“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”
It was a message of being realistic in the face of mass hysteria. It’s not that bad, the fables assured us. The world will still be turning in the morning. There’s nothing to actually worry about, ignore the craziness and keep calm and carry on.
They never told us what to do if the sky actually fell.
It feels like a lifetime ago that Coronavirus was little more than a passing joke, something that would never affect our café tucked in the heart of South Melbourne. When a colleague stayed home sick, we joked that this was his affliction.
Then the first case was imported into our state. A few days later, a sign was passed around the market that a gentleman with the virus had wandered through so they were adding more hand sanitizer. It still felt distant, something not worth worrying about much even as the Formula 1 races were cancelled a mere few blocks from my home.
The world turned upside down in about 48 hours.
We were all laughing about the lack of toilet paper, but then everything changed.
Suddenly, the shelves were empty. There was no pasta, no canned vegetables, no long-life milk. There was no rice, no bread, no peanut butter. The butchers had lines wrapped around the block and were sold out by midday. A pallet of cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer or that currency of toilet paper would arrive and the employees would just wait in a corner, handing out every last item in under ten minutes. It felt like the stories of modern Venezuela, or of East Germany in the 80s.
Every day at my café was drastically different than the last. It used to be so predictable. Saturday and Sunday were madness, Wednesday and Friday were steady but quieter. But now, a Wednesday at 6:30 in the morning – a full hour and a half before the market officially opened – had hordes of shoppers. Our numbers fluctuated wildly, but we slowly started sending people home early. Our beans, usually a good source of sales regardless, started flying off the shelves. Customers who usually bought 250 grams were now buying a kilo of beans. Complete strangers coming in and buying 500 grams. Customers who usually bought 500 grams were this time grabbing 2 kilos, all admitting that they were stockpiling and panic buying.
“Food,” the murmured in quiet voices, “is fine. But I need my coffee, my wine, and my chocolate.”
Around us, the market grew quieter and quieter to our left, where the clothing and kitchy shops and massage parlors lay. To our right, where the deli aisles were situated, it was pandemonium right up until the stores sold out of inventory and shuttered their windows. My anxiety fluctuated with each moment.
Customers were angry at us for still taking cash and keep cups, and others were angry that no one else was. My hands are raw from washing them so much, and my patience worn thin as yet another snarky customer acted as though it was our fault for not properly social distancing, or for the entire world crashing in and ruining their day. My resting heart rate had jumped from the perpetual leap in fear when a customer handed me cash or brought in a cup from home or wanted to drink their latte out of a real glass.
It’s not for me that I worry about. I’m young, I have no respiratory diseases, so the likelihood of recovering relatively unscathed is high. But it’s everyone around me. It’s my (now-cancelled) swing dance partners, still recovering from surgeries. It’s for my friends employed in hospitality and tourism. It’s my immunocompromised friends pleading on Instagram for everyone to stay home. It’s knowing that if I were to return to the states, I’d be contaminating myself on an international flight and the only places I’d go would be with family older than 65 or my sister who has dangerously low white blood cells in the best of times.
I’m a social butterfly. I’m a world traveler. It has been a part of my life for over a decade to wander. Lounging in coffee shops for hours for solitude, breweries and restaurants to socialize with friends, wandering through shops and touching interesting items. I go to the gym and to yoga and to the movies, I’m nearly as at home in an airport as I am on my farm in Iowa. I’m a normal person who enjoys embracing the world.
But two weeks ago, that ground to a halt, and this social butterfly retreated into a cocoon.
I go to work, and I go home. I go to the shops if I’m completely out of something. But other than that, I’m staying inside. I feel fortunate for a balcony and wide windows to embrace the sunshine.
I’ve scrubbed my place from top to bottom. Dusted every shelf, sanitized every counter and door handle, and every morning when I wake up I spend some time cleaning to keep my sanity. I use a few dumbbells and bodyweight movements to exercise. My Kindle is filling up with books that I’m reading through, five at a time. My partner and I are cooking together, and I’m teaching him the joys of v60 coffee. My best friends are a mere text message away, and we’ve already had one video call session (with more to come, I’m certain).
I’ve often heard people talk about a universal experience, but that used to mean something like having your wisdom teeth taken out or getting food poisoning or going through a bad breakup. It’s never been having the entire planet literally going through the same situation at the same time. Even the World Wars, which I’ve heard some people compare this pandemic to, were different for Europeans and North Americans and Asians and Africans. Different fronts, different enemies.
But now, the human race is facing a common enemy, and the world is thrown into a panic and rushing headlong into a recession, if not a depression. The physical consequences will come first. The economic and emotional consequences are only just beginning.
The Australian government has been slower moving than my anxious heart would like. Just yesterday, the Victorian government broke away from the federal stance and announced the schools would finally be closing. From what I’m reading, I think that I am still to be going to work, albeit now doing takeaways only to minimize the lingering that tends to happen. But who knows? It seems as though every few hours we get a new update, so by this evening it may all change again.
Stay safe everyone. And please, for the love of all things good, please stay at home and to help stop the sky from falling.