By Tara Foor
There was no sound that annoyed the living hell out of Lynn more than when her alarm clock went off. Lynn reached for her phone on the nightstand. Through her grogginess, she recognized that it was an Amber alert. She didn’t really care to read what it said because she only wanted the sound to dissipate from existence before it became an earworm that she’d have to contend with all day. She knew it would be a topic that would come up in conversation later that day, so she figured that she’d waste no time learning about it now and padded to the bathroom.
After she brushed her teeth, she sat on edge of the bathtub and checked the rest of her social media apps on her phone. After scrolling through Snapchat stories of her cousin’s baby again, Lynn decided to check her dating apps even though there were no new notifications. The last message was from a week ago when a guy named Bryan asked if she’d be up for joining his dorm’s dodgeball league. The game sounded safe, but participating in an event like that meant ridicule from stressed out family members who were concerned about social distancing. She immediately said “no thanks” and then deleted the temptation from her inbox. She was equal parts annoyed by her parents’ expectations to stay six plus feet apart from everything and irritation towards some of her other relatives who would still hug their favorite grocery store bagger when they saw him: she didn’t know the bagger’s name, but she hated that her parents liked him enough to hug him even though the CDC advised against it.
Lynn was a college junior who was abruptly sent home when the world shut down due to the Coronavirus. The first two weeks were a breeze. Sleeping in, eating junk food and lounging in her polka dot pajamas all day made her feel like the pandemic was a godsend and she could tackle all of her difficult coursework readings. It was a simple life, only having to memorize examples of themes from a literature excerpt that her teacher assigned, versus having to connect with the real people who once sat next to her in class.
“A pandemic isn’t going to be so bad,” she thought. And then the accident happened.
It wasn’t really an accident, but calling it an incident didn’t give it the full force that she felt when she had to call an ambulance and rush her father to the ER because he couldn’t form words or feel his limbs. The anxiety that came with picking up the phone, calling strangers and telling them that a family member was potentially dying was something that Lynn had never expected, especially during a pandemic. Weeks later, she’d still scream internally about how nobody understood what she was going through. A stroke wasn’t on the same level as the Coronavirus. She’d sob after she got off of a Zoom call with her college roommates who would talk for hours about a big cats documentary and the latest statistics of confirmed cases, but there somehow wasn’t enough time to pause and ask her how she was doing.
There’d be times where she’d resort to social media and post things like “f@&k the new normal” to get attention, but it would only get a few likes. She desperately wanted someone to ask her how she was doing and to let her talk about herself, but she felt selfish for feeling that way since there was so much other shit happening in the world.
She gave up on social media because she felt that no one would want to interact with all of the negativity that she flooded her own profile with. Instead she became angry at things like the bottles of Hydralazine, Clonidine and Glucosamine as she portioned out medications for the day. She wanted to whisper to those bottles because she thought they’d actually listen. They’d hear about grand plans she had for her day, like going for a bike ride or getting her nails done, even though there was a state mandated stay-at-home order. She’d often ask herself why the hell medications had such complicated names, but then would inevitably spiral into wondering where the hell everybody was and why weren’t they reaching out.
She tried to focus on the routines that her family developed at home instead. Sunday mornings were days filled with blueberry pancakes and coffee made from the expensive bag of beans pulled from the freezer. Nine in the morning was when they turned on the television and their favorite weekly news program’s opening trumpet sequence filled the living room while her father settled into his recliner. It was an event worth pulling the curtains closed to create an even more cinematic feel, but now, life felt like a straight to television movie flop.
“AITA?” she’d ask Reddit later, wondering if she really was an asshole for wishing that people would pay more attention to her. Other people were waving at loved ones and friends through glass windows and calling each other up on Facetime just to share their pets. Maybe she could get a dog and then she’d have a reason for people to reach out. She wanted to be one of those people who went on socially distanced bike rides like her group of high school friends that flew down the street the other day…. Didn’t they know that she had her old bike in the garage and that she would’ve loved to have gone with them?
She would scour the Internet for advice on “coping with a parent recovering from stroke,” but would only get results saying that she needed to reach out to someone to talk about her feelings. She never called anyone. She didn’t want to be a burden. Everyone had stuff to deal with and even though she was overwhelmed, she had to be the one to just suffer through.
Lynn wanted to escape. It didn’t matter where. She could hide in her neighbor’s backyard, lounge on a wicker bench reading a Book of the Month novel that she was hyped to read prior to the incident but now she had given up and canceled her subscription altogether. Her neighbor was a nurse and would be home late, but not as late as the news made it seem to be. From the little that she knew of her neighbor, Lynn didn’t think she was the type of nurse that was currently trying to persevere through endless hours of changing ventilators or trying to stuff as many patients into a hospital facility as the news made it all out to be.
She walked out to take a break and get some air when she looked over to her neighbor’s yard at the sound of a car door slamming shut. It took a minute for Lynn’s eyes to adjust as the sun set over the maple trees at the end of the street, but she could see the movement of her neighbor in scrubs walking through the gate to her fenced in backyard and sitting down on the wicker bench. Lynn shifted in her stance and focused on her neighbor, whose posture slumped in the seat, head in her hands, a French braid with wisps of hair flying away from the rest of the matted plait. What normally looked like a confident woman who would strut to get her mail from the mailbox or mow the lawn with the march of a soldier currently looked fragile and delicate, as if a fierce wind could knock her down as easily as if she were a house of cards. Her shoulders started to heave and Lynn understood that this was the moment that the dam was breaking. She couldn’t hear the sobs, yet they echoed in her mind as Lynn thought of every moment where she had wanted to scream at the world or cry.
Lynn knew either from instinct or all of the posts she had seen on social media that she should reach out and ask her neighbor how she was doing, but the words were caught in her throat.
Then, the nurse looked up. They made eye contact. For a split second Lynn wondered what she should say or do, knowing that in this crazy world she should support others and help them be strong, much like what she wanted for the past few months. But all of those thoughts flooded her and as she lifted her hand for a casual wave, Lynn recognized that it was too late. Her neighbor got up from the bench and went into her house, as if to say that Lynn’s efforts weren’t enough. Even with an opportunity to connect with someone literally right in front of her, to alleviate some of the pain she felt, Lynn missed it.