I need to get a few groceries so, for the second time since this craziness began, I venture out from our home as the lone grocery shopper. We decided weeks ago that, when it was absolutely necessary to enter a store to pick up a prescription or buy food, I’d be the one to do it.
Since then I’ve entered the pharmacy where a guard sat by the door of a near-empty store; pharmacists wore gloves, masks, and face shields; and tape lines on the floor showed the correct six-foot social distancing space to leave between you and the person in front. We’ve seen people lined up outside grocery stores (again, with the recommended six feet of space between them) waiting for someone to come out so they can go in, as only a few shoppers are allowed in the store at a time.
Now, I drive across town, past empty shops with signs on their doors, to the grocery store I favour. Here there is no lineup, just a woman wiping down shopping carts in the entryway.
”Thanks so much,” I say, and she smiles as I take one and head into the twilight zone for a quick in and out.
Tape arrows on the floor show the recommended way to navigate the store. (I never do get the hang of how they’ve got it laid out, and end up fighting the tape lines the entire time I’m there.) I glide past the fresh produce. Nope. Not this time. I’m thankful for a freezer stocked with last season’s fruit and vegetables.
There’s lots of eggs where the shelves were empty last time I was here. I reach for a carton. Signs at the meat counter indicate just two items are allowed. I glide past that area too. I pick up yogurt, butter, and a handful of things I don’t ordinarily buy, but we’ve got an eleven-year-old in residence now.
Shoppers dance around one another maintaining a distance, some wearing masks. It’s awkward and potentially lifesaving. We all look a little bit stunned.
I queue at the checkout, far back from the man in front of me. When he leaves, I move forward to move my items from the cart to the conveyer. The clerk behind a plexiglass barrier smiles, weary. I’m already feeling the heaviness of being in this place for a short time this morning; I can’t imagine what it must be like to spend an eight hour shift here every day.
By the time I load the groceries into the back of my SUV and return the cart, I’m done. I climb into the car and just sit for a few moments. Breathe. Pray. My eyes well with hot tears. I drive toward home slightly numb and melting down fast.
I carry the first bags into the house where Gerry and Makiya are at the dining table doing geometry.
“It’s getting harder and harder to go there,” I say.
I try to explain, using the PG version of how a simple trip to the grocery store has changed. I put the groceries away and arrange a bouquet of tulips in a vase while Grandfather and Granddaughter return to their work and the lump in my gut gets hotter; the weight in my chest, heavier.
When I’m finished I closet myself in the bathroom where I sit on the edge of the bathtub and allow release. I weep silently into a towel, not even sure what I’m crying about. I just need to let some of this whirling emotion out or I’ll burst.
Then I take some deep breaths, wash my face, and stand tall. I head down the hall toward the kitchen. Makiya meets me halfway and, with no words, wraps her arms around me and leans in. We stand that way for a a while, whispering.
”I needed that,” I tell her. “How did you know?”
”I saw it in your face,” she says.
I kiss the top of her head and we go to the kitchen to pick up where we left off with our project of the day: making salt water taffy. We take some deep breaths and I do a silly thing with my arms.
“Okay, shake it off,” I say with a smile.
We cook taffy and later the three of us pull it, cut pieces, and wrap them in parchment paper twists. The burden of the grocery store pushes to the back of my mind as we do the rest of the day.
But, you know, that heaviness stays with me and though I do my best to move on, it never completely leaves. By the time we curl up to watch Anne With an E, I’m beyond done. Later, I fall into bed empty. It’s been a hard day. I expect there are more to come.