Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Moment At A Gas Station In The Pandemic

The potty chair sits in the back of our vehicle still. A must-have in the pandemic when nature was needed, but public bathrooms were a no-no when nature called.

 We had hiked all afternoon in the warm, fall sun. The amenities throughout the park were closed for the season. I contemplated my options: use the small, portable potty chair we carried everywhere with us or stop nearby. When I say everywhere, it's not like we were going many places. There were no rules, no enforcements here, despite it being a pandemic. We stuck this little potty, the ones used to train small humans, in our car in case there was no place reliable to stop. Which was nearly everywhere here. On this day, with my kids with me, I chose to take a chance.

I went crazy and we stopped at a convenience store on our way home. One that popped up along the highway, amongst the back drop of golden fields being plowed. Where the highway was their main street and a population of less than 800 was on the town sign. Without needing to be reminded, my children pulled their masks up as we got out of our car. I let out a heavy sigh as we neared the door.

I could easily see through the clear glass windows and noticed a crowd of people around the counter chatting. Each and every person leaned near, talking, breathing on each other, and laughing. Had this happened a year earlier, I likely would have walked through that door and joined in. I would have left knowing their names, an odd tidbit about their families, and would have probably overshared our life. As they say, my cup would have been filled.

But it's 2020. This no longer fills my cup. This scene makes me shudder as my heart beats faster with disappointment running through my body. I pushed those feelings aside and I gave a muffled hello through my mask. I notice them giving each other glances with smirks on their faces. As the only four people in that small store with masks and making a point to stay away from others, we stuck out like a sore thumb. They couldn't see my smile underneath my mask. Reading people's faces has become a casualty of the time. 

We spent a total of 8 minutes inside the convenience store. I was acutely aware of every surface we touched. At one point, I reached over and carefully pushed my 10 year old son away from the shelf that he was running his hands along. We had only been IN an actual place half a dozen times since March 13; I can't say I blame him for being amazed at a shelf that wasn't in our own home. I was by no means a neat freak or germaphobe, but I had no way of knowing if that shelf had recently, or ever, been cleaned. No one said a word to us as we gathered our items. Their loud chatter had faded and the crowd dispersed to other corners of the store. The only sign that we hadn't stepped out of 2020 was the thin, company ordered plexi-glass in front of the cash register. I made a point to stand directly in front of it as we paid. I wasn't sure if this small piece of plastic was doing any good, but I was taking any precautions I could.

As we got into our car, my children spoke everything I felt:

"That was weird. No one said anything to us."

"They looked as us, but then they stopped talking. They were probably talking about us because we were wearing masks."

"I think it's shit they weren't wearing masks OR social distancing." I didn't correct my 8 year old for using a word I usually wouldn't allow. In that moment, I was focused on not replying with an, "I know!"

Instead, I pulled out our car hand sanitizer, because that's a thing now, and squirted some into everyone's hands. I chose my next words carefully. "Perhaps they don't know better or they don't care. The only thing we can do is take care of ourselves and set an example. Maybe they'll follow our lead or maybe they'll talk about us as soon as we leave the store. Notice they did give us space without us telling them." I have a thousand more things I wanted to say, a thousand more feelings, but I stop myself. We have witnessed the worst in humanity in the last year and I intently choose not to add to the hatred. Afterall, we're all humans trying to do what we feel is best for US in this crazy world. I don't want my children to believe that we're right and they're wrong for their actions because it's at that moment, their minds close and they stop listening to others. 

I pull away from the store and head home, our safe haven in the chaotic, unsteady world. Scenes like this will play out again and again, sometimes with more cruelty from others, sometimes with more forcefulness from us. Each time, I stop and think of the world and wonder how the world comes out of this? How do we come out of this better than before?