purchases with sturdy hands. The flower faced grocery clerk, petite and black haired, interacted with person after person, like an un-swaddled infant and I just stood there, letting her. A man took over for a moment or two. I recall how he picked up three of my grocery items without gloves. I can see the specks of dust on his apron, his shaggy blond beard. They must be clean I reassured myself. We exchanged, “Quite a large order tonight”. “I don’t want to do this again any sooner than I have to”. “That’s the right approach”.
We aren’t used to mistrusting the very air that we breathe.
I found myself shopping like a pregnant woman hunting down a craving, but not quite hitting it, washing down puddings with jarred jalapenos and sour cream. And then I was preparing for my imaginary quarantine body building boot camp the next, with multiple cans of organic beans and a jumbo tub of protein powder. By the end I was holding back tears. Foods took on delirious sentiment. I sized up a row of Dairy Milk family bars in delightful themes of Smores, Rocky Road and Fireworks. Childhood summers in a candy. Memories I made, or would have, if only I could go back for One. Blessed. Day. “Look children, what I found” I saw myself in a peasant dress, a bit of coal dust on my cheek, bringing home a sweet treasure on a day of merriment. The children gathered ‘round my skirts, tugging and exchanging bursting glances with one another “Mama brought plums!” “Oh, Roger, can you believe it. We’re to have a pudding! And some sweets too! What fortune?!” Warmth and laughter abounding, and I the maternal heroine. But then I came to, and I remembered the chocolate chips and how they are all gone now, and yet no one made cookies. And I was the hero no more. Just a crazed woman newly released from the strong arms of mandatory isolation, bringing home diet syrup without pancakes.
I don’t want to tell you how much I spent on groceries between Safeway and Costco, but whatever 288 plus 220 adds up to and you’ll have the loose plot of The Hungry Caterpillar, minus the beautiful butterfly part.
Safely back in the car I felt much more exhausted than I did running a half marathon. I felt invisibly internally naked. AGAIN, and I can’t emphasize this enough, not in a blond bombshell kind of way. And then I was just sad. I was looking into the sky for Mom to drop a soft blanket, or a litter of kittens into the car, pretty sure that I was going to start crying at the sad commercial only without the sad commercial to blame it on, when Lizzo came on the radio reminding me that she was a bad bitch and that helped, even though there are neither salon chairs nor Minnesota Vikings to speak of anymore.
It’s okay to cry. I tell you that all the time friends. Unless it’s in bed for the third day in a row, it’s often BETTER to cry than to hold that shit in and have it come spurting out your passive aggressive hole, or clogging your relationship pipe. In my case, post dystopian grocery drug trip, it’s probably good that I didn’t because like much of the current population I am now 98 percent hand cleaner and that stuff stings your eyes plus it’s hard on the complexion.
WE ALL NEED TO FEEL SAFE RIGHT NOW. We need to build a new internal infrastructure in order to feel safe, because the outside world doesn’t have one, and isn’t going to for a wee bit. We need a little help to sort out where to place our precious energy. We need some help, because it kind of feels like we are all sleeping through the fire alarm. And what makes sense for you right now is going to be slightly different than what makes sense for Pam.
We need a plan, even if our plan is to wing it. Deciding not to decide, giving yourself some free for all time where you just move through things is okay, and can be a very meaningful strategy. It doesn’t require answers and decided action, it allows for reflection and processing. But it is a far cry from the beheaded chicken syndrome, a kind of disgusting metaphor to capture the futility of panic. We are not beheaded. If you lose your head because you have lost your actual head, running around in circles is as good a wind up as any. But shy of actual head loss, it may not be making you feel better.
And for those of us who need a plan-plan, we need a person to help us, hear us out, to weed the fear, the panic, the bullying and the baggage out of our plan. We need to exhale, to say yes that is enough. To feel taken care of, the best we can take care of ourselves right now!
We need some space for unexpected immeasurable grief and confusion. Talking this through, gaining some awareness, or as I said a couple of musings ago “checking our emotional temperature often” is important when we are all in shock. Even if we are in a zone with this all, it’s good to save some emotional space for the invisible space taking that is emotional impact. Don’t fill the schedule, or the day timer, or set up an auto response that you are “FINE” arguably the most misused measure in the English language. Actually proactively talk it out, write it out, feel it out, get really still for decided amounts of time, say it out loud to an emotionally safe person, such as FLUFFY. If your kid said they were FINE in the middle of a crisis (or any old kid if you don’t have one of your own), would you doubt it? Would you want to check in a little more just to make sure, because you are older and wiser and know they are probably being impacted? Well yes you would, and yes you would do well to, for them and for you.
We need some kind of connection. If you are “FINE” but also alone right now with no humans, I am suggesting that you choose a person, the safest possible choice who could be your human contact, should the isolation start to have bad effects on your mental and emotional health. NOT IF YOU ARE SICK, or fall into mandatory isolation, obviously. Many folks are with other folks because they share a household. But some of us are at home and don’t even have Fluffy, or Fluffy now needs therapy because she has been our only emotional support person for a month. There is a difference between a rotation of friends, who tell two friends, who tell two friends, and one dedicated person who shares a safety protocol with you. There are millions if not billions of people having conversations right now, trying to figure out who they can and cannot see, and it can be so confusing and stressful for everyone and take a lot of energy. You need to talk it through with someone who will not judge you, or put you in terror, but also won’t be frivolous with safety.
I am also suggesting a strategy for whom you communicate with and how often. Some of us will burn out and won’t be able to help our friends in distress. Sometimes we actually need alone time in all of this, ironically. Which brings us to…
We need to be at peace with what we are doing, and what we’re not. Help can be silent and invisible. It can be forgiveness or “prayer”. It can be a talk, or taking care of yourself. It can be giving or receiving or asking for help yourself. It can be kindness. It can be donation. But if you are shaming yourself or self criticizing, let me help you NOT. No one wants that. No one benefits from that. This is not your fault and you don’t have to have all of the answers. Choose peace first and clarity will follow.
WE NEED TO ALLOW FOR MIRACLES. What am I talking about? Who can afford to think about miracles at a time like this? Well who cannot? Twice a day for five minutes or as long as we can stand it, we need to take the hamster off its wheel (nicely, because hamsters are under a lot of pressure too) and stop trying to understand or make sense of the senseless. When we stop trying to rationalize pain and suffering, we allow for healing. For BIG LOVE IN THE SKY to fix shit for us, to turn things around, to know what we cannot possibly know from here. For those crazy solutions to problems we feel oppressed by to drop, like chocolate eggs or fluffy bunnies, through our car window on the way home from Safeway. I am choosing that for us right now. The big US, and each one of you.
I don’t want you getting lost in the shuffle or the grocery aisle.
— Love Erin
P.S. You’ve been asking me how to get your friends and loved ones the help I’ve been able to give you. We can do that. Contact me and we’ll talk details.
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