By Gina Star Pollack
Sometimes I’m afraid of the dark. I wake at 2:15 am and hear creaks in the floorboards and whispers in the air, and I see looming shadows on the wall. But, when I turn on the bedside lamp and rub my eyes, everything looks fine. There is no scary monster in the room nor masked intruder trying to climb through the window.
Now, everything is upside down. It’s the bright light of day that frightens me. Being close to people is scary, even my beloved family and friends. Those who used to comfort me in times of stress could infect me with a deadly virus, sending me to the hospital. I shrink from their once-soothing embrace, frightened that germs could crawl up my nose or get sucked into my throat, infecting me with the coronavirus; and I might die.
Our new reality is covered in gloves and masks, measured by distance and tiny droplets. At times I try to deny the severity of the constant warnings by physicians and politicians who claim that self-isolation is the key to safety. But I cannot deny the fact that I’m 65 years old and part of the group at the highest risk for infection. So I obey the shelter-in-place edict and suffer alone.
After the first week, I ventured outside to go to the market. I cautiously opened the garage door, breathed in the fresh air, and drove through our community gate into a changing world. When I waved to a neighbor jogging, I finally allowed myself to cry. Hot, wet, messy tears. I cried for myself, for those who are ill and for those who have died from the virus. I mourned for humanity. This deadly infection has stripped more from us than our friends, family, jobs, and entertainment. It has robbed us of our false sense of superiority, thinking that we have control over our lives. Sadly we’re learning that no one is immune.
Most of us here are baby boomers who have led the country through brilliant decades. We’ve forged careers advancing science, technology, entertainment, fashion, music, and space exploration. From Woodstock and bell bottoms to smartphones and hi-def, we’re the generation who championed education and the physical and emotional freedoms to inspire the generations that will follow.
We proudly pursued jobs as teachers, lawyers, physicians, politicians, and entertainers, putting off retirement. We championed rights for the oppressed, held concerts to raise funds after world-wide disasters, broke the glass ceiling, and passed legislation to improve our government. And we saved money in our 401ks and IRAs for our retirement years. We moved to SCSH in hopes of spending our golden years pursuing the sports and hobbies we put on the back burner while raising families and climbing the corporate ladder.
Ironically, we are the age group most at risk during this pandemic. COVID-19 is a swirling black cloud raining down on our retirement dreams. It is a biological volcano that forces distance between neighbors, rather than the usual camaraderie.
I’m saddened when I pass the vacant emerald golf courses and the fountains spraying tears instead of liquid diamonds. I’m forlorn when I see the empty tennis and pickleball courts where boisterous players competed. The Montecito and Santa Rosa Clubhouses have empty tables and hollow hallways, no longer filled with laughter and the click of Mah Jong tiles or canasta cards. And no one is complaining about the TVs not working in the gyms, or the broken machines. There are only silence and dust bunnies.
But I’m an optimist and seek the silver lining, which will undoubtedly emerge when this pandemic is under control. We will learn to respect each other’s choices. Be more compassionate and philanthropic, and remember the lessons of practicing good hygiene. Yet we are only human and have selective memory. History has shown that, when we feel safe again, most people will resume their former habits and joke about the terrible days of forced isolation during the siege.
But I will keep these horrific memories close in my consciousness to remind me to live joyfully, to hug and kiss my loved ones every chance I get, and to laugh at silly jokes, savor every bite of food, and stroke my cat whenever she curls around my legs. I will never forget this pandemic. I vow to make it the beginning of a better me.
Please don’t lose faith, my friends, for we are resilient. The doctors and scientists will work tirelessly to find a cure. Sometime in the next few months, we will be able to join hands with family and friends and move to a new period of hope and caring. Then I will cry tears of joy as I stroll through our community. I’ll wave to the golfers, and I’ll smile and cheer the pickleballers racing around the court. I’ll greet sweaty neighbors exercising in the gym and never complain about the TVs. I’ll attend my cherished book and writers clubs, eager to share views and experiences. And I’ll sit in my backyard soaking up the bright sunlight while watching the rabbits and roadrunners cavort with abandon.
Throughout this ordeal, I remain grateful for my blessings of family, friends, pets, and our scenic desert oasis. Stay safe and hopeful because this tribulation shall end and make us more resilient for the next challenge.
Sending you all a virtual hug and wishes for a delightful future filled with health, joy, and toilet tissue.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.