- Michael Frank
- From Michael Frank's series of photos of business signs in New Paltz and Kingston.
Of course, it started on Friday the 13th. I awoke to a series of missed calls and endless group texts from my colleagues and within the course of a few hours, I went from working 12 hour days to unemployed for the unforeseeable future. As did many, I went to the grocery store to stock up but the aisles were packed with crazed, angry shoppers and the shelves were bare. I got home with a few cans of soup and had a meltdown. I can't recall ever feeling so alone or hopeless and it happened within 4 hours. And it was bad. The kind of bad that resulted in family members vowing to never speak to each other again and subsequently rejecting my pleas to come home for a while and eat their food.
How was I going to function with no food and no income? I slowly emerged from the initial shock after a few days with the help of my friends, but then what?
My job entails home visits and interaction with people as I specialize in human communication and that includes close contact with many people in a variety of settings. Now my days are spent attempting to provide services through teleconferencing, but ultimately, I'm alone in 700 square feet. I miss hugging friends and petting random dogs on walks. Panic often sets in after one too many gins. Prior to the pandemic, I was drowning in student and medical debt. With two more jobs set to start in April, the goal was to work as many hours as I could to dig myself out of the hole. However, I knew the threat of the shutdown was looming back in February, so I was already feeling a higher level of anxiety, knowing that my income would most likely abruptly stop and that $485/week of unemployment wouldn't even be enough to cover rent. And I hate to say that I was right, but I'm kind of always right about these things. Not that I win any points for that now.
My great backup plan has always been to marry a wealthy older man and lounge on his yacht with a martini somewhere in the Caribbean. That goal is impossibly unattainable. Online dating during a lockdown seems futile. When is it going to be safe to physically meet? And have you ever had to help an elderly relative set up a video chat while not in the same room? Now try finding a rich, (relatively) healthy elderly man who's proficient at Zoom. That might be a full-time job in itself and frankly, I'm too tired of doing mostly nothing all day to even try.
Since March, I've not become an expert baker. I've not cleaned my entire apartment. I'm not writing an epic novel. I'm not taking countless online courses to better myself through exploring meditation and wellness. I'm not plotting my great reinvention for when this nightmare ever ends, because that's frankly what rich people do when they don't spend all day panicking over how to buy toilet paper. What I am doing is reaching out to people I care about and then getting pissed off when they don't return a text message. I'm brushing and flossing daily. I'm keeping at least six feet away from people when I am outside and still waving and smiling as I pass people, because I still believe in etiquette. I'm trying to keep my head out of my ass and not become so selfish that I won't be able to relate to humans if and when this does end.
When I moved to the Hudson Valley, it was the first time I'd lived alone in my entire life. I relished not having to share a space with randoms I found on Craigslist and being able to leave my dishes in the sink. Living alone brought a sense of calm. I didn't wake to my roommate playing the guitar at 3am or run into strangers emerging from the bathroom when I had to get ready for work.
But I can hear my mother saying, "You got what you wished for. Now you're alone forever." I can't help but let that anxiety and paranoia creep in. Am I not cheerful enough and optimistic when I chat with friends? Will anyone want to physically see me ever again? Am I a failure at this whole pandemicking? And yes, I made up a new word. At least I've accomplished something for today.
Inga Hyatt is a (sometimes) actress/filmmaker/speech language pathologist who now spends the majority of her day developing meaningful communication with the woodland creatures that visit her windowsill bird feeder.