Shelter in Place

An overheard conference call: Wake up at the same time you always did on a normal work day, take a shower like normal, get dressed like normal, keep the same hours you normally did, invest in your space at home. This could be our new normal for a very long time.

I can’t help but think there’s nothing normal at all about this new normal.

Stay home, they say.

For some, like us, home is a new place. In January, we settled on our new country home, the stone front porch still empty as it patiently waits to meet new rocking chairs (a chocolate brown seems nice). By mid-February, we moved in the last car load, piles growing in the unfinished basement, the music pile, the books pile, the we-have-no-idea pile(s). During the last and final haul, we stuffed the two kittens in a shared carrier and one decided she now suffers from motion sickness on those windy back roads, testing out our pre-parenting skills at midnight with a laundry room sink, a damp rag, and two shivering babies. (Lesson: my husband is the deal-with-puke-calmly type. I am not. We all have our strengths, I remind him.)

And by March, we’re listening, we’re staying put, we’re staying home.

It’s a strange feeling to find shelter in an unfamiliar place, a place that’s barely an acquaintance, closer to a stranger at this point in our relationship. We still have a silverware drawer with loose cutlery, sliding to the back every time we open and close it for a spoon to feed the cats, not even sure if we picked the right drawer. I still don’t know which light switch turns on which light, can’t seem to remember the trash day and the recycling day.

Slowly, we’re learning, how long it takes for the water or the oven to heat up, how much water we need to avoid spraying the jets in the jacuzzi bathtub (a luxury, indeed), or the exact position to leave the shower handle to stop the steady drip throughout the day.

But here in this strange place, some of our old things are here to offer familiar comfort, our hand-me-down couches and overused throw blankets with holes from destructive kittens, my fuzzy pink pillow from high school that rests under my chin at night, the scents on our clothes (although the house itself doesn’t smell like us just yet), our nightly routine of watching The Office. Those little kittens are here and clean now, still crying and begging for more food (always).

In these crisis days, some changes feel big, others much smaller.

My husband is my coworker, for instance. He commutes from the purple carpet bedroom to the hardwood floors living room where he has welcomed several monitors and hourly conference calls echoing through the house that’s very much in need of sound dampening area rugs.

Together, we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast: plenty of time for the long-cook oatmeal, a guessing game of the ingredients (honey? cinnamon?) from his high-top table turned desk by the windows and my kitchen table turned desk in the breakfast nook a few feet away. Lunch: fry up some crispy bacon for that turkey sandwich, why don’t we, how about some caramelized onions in the bacon grease, too. Special occasions used to call for bacon, but now, every day calls for bacon. I slide him a plate out of view of the web cam (we hope). Dinner: Instant pot? Air fryer? Slow roasting?

During our wedding registry hunt, I had declared the waffle maker a necessity, “Saturdays are for the waffles,” I said. To which, my husband questioned when we had ever had waffles on a Saturday. Now, the days of the week scramble like eggs. Saturdays are for the waffles, Wednesdays are for the waffles.

A small, yet profound change (to me, at least): we walk together to get the mail or bring the trash cans in and out. Once, not long ago, we worried that the driveway felt like a mile away. Now, it feels like we have time to make the walk. I wondered if we should do it a few more times, up and back, just to feel the breeze, meet the trees, get acquainted with the pavement.

Even on a rainy day like today, I’m looking forward to the walk, the reminder that the world is still capable of change and growth. Surely these tears from the sky must all add up to something beautiful one day, surely there are flowers blooming somewhere just around the corner.

We met the neighbors, finally. Before, we threw a wave in passing, hands full carrying boxes or busy coming and going to this meeting or that obligation, now plenty of time for a proper hello. We visited with the mom, the dad, the son, the dog. Did you know about the pond just over there? Or the blueberry bushes right over that way? We note a few field trips to add to our calendars in the coming weeks. We make plans for “after,” plans to meet for drinks after we all find our friend Normal again.

They wanted to know if we needed anything from the store, she was on her way there. In this age of crisis, some changes feel big, like I said. My husband does the grocery shopping.

We used to shop together, with a list and a team strategy of conquer and divide, but now, well, it could be quite some time before my compromised self makes it back into a world of touching carts and breathing humans.

Stay home, they say.

Protect yourself, they say.

The deer, they have no idea. They wake up, they eat, they roam around quietly, all while the rest of the world’s busy screaming, every update packaged with the urgency of red tape. But the deer, the mom, the dad, the babies, they visit our yard and graze in the field right out our window a few times throughout the day, clueless to any shift in the forecast.

As I sit on the screened in porch in an it-will-do-for-now chair I found in the basement, listening to the also blissfully oblivious chirping birds, I consider telling them, the birds and the deer. Should I clue them in to the pandemic? Should I tell them the world has gone a little mad, that we keep waking up to what should be some dark and twisted dream?

I think I better not.

A sun that still rises. Just roll back over, rest a little longer, he says, besides, the purring kittens love the company. A reheated waffle from Waffle Saturday, melted butter and drizzled syrup. Refilling my husband’s water glass (cubed ice, a splash of lemonade or poor man’s LaCroix as he likes to call it) with a kiss on the top of his head. A scruffy beard, a pandemic beard, he calls it (is this a thing? I wonder). Old favorite books found in boxes in the basement, plans to feel inspired. An abandoned journal opened. Sturdy shelves built, space to fill over the years, plans to get organized, the 9-ft. pre-lit Christmas tree bought on clearance stashed away in storage, a box for the ornaments, a box for the gift wrap, whispers of some pretending now feels like a good time to declare it’s Christmas (the tree, like the deer, won’t know the difference). Neighbors through the woods with twinkling lights on a tree in the window. Family dinners over Zoom, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, a family of educators who declare story time and show-and-tell. The passing of an unwritten story, “Once upon a time in a place not so very different than we are in today, a young boy found a new friend in a very unexpected way…” Tag, you’re it, how would you write the next sentence? A delivery of coveted toilet paper on the front porch, but no knock or doorbell, no touch, they say. An empty sunroom turned barre studio, teaching pain and slow movements and how to breathe through the shortness of breath. A sun that still sets.

A prayer: teach me to number my days.

2 responses to “Shelter in Place”

  1. Good read Ash! I’ll try to come up with some other fun things, so far zoom and the story and the salad bowl have been big hits, I’m 3 for 3 (of course I won’t include the light switch I installed yesterday, because I woke up this morning to find out it also somehow turns my basement freezer off too).

    1. Thanks Uncle Charlie! Haha I hope you sorted out the light switch. Freezers are a necessity these days!

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