dots and arrows

The mask in my hand hung from thin overused rubber strings, it had been washed countless times and still it clung onto the original pink tone. I swirl it around on my finger and wonder why my clothes can’t be made of this same material while I stare at the endless line waiting to get into the grocery store. In my mind I weigh out the actual need of the few things on my list and decide that if we want to have anything healthy it will require me standing on my appointed dot. I look at the dot, and then up at the people standing on their dots, all either holding or wearing their masks. Some of them are using their phones to pass the time, others talk to the person in line with them but it’s the others that catch my attention. It’s the woman fifth dot from the front of the line, she wears a blue mask; medical grade, and her hands cling to her purse tightly. Her eyes are cast at the door and in the deep pits of blue I see fear. The person in front of her moves slightly, putting a little less than the required 6 feet between them and the woman with blue frightened eyes steps back automatically, it’s become reflex, and I know that the fear has taken hold, it’s its own virus and I look to see the others who have caught it. There is an older man, he’s bent a little and leans slightly to the left. He has a cane hooked over his arm as if he was told by someone who loves him ‘don’t go out without your cane”; but he’s still too proud to actually use the thing. He is wearing a black mask and it is fogging his glasses, which mask his eyes from me but then he lifts a little bottle of sanitizer from his pocket and squirts it into his hands, rubbing the alcohol into his dry calloused hands. He puts the lid on the small bottle and then lifts his mask just enough to allow the glasses to defog before replacing the mask. It was only a moment before the glasses were once again filling with fog, he had grey eyes, tired grey eyes filled with anxiety and hidden deep in there was a small amount of hopelessness. When his glasses fogged over completely again he started again with the small bottle of sanitizer, squirting it out, rubbing into his hands and tugging at the mask for a little reprieve. It all seemed so monotonous and sad so I turned and watched the cars pass by along the street. The light changed and the orange hand flashed up to signal everyone to stop, they did, but each taking care to not touch, to back up, or move away if the 6 feet wasn’t being observed. At the stoplights there are no dots to tell us where to stand, we are on our own there, on the sidewalk too. We have to guess which way the other person would go and then just dive in and hope for the best. A movement catches my eye and I see that someone has left the store, making room for the next person to go in, I change to the next dot and catch the eye of the man with the grey eyes, I smile but he only nods at me and turns away. I feel the urge to hug this man, to hold him and tell him it’s going to be okay but deep down I know it wouldn’t be welcome, not now, with so many things changed. The security guard points to the next person in line and they step away from their dot and enter the store, like robots we all move forward and I long for something that I can’t put my finger on. The fear that now settles over the faces of those around me is tangible; the air is thick with worries that weren’t there just a few moths ago. I look down at my new dot and notice that the side of the dot is ripped, a sign of age in this new era of masks and dots and rules and bubbles. It’s already old enough to have aged and it leaves a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. When will this end I wonder to myself? When will I see a friend on the street and be able to hug them? Will there ever be a time again when I can see an old man with sad grey eyes and be able to go to him, help him, and have it be welcomed? Slowly the line moves and finally it is my turn to enter the store. I stand while the twenty something guy uses sanitizer on my grocery cart and then he squirts some into my hand and I swipe my hands together to clean any possible germ off me. I push the cart to the first arrow and try to follow the arrows properly while also thinking what I might need for the new few weeks since this is not a thing I want to do on a regular basis. Standing in line for food isn’t something I am used to doing and I find myself smiling under my mask because in that there is something to be grateful for. The arrows get confusing near the check out lines and a woman in line snarls at me when I get too close to her dot, I mutter an apology and quickly move aside trying to get back in the right direction. I see the woman with her blue mask and scared blue eyes as she pays for her items, quickly sanitizing her hands after touching the credit card machine, she picks up her bags and hurries off out the door so that the next person in line and come inside. The old man is standing in front of the frozen dinner isle, he is eating for one, I can tell by the way he grabs the hungry man dinners by the dozen and shoves them into the cart. He is set up for a month of dinners by the time he closes the frozen food section door and then I watch as he wipes the liquid from his little bottle over his hands and quickly defogs his glasses. He catches me watching him and he smiles a guilty little smile and tells me he can’t see with the blasted mask on. I move a little closer, not too close just close enough to be heard over the loud speaker announcing a spill in the milk isle. “I get it’ I tell him to ease his guilt at being caught lifting his mask ‘you’re okay’. His shoulders dip a little and he nods. “I will be’ He announces stoically. He nods again and turns back to his cart before once more looking back at me and telling me to have a good day. I wish him the same and we part ways, him with his hungry man fish steaks and me to the large stacks of frozen pizza’s on sale. The kids do love the frozen pizza and at this stage of the game I am doing my best to make this fun for them. Tonight will be a movie night I decide in the moment and grab a few of the boxes stacked up. I push the cart the wrong way up an empty isle trying to ignore the large arrows yelling at me that I am heading the wrong direction and I find the microwave popcorn. When the list I have is complete and the dots and arrows are becoming too much I make my way to the cashier to pay. I stand on the other side of the a large plexi-glass screen and try to make my eyes smile at her, try to make this seem like any ordinary day despite the fact that she can’t see my smile, can barely hear my hello through my cotton mask and her wall of glass. She seems cheery but tired, everyone is tired it seems and I know that when this day is done it won’t matter how tired I am I will still lie away wishing it was all a nightmare. I pay for the food, bag it all up and then attempt to wash my hands while grabbing all the bags into my arms to walk home. I get stopped at the door by security, not to check my bill but to allow the people coming in to have the distance they require. My arms are already tired and I shift the bags, thank the security guard as he nods for me to take my turn and then I am out on the street again. I pull the mask off and let it fall onto the chain it hangs from when it’s not in use and I allow for the brief but wonderful feeling of that air hitting my face again. I’ve only had to wear masks a few times in my life and they always centered around hospitals and if I am honest I hate them, I feel claustrophobic inside them but I think of the old greyed man and my own parents and I am thankful that we care enough to make them the law to keep the ones we love safe. The street is pretty loud, not with voices, but with the noise of traffic in the city, the sirens of first responders and I realize how much I miss the sounds of kids playing in the parks or shouting to be heard while they pass by with friends. I stand at the lights waiting for the green and I see a woman walking across the other side of the street with two little children, each wearing a mask, each clinging tightly to their mothers hand and glancing about nervously at the cars whizzing by. They are too young to really understand the full scope of this new world that is changing us so quickly, the new rules that we fear and have a hard time understanding ourselves, they are the ones who have lost the most and will be impacted the most emotionally, socially and mentally. What will they l look like in five years when the immediate threat is over and they are left with social anxiety; Will they still fear the touch of a friend? Will we? The light changes and I double check the road before stepping out, I smile at the kids as we cross paths but they don’t see me, I am too tall and they are too small. As I walk down the street I pass a few people sitting on their porches, reading, listening to music, working on the yard. They look up and wave, people who wouldn’t have noticed me pass by before because they would and should be at work. Now they are just passing time, waiting, none of us know what we are waiting for but part of the wait is just for human connection and as I wave and yell out a greeting I know that this is best connection we can hope for right now. I see a man in a park with his dog, he stands and throws a ball and the dog gives chase jumping in the air with his tail wagging and then spinning in circles when he catches his prize and returns to the man who pats his head and speaks words of praise to him, then he sits beside the man and they repeat the process. I see a couple approaching the park, they have a tiny little puppy between them, he is jumping up and down in excitement at the prospect of being outside in the big world. There are a lot of puppies around lately, they are all very cute and I have to admit there is a part of me that wishes I could snuggle each of them but that too is off limits because it means getting too close the people who own them. I do enjoy watching them though and I find myself slowing as I watch the puppy enter the park and run in circles around the larger dog who had been catching balls just seconds before. They chase each other and bark and run around the perimeter of the park together, not understanding a world in which that would be seen as a privilege. We have taken it all for granted I think to myself as I stop by the fence to watch. For years I would hug a friend, offer a hand to a stranger, sit in close to hear a conversation and it was okay, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it and now that it’s gone I notice how much it meant, how much I have taken for granted and I swear to myself right there by that fence that I won’t do that again. When this is over I will make the time for conversations, I will not allow fear to stop me from touching someone in need, I will hug my friends again but even as I continue walking there is a part of me that knows that I will one day break that vow and when things settle again I will forget how precious and special human connections are., I will once again be too busy to see what is right in front of me. That simple reality makes me feel sad and lost again and I wonder when we became so focused on being busy, on producing, on getting ahead that we stopped having time for the basic things like a time to be still, a time to rest, a time to listen and a time to play. I think about the man with grey eyes and I imagine him sitting at home alone with his hungry man dinner and I wonder if he has someone who comes to visit him, if he has neighbors to pass the time with or if there is someone willing to touch his shoulder, hold his hand or hug him. What about the people who don’t have that, what will become of them? There have been moments when I thought the kids would drive me crazy, being stuck home from school they need to be educated and play time and I am the only one around to do it for the best part of the day. I long for the moment that my husband passes through the door so that I can pass the duty to him for a moment of quiet before we all have dinner together and watch a show or movie or play a game. What would all of this look like without those three people in my house to spend the time with? What would it be like if I didn’t get to hug them for weeks on end, if I didn’t have my husband to whisper my worries too in the dark of night? What if I was alone in this? I make a turn onto the street we live and I see the house ahead of me but it isn’t a house in this moment, it’s a sanctuary and I smile as it gets closer and I wonder about the people who live in the homes beside us, are they loved, are they with someone? Do they feel safe in the place they are living or do they fear the person who shares their space? Children who would normally have an escape from abuse may be stuck with no hope of rescue; a spouse suffering an abusive partner may now be lying in pool of forgotten hopes on the floor. I sit on the front steps of my house, grocery bags at my feet and I pray for the people around me; the people who feel forgotten, the hopeless, the lonely, the weary and the afraid. Then I thank God for the things I do have because there is always something we can find in our lives that we have, even if it is just the realization that we have never known something like this before, like lining up for food or being afraid to shift too far off our dot or turn the wrong way in a food isle. I stand up and put the key in the door and fighting kids and a barking dog greet me as I put the bags down and I stop and hug them, because I can. This science fiction world that has been thrown on us is not normal no, the whole situation is surreal and eerie; but at the end of the day there is a lot to be learned, a lot to be thankful for and it will end. Who I am when it ends depends on the choices I make in the moments when I am most afraid or sad or lonely. I could give in to despair, I could cave to the anger and anxiety or I could sit down and enjoy this chance for quiet, this time with the people I do have in my life, this time to reconnect with a God that I have been so busy with life that I have neglected. It’s my choice how to live through this weird time we now find ourselves. I could stand on my dot and stare into the abyss and give up or I can strike a conversation with the person on the dot behind me. I could walk down the street with my head down watching my feet take step after step or I could smile and wave to the people on their porches, I could bemoan trying to teach my kids or I could embrace the chance to spend time with them in a way that I never got when I was a kid, I could worry into the night or I could use that time to rest and thank God for the day we did have. I could wish for what I want or be thankful for what I have. My choices will determine who I am when this nightmare ends. I pray I make the right ones as I put the food in fridge and talk to the kids about what movie night will look like.

Published by lauriehaughton

Author & Photographer

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