Photo by A M on Unsplash

The smell of disinfectant seeps through my scarf as the grocery doors whir open. I immediately think of a million bus rides up and down the East Coast, when the fumes from whatever cleaner they’d spray onto the seats would always choke me into nausea by the second hour. I pull my scarf tighter around my face and wonder if the disinfectant could be worse for you than the virus it’s trying to kill. Then I swipe my phone open with a gloved hand. Almonds, Ice Cream. I’d tried to think of a more complete list of things to outfit my mom’s house, but I could only think of the two most basic items I would have bought in New York. She always seemed to have everything, anyway, but I’d wanted to get out of the house and confirm that there was a time before this when I once took care of myself. I grab a cart—something I’ve never done in my life, but the baskets have been put away—and wind through the pyramids of fruits and vegetables. Towards the back, there’s a man unloading oranges from a big crate. His face is expressionless, and I wonder what it was like trying to get here this morning. Did he have to wade through the news, the empty highway, the boarded up storefronts and his nervous wife’s face? Or did he shut them out with blinders so he could just make it to work on time? I admire how carefully he’s unloading each orange and nestling it into the pile, and think about how we could all use a splash of neon citrus in a time that’s so gray. Then I round the corner, and I’m in a particularly tight aisle with a a woman who pulls her cart horizontally away from me. The wheels scrape against the ground. I know, I want to say, but she’s already walking away, fast. In the next aisle, there’s woman and her toddler in matching flowered masks, a guy who looks like he’s been wearing the same wrinkled Nirvana T-shirt for days, and an older man hunched over his cart and walking so slowly he’s barely moving. It’s a strange feeling to make eye contact and know you’re all thinking a version of the same thing. There’s something almost conspiratorial in it. We’re scared to get near each other, but we’re also united in our fear—our uncertainty. We’re all just trying to get something nice for dinner. I end up leaving with a carton of Ben and Jerry’s and two boxes of Froot Loops. Something about all that sugar feels vaguely patriotic. Later that night, when I finish off the last of it, I feel normal for just a moment.

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