I Found Fear in the Toilet Paper Aisle

Like so many others, I find my day to day life disrupted by the Coronavirus. Schools canceled, colleges closed, public buildings shutting their doors, all with no definitive date as to when normal will resume. The word “fluid” has become the catch phrase; a polite way of saying that nobody knows anything so don’t ask. For a schedule oriented world, this is a nightmare.

I haven’t lived through many major world upsets that landed on my back door, and for that I am truly thankful. 9-11 is probably the one event that I could see the lasting repercussions and still feel the shift that it caused on society and the world. I wasn’t afraid though when it happened, I was sad – deeply and profoundly, but I wasn’t afraid. This new threat, however, has unsettled me for two reasons – one being the fact that I don’t fully understand it and two being that it has completely disrupted life.

Now, I work as a pharmacy technician at Walmart, I am used to germs. I have survived many a flu season, STREP throat and pink eye rounds, and let’s not talk about the stomach “bug.” Facing the germs is part of the job. You just hope your immune system is strong enough to handle the load. I’m not afraid of getting this new virus that is assaulting the world – getting sick is getting sick – but what I am afraid of is how the world is afraid.

In the past, we knew our enemy, understood the logic, knew how to fight back ,and often it was somebody else doing the fighting leaving the everyday citizens to feel safe and taken care of.  I don’t feel safe this time or taken care of, as a result I feel as though I can’t take care of my family.  As silly as it sounds, my panic began when I tried to get a pack of toilet paper.

I didn’t jump on the hoarding bandwagon.  Living in a state that is prone to snowstorms, I just figured people were overreacting like they do during an impending snow.  I kept my shopping to a minimal – I’m a buy-as-you-need kind of girl, with just the staples in supply.  So when I was down to one roll of toilet paper on the stand, I headed to the store to get a new pack as usual.  Now, I had seen all the social media posts about no toilet paper on the shelves, but I thought it was a joke and only happening in “some areas” and in other states. Needless to say, I was wrong.

As I entered the paper goods aisle I was confronted by section after section of empty space. Other shoppers were in the aisle looking just as awestruck as I.  Fortunately, a couple of large cardboard boxes held a dozen packs of the super generic brand of the commodity that had overnight become more precious than gold.  I had no choice but to get two packs because the rolls were so tiny that one pack wouldn’t last a family of four but a couple of days.  Faced with the lack of choice as well, the other customers grabbed up the remaining packs and we moved on, all muttering about how crazy this was.

As I continued with my shopping, I felt my spirit begin to shrink as I witnessed more and more shelves emptied of their goods – even the ramen was missing.  Looking around I saw customers with their baskets piled high, some families toting two heaping buggies full and still adding to it.  There were people grabbing up canned goods like it was the 1980’s Cabbage Patch craze.  I found this same phenomenon going on at Kroger and a local supermarket as well.   The weekend progressed and the rate of disappearing items continued, adding to the anxiety and apprehension of a new enemy – fear.  I wasn’t sure if I was under-reacting to the situation, ignorant as usual, or if I was one of the few rational people left in my town.

Going home that night my mind raced into a dark void of fear that I was unfamiliar with.  Was I supposed to be afraid of this virus?   Was the economy crashing?  Were we all about to die some apocalyptic tragedy that would leave us suffering horribly before the sweet release?  Would life ever be normal again?

Two nights later I returned from work with my hard sought out loaf of bread – two stores to get that one – on the brink of tears.  Every dystopia book I had ever read came to mind and I wondered if this was how it all started; not with some asteroid, big war, or nuclear fallout, but by a virus and panic.  It really is a great idea for a book, but not for reality.  As a person who tries to always be optimistic, I reflected on past generations, my great-grandparents and grandparents, people who had lived with so little, surviving things like the Great Depression and world wars.  How did they do it?  How did they cope with not being able to provide for their families, or seeing loved ones taken to their death?  My “mommy heart” broke.  My attempt to rally my spirits failing as I worried over what kind of future my kids will have and if they would be robbed of milestone moments because the Earth decided it was time to “thin the herd.”

My grandparents, they didn’t want to go without food, or watch their kids go without shoes.  They had dreams of their own and hopes – but they did what they had to do and adapted, survived, and lived and that’s something I can do too.

I don’t know how to garden or can food. I like hot showers and coffee with creamer.  In general, I enjoy my life as messy and complicated as it sometimes is, and I don’t want it to change.  Recognizing that fear was starting to take control of my head, I closed the news page and FaceBook and I put on Netflix and did dishes because that is normal, that is something I can control.  I can control how I spend my time with my family and the direction of my thoughts.

Maybe the world we knew will return in a month or so, maybe not, but I can’t fixate on the what-if’s because it destroys the right nows. While everything seems in total chaos I still have fixed rocks in my life that make sense – family being one.  This forced pause on the hectic pace of life is allowing me to be with those I love the most and to do some of the things I enjoy.  I can get back in touch with my writing, catch up on my reading, and enjoy a few board games and movies as well or do a little work in the flower bed in preparation of spring.  It is easy to focus on the negative, but the life doesn’t seem so dark when you look at the bright points instead, you just have to silence the noise.

The day after my introduction to the toilet paper crisis, I saw a man stocking the shelves. On his pallet were four mega packs of the “good” toilet paper.  I made a comment to him that he was carrying a valuable treasure there, that he best be careful.  We both gave a small laugh at the inside joke. He proceeded to dig out a pack of the toilet paper to give me.  I shook my head and told him that I had some at home and left it for somebody else. Granted, my packs are the crappy tiny ones, but they will do the job. I still choose to have faith in the system that when I am in need, it will be there, either way because to take more than what I need is giving in to the panic.  If it’s not there, I know I’ll figure it out just as past generations did, and I will be okay.  I hope that whoever bought that giant pack truly needed it and it wasn’t a hoarder, but even if it did go to a hoarder, I know that in a way, that pack of paper will make them feel safe and in control during a time of uncertainties and fear.

We will get through this, because life is resilient that way, we just have to try to stay humane in this change.  Be the bigger person when you’re out and about. Small acts of kindness, a little sacrifice on those packs of ramen or cans of spaghetti o’s can restore some faith in mankind as well as give hope. This is not the end of the world but just another dot on the time-line of civilization. If I die because of some strange virus or if the life I have enjoyed is forever altered, I want to be remembered as the person who would give up a mega-pack of toilet paper because it was the right thing to do and because I would not allow fear and panic to control me.

Good luck, to all my dear readers out there. Be kind, be safe, and be well.

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