We’ve been grounded a long time.
We’ve changed our behaviour. We’ve been good, I promise. Please let us out.
My head is buzzing. Literally. There’s an internal vibration and it’s not even from a hangover. (Under the circumstances, that would’ve sounded awesome.)
I drag myself into the kitchen, keeping one eye half open, prepared to sidestep my morning gift. Today’s gift is one huge rat, plus a side gift – the tiniest mouse I’ve ever seen. I say “good boy” to the cat. He high-fives me full blow to the ankle, sharpens his claws next to his catch on the kitchen rug, and runs off.
It’s like changing nappies. You expect to be grossed out, but when it’s your own, surprisingly, you don’t mind. I poke at the rat to check that it’s dead. I let out the breath that I didn’t realise I’m holding. I can appreciate my morning gifts, even on an empty stomach, but after months I’m still fearing coming across a clever one that’s just playing dead and who’d run up my leg in search of safety. Imagine that.
We’re out of kitchen towel roll. I rummage through the bin for a piece of paper to wrap my gifts in, but yesterday was rubbish day, so the bins are quite empty. I play brave. I’m going in naked. I fill my lungs and stop breathing to prevent any germs from transferring and pick both tails up between two bare fingers and make for the door. The rat’s tail is proportionally very short to its body size. My index finger is disturbingly close to where I assume its butthole would be. I let go a little. Of course my non-sporty reflexes are too slow so early in the morning. Both the rat and mouse tails slip right through my fingers, onto the fluffy, long pile carpet, on which my kids lie down every day. With the second attempt, I make it as far as the big tree next to the house, but I had to start breathing. Years of minimal aerobic activity resulted in low lung capacity. Who knew vigorous exercising would’ve paid off so well by this age.
I quickly weigh up how far the smell of dead rat will travel to the house from this direction versus walking further for the disposal. I decide to rely on the dog finding them and letting nature take care of the rest. I throw them with the most respectful, smoothest motion possible. Don’t know what happens, but the rat slips and falls right next to my feet. I shake my head in disappointment. Another way how being good at sports would’ve helped me today. Three in a row.
Am I trying to tell myself something?
I switch on the kettle. The vibration in my brain is still there. I swear I can hear the electricity running through the kettle’s cord and it’s making it worse. I’m saved by a reminder of my voucher booklet. With Mother’s Day also locked down, my eldest crafted a book with vouchers. Eager to please, he got carried away and included an entire page of “Free Coffee” vouchers, which entitle me to call upon him for a cup of coffee, whenever I want, without him complaining. I almost pointed out that he needs to do that anyway, if he wishes to enjoy the privileges of living under my roof, but in order to not spoil the mood, I profoundly thanked him for his thoughtfulness. In the excitement of my excitement, he further extended his promises and promptly turned the coffee vouchers into “Coffee Days”. This means that I can issue a voucher for a full day of coffee runs. And, oh, am I going to use those!
Today will be such a day. I tick off a voucher, hand it over with a smile (and some lash fluttering, so he would stop scolding at himself for not thinking this through) and turn to my laptop to Google my vibration symptoms. It turns out, I’m either dying from a brain tumour or have a sinus infection. Well, if I’m dying, I can just as well stop isolating now.
Actually, I have a confession to make. I’ve been out.
Not anything exciting. Not a sneak visit to the beach or even the allowed emergency supply run. I just had to collect something from a neighbour down the road. (Literally down the road. I didn’t even enjoy crossing a stop sign or traffic light. I had no choice between turning left or right at a T-junction. Just a straight road.)
Now, maybe I should just explain first, because I can already feel people rolling their eyes at my staying-home-binge. I haven’t stayed home for over two months, because I’m dreading contracting the corona virus. It’s also not even because I’m trying to score we’re-in-this-together-points with the careful-crowd. Or to self-inflict emotional trauma, so I can finally get real time off for insanity (which I’d deserve, so by the way).
I’m not paranoid. Little bit odd, for sure, but not paranoid. I actually love staying home. My friends will recognise this from the feeble excuses I sometimes offer last-minute to reject social invitations. Under normal circumstances, I do my grocery shopping in bulk, preferably no more often than every six weeks. We get by with stocked up dried goods, harvests from our large vegetable garden, produce from neighbouring farmers, and lots and lots of online shopping. And that was our life pre-covid, when I had to go to town anyway for school runs. So, staying inside for lockdown is very much within my comfort zone.
Initially, we seriously avoided any contact from the outside world. Besides doing our part as compliant citizens, we wished to stay symptom free, in order to see my parents. Now that my husband is back at the office anyway, I’ve eased up on sterilising all goods dropped at our gate and the marathon record of staying within the boundaries of our property. I don’t nuke his clothes in the microwave anymore and the kids are allowed to sneeze again. And I’ve left the house to go down the road.
This is how that covert operation went down…
I mumbled something to the kids about staying home alone for a few minutes. My goodness, so many firsts happening in one day. I avoided their questions and turned the volume of the television up, which immediately zombied their attention back to the screen.
I sterilised the car keys and garage remote. ?!
I got a shock when I opened my car door. The type of shock and disbelief you feel when you arrive at an upturned home and realise there’s been a burglary – but the opposite. My car has never been this clean for this long. Not just on the outside, but the inside was free from muddy footprints, last week’s lunchbox leftovers, and wrappers from the snacks I secretly consume on the way to fetch the kids from school. I had to hush a small panic moment, when I realised the battery might be flat after not starting the car for over two months. And another when I wondered if I can still remember how to drive after being in personal idle mode for such a long time.
And a third when I realised I forgot to take a mask. Or hand sanitizer. But I was already out my gate and I don’t turn back when I’ve started something, so I just pulled my shirt up over my nose. (Don’t know why I thought that might work.)
I crawled down the road – constantly checking the speedometer to ensure that I stay fully within all legal limits. A white vehicle approached from the front. I tried to check if it’s a police van, but reminded myself that I’m not actually doing anything wrong (except for not protecting myself from my own germs within the confinement of my own vehicle, by not wearing a piece of loose-fitting cloth). I pulled my shirt up over my nose again to avoid any judgement from the passer-by. I also lowered the rearview mirror and pretended to scratch at something above my left cheek to avoid any eye contact.
My goodness, I felt like a naughty child. Like a teenager who’s been grounded (and not allowed to drink or smoke, and who’s rationed and being denied treats like junk food and toys). Except I’m not a child. And I’ve been good. Ok, so there was that time I’ve driven 72 km/h in the main road. And, before the (obviously misplaced) stop sign on the way to school was taken away, I’ve always just slowed down, instead of stopping, if I was sure no-one would see me. And I sometimes lie about my age, but in such a joking way that anyone should be able to guess that I’m pulling their leg (but still wonder). And I’ve blamed a minor traffic offense on my husband (twice). But, apart from a few light blunders, I’m generally not a naughty child. So, why do I feel so guilty? Is this how easy it is to condition a (relatively) sane person?
Anyway, I picked up my parcel, crossed my fingers, and slipped into my driveway as nonchalantly as possible. Getting out of the car, I made sure not to touch anything apart from the parcel in my hands – which includes closing and opening doors, and patting the dog on the way to the kitchen. Luckily, I’ve got nifty feet and am used to having my hands full.
I scrubbed my hands for two happy birthday songs and jumped through the shower. I put my clothes in the centre of the laundry basket, wrapped in layers of uncontaminated clothes. And I breathed.
I am not scared of the (current) absolute miniscule possibility of contracting a flu virus by coming into contact with one outsider. (If you can survive home-schooling kids, you can survive covid-19.) Why was this so stressful? Was it the feeling of doing something “wrong”, even if it’s supposed to be normal and was “right” just a few weeks ago?
How am I ever going to sneak out or lie about my life achievements in the retirement home one day, if I can’t even pull this off? How am I ever going to become part of the High Mile club on my worldly travels one day, if I feel scared to get into trouble now? Or drink Jack Daniel’s and pretend it to be tea at breakfast, when I’m retired, if I should be sticking to the rules? Will I ever be able to cheat at Bingo or bluff at strip poker? Is covid-19 stripping me?
Stripping me from being realistic?