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Safe Means Something Different Now

·597 words·3 mins

I have a routine every time I take out the trash. Because the trash goes to a shared recycling center. One that other people in my apartment building use.

I put on a new set of clothes. Open shared doors not with my hands but by using my shirt sleeve wrapped around the handle.

When I come back to my apartment, I strip down immediately. Throw my clothes in the washing machine.

And wash my hands with soap and water. For about 30 seconds. I know 20 seconds is the minimum, but I’m trying to be safe.

I’m starting to know how long it is by feel. The oils start to come off my skin.

But I still sing the songs in my head. More than the minimum. Because I don’t trust myself to not sing them too fast.

And yes, I’m trying to be safe.

I can’t believe how many times a day I think of safety now.

It used to mean something different. In my own past, it used to mean not walking around outside alone at night. Not having unprotected sex with a stranger. Locking the door to my home. To my car.

Bringing my cellphone with me when I leave home. In case I get lost. Or break down. Or whatever.

But I don’t leave home anymore. It’s been weeks since I’ve gone anywhere.

That’s part of being safe.

Risky Behavior Redefined

I’m talking with a friend online. He had a fight with his partner because she’s not washing her hands enough. And not using soap when she does.

She invited a bunch of people over to their house to hang out, even though they’re under shelter in place orders.

“Ugh,” I say. Because it’s such risky behavior. Needless, too.

And as I do, I realize how silly this reaction would have seemed to me a month ago. How unthinkable.

But now that we’re in the pandemic, you have to be careful.

He asks me about what I do with my mail. How do I sanitize things? The virus can live on paper, cardboard, and plastic for a while.

I tell him about my time-out corner. Where suspicious things go to think (based on published guidelines). And my procedure for taking out packaging ASAP.

And then tell him about doing my old familiar number. Using my sleeves to open doors outside of my unit, stripping down, changing clothes, and washing my hands.

We commiserate about our own respective bouts of hypochondria. Since we’re both thirty-somethings with seasonal allergies during a pandemic that hit during peak pollen season.

We talk about the ways we’re both trying to be safe. What we’ve read about the virus, how it travels, what the scientists are working on re: treatment trials.

Safe Means Something Different Now

The next time I’m placing something into the time-out corner, I think back on my time staying with my grandma. All of her weird quirks. How she never threw anything out unless it was absolutely necessary. How she cleaned and reused everything.

Because she had lived through the Depression of course. That’s why she was like that.

I find myself wondering if I’ll come out at the end of this with strange lifelong habits. If 10 years from now, I’ll still instinctively put the mail into quarantine when it arrives.

I wonder if I’ll ever go back to the way I was before.

Part of me thinks I won’t. The longer this lasts, the less likely I am to revert to how I was.

Because safe means something different now.


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