Don’t Stand So Close to Me

Long before handwashing was recognized as the single most significant intervention to the spread of disease (okay, so this was discovered more than a century ago but no one was paying attention), I was washing my hands and not touching my face. I’m not a genius; I’m a germaphobe.

            At the office it was not unusual for people to bring cookies, candy, cakes, etc. to share. I, too, brought goodies in for the other corporate slaves. But I rarely ate what other people brought to work and never ate with my fingers – no finger food here. Cookies would be extracted from a serving tray with a napkin, candies had to be individually wrapped, nothing from a Russell Stover candy box.

            Air travel was part of my corporate life. I’d often be sitting in a packed plane with 150 or more travelers, trying with all my might to reduce my physical being into the tiniest package possible so my arms and legs never came in contact with another passenger. Picking the aisle seat much to the chagrin of long-legged travelers, I made sure that my boarding pass was printed at the nanosecond the airline check-in system permitted, ensuring I’d not only get on the plane early in the boarding process but that I’d also get overhead space for my carry-on luggage. Hand sanitizers at the ready, I wiped down those few inches of space I could call my own for the next hour or so. Using another wipe, I’d clean my clean hands and then I settled in to endure the flying cattle car experience.

            At the hotel, as soon as I entered the room, the cleaning process continued. I feared a common cold, regular flu; nothing more sinister was considered, just normal contagions. All that paranoia has well prepared my nervous system and habits of daily living for what we are dealing with today.

            Yet the more I read, the more I hear, the more confused I become. Should I shelter in place disinfecting all incoming supplies including the mail or just wash my own hands after touching things? Should I wear a face covering when I walk the dog or just be prepared to zig-zag down the sidewalk to avoid other pedestrians? Do I trust that, while I’ve been so careful since the first week in March to avoid just about everything, adding door knob and hinge disinfecting to the laundry list of things now viewed as potential points of contact, or trust that my immune system is ready to beat back mutated cooties?

            If my age wasn’t a factor, I might be inclined to relax a bit, walk with confidence, no mask, keeping appropriate distance knowing nothing could touch me because I’m young and can bounce back if need be. From what I’ve seen, loads of younger people aren’t wearing masks or keeping their distance. Oh the fearlessness of youth. However, my age is a factor, sad to say but true. Over 65, heading for the big 70 puts me and my 75-year-old husband in the elderly category. Good gawd, that’s hard to write!

            Adding insult to injury rained down on me by the universe over the last four years are the injuries and chronic illness I’m coping with. Mobility is a challenge. Increasing rust and dust of an internal type make moving around tricky and painful. Many of the things I thought my husband and I would be doing at this stage in our lives we are not, such as travel. And so, since I’ve been unable to travel over the past few years, the latest lockdown hasn’t prevented us from doing much. We weren’t going anywhere anyway.

            Thus the combination of being a germophobe and sticking close to home have positioned me well for mentally coping with a loss of free movement. It has not abated fear of contracting this nasty virus.

            When we do go out for our walk I want to scream at other day trippers, “Please keep your distance. Don’t stand so close to me!”

            Sometimes I’m recognized by an acquaintance. They’ll wave and seem to move closer to actually speak to me. Phew, no, they only waved. I don’t have time for pleasantries, I’ve got to get this walk done and get home. I’m old now, get back!

            With effort I practice “just for today” protocols to enjoy life in small ways. Spring has become a daily treat as new plants emerge from the ground, birds of all shapes, sizes and colors feed in the backyard, and on the finer days there is solo yoga on the patio. I’ve found YouTube a great resource for all sorts of workout videos for people my age. Those have been a daily excuse to get my groove on where no one but the dog and my husband witness the contortions. Zumba-ing around the house I almost forget my physical problems and feel 50 again. Inside every older person is a young person thinking, “What the heck happened?!”

            I’m a bit loath to share that grooming practices have changed since the emergency began. I don’t have to do much more than brush my teeth and run a facecloth across my sagging jowls to call myself groomed. A hot, quick shower replaces spa treatments of the past. A quick combing of the now bushy white mane might be added, but gone are the 20-minutes previously dedicated to make-up application. Forget about it! As a younger woman I wouldn’t leave the house without applying full face of make-up, coiffing my hair, and donning outfits matched to the latest fashion trend. Not any longer unless you consider elastic waistbands chic; then, yes, I’ve still got it going on.

            Maintaining happy healthy thoughts, as I explore the riches of my tiny patch of paradise and my mind wanders down a lazy river of memories, keeps my brain entertained and my spirit buoyed. Finding joy helps to mitigate the ever-present fear and the underlying tension so evident today. Life has always been uncertain so carpe diem. That kind of wisdom only comes with age, my friends. As Tashia Tudor said, “Take joy”; it is a choice after all. And with joy comes hope that one day Paul and I will see the red rocks of Sedona again, the majestic Plains of Abraham or the abstract beauty of the Sonoran Desert. In the meantime, know that from behind my mask I’m smiling and thinking, “Don’t stand so close to me.”

This Mattapoisett Life

By Marilou Newell

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