I have been experiencing bouts of déjà vu frequently during the last ten weeks since New Jersey has had ‘Stay at Home’ orders that took effect March 21st. My daughter suggested that it is because I am only seeing the same few rooms in our house day after day. She is stuck in a Hoboken one-bedroom railroad apartment working from home with her partner and says that they are experiencing the same thing.
I planned for this though and in February, I cleared out huge piles of “stuff” so we wouldn’t feel so claustrophobic in our overstuffed small house. I am immunocompromised, and when in January, an immunologist suggested that I would have a lot to worry about during a possible emergence of Coronavirus in the Tri-State area, I started to plan. The doctor said it with a laugh that made me feel like a hypochondriacal, worry wort- because “it probably would not make it here”. I hoped he was right but I ordered all of the major newspapers to keep on top of world events just in case.
By the end of February, I had stopped going to group activities and cancelled my gym membership. As part of my prep for a possible pandemic, I cleared the basement and stocked up with toilet paper, cleaning products, MREs and shelf stable items and fridge stable meat. I also cleared a space so that 18-year-old son to have a “workshop” in the event that the three of us would need to hole up at home. I fitted up the in a third bedroom quickly as an office. I bought office chairs, keyboards and clunky rowing machine for the family room. I did all of this just in time because within weeks many these items would be difficult- if not impossible to obtain. As I bought these supplies in Costco and Bj’s, at the cash registers, others on line would double take as my totals were rung up. I noticed that this was the first thing that separated us from many other families who would not be able to purchase three months of food when they were trying to live pay check to paycheck. Did they have enough money to buy the large size Tylenol because the base ingredients would soon be unavailable in the supply chain? Would they be able to keep safe? What made our family more special than these hard working people? I continued to plan with gratitude and guilt over our bounty.
I realize that my Pandemic is not everyone’s Pandemic. I have been acutely aware that my family’s experience is not the experience of many- even those who live down the street- in our affluent suburb of Westfield. On many levels, the stay at home orders have been a blessing for us and has allowed me to have some control over an uncontrollable situation. Many others are also feeling the same guilt over knowing that they are the haves in a world of unexpected early deaths, unemployment and hunger. I am just thankful that I don’t have to worry that my son will be a vector for the virus now that he is not going to his germy high school -where he complained that they could not wash their hands because there was “no soap and someone peed in the soap dispenser”. I have stopped imagining all the times my husband touches his face on New Jersey Transit and in his hip- but very open office.
The curve in New Jersey has been flattened – even deflated for now. I feel safer knowing that if I had to make a hospital trip, I might not have to be in the ambulance that has to wait in line for hours just to get me through the front door of the emergency room. My family has also gotten better at this. We know how to wear masks, wash our hand and socially distance. We have a better sense of how to gauge risk and we know a little more about the virus.
In a sense, the combination of recession, social protests and stay at home orders remind me of another time in my life-the 70s. In the 70s , trips to the supermarket were limited to fewer available shopping days, hours and stock. The proliferation of processed foods was just really getting started, so often food was still made from scratch. Also, did you know that there was panic buying for toilet paper in 1973?