Loneliness in the Time of Corona
I think a lot of us are. When the clock struck midnight, January 1, 2020 and we celebrated one more revolution around the sun, it seemed the thought on everyone’s mind was, “Thank God that one’s over.”
2019 was… rough. I’ve written about my personal, awful year before, but it was generally considered not a good year, between a host of mass shootings (including a shooting at the Christchurch Mosque which brought forth comparison to a similar shooting in Squirrel Hill, somewhere a little too close to home), Notre Dame catching fire, the Brazilian rainforests being burned, and the steady, downward decline leading to Presidential impeachment.
In a year that started with a partial United States Government shutdown, the “nowhere to go but up” mentality seemed to spend most of its time on vacation.
It was a strangely warm winter in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is a very, very gray city. The clouds, year round, loom dark and forebodingly overhead like an introductory scene in an old sci-fi movie: There! The Fleet! As a result, it rains here often and, in the winter, snows. While I was in college, I lived and attended college downtown in the city proper. When the snow fell, and the sky darkened early, the snow was a blanket, absorbing all trace of noise, and the city was dead quiet. It was a magnificent graveyard.
The trees still shed their leaves, the holiday market opened & shut, Netflix released “The Goop Lab,” and the new year began unremarkably in a dive bar with a loud DJ and a piercing cold.
At no point did it become a Wonderland. The snowy blanket of winter never fell upon the city of Pittsburgh, leaving us instead with the frigid bitterness of a dead landscape riddled with gnarled tree branches and salt-covered cars. The city, which has always felt isolated among the Great Cities of the United States, functioned as normal. Meanwhile, Australia burned, and China and Italy found themselves combatting the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Xenophobia, country-wide, certainly became an issue in the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak. There have been multiple videos uploaded to Twitter and other social media sites documenting accounts of xenophobic behavior. While Pittsburgh doesn’t have the highest percentage of Asian population, the number is not insignificant, and the effects of that rampant xenophobia were felt. It felt like the world was ending.
Toilet paper, hand soap, anti-bacterial hand sanitizer — all sold out (were you not wiping your asses before all of this?). The civilized world started to plunge into chaotic shopaholic mob-mentality pandemonium, but the restaurant industry — of which I am a member — seemed to face the opposite problem: nobody wanted to go out to eat.
Pennsylvania made the recent mandate that all non-essential businesses shut down, although restaurants/bars are allowed to remain open for take-out. This solves one problem — tips — to a degree, but so far, we’ve encountered an issue with scheduling: only two employees are working at a time. For some people, unemployment pay and the benefit of their SO’s retained paycheck are enough to, barely, carry them through the quarantine. For those of us who work self-sufficiently, it’s detrimental.
I’m in the age bracket and demographic where the actual symptoms of the disease aren’t a major threat to me: I’m young, relatively healthy with no pre-existing health conditions, and able to combat most versions of the virus. My fear lies in what happens after this is all said and done. I can’t be evicted or have any of my utilities shut off, but the bills don’t go away. The terminology a lot of companies are choosing to use involve the word “suspension.” We’re suspending payment and waiving late fees, they say. Obviously, this is fantastic news. Many companies aren’t shutting off service for things like water, internet, gas, and electric. Landlords aren’t evicting their tenants.
My biggest concern with this — and I haven’t been able to find information about this online — is that the suspension of service shut-offs seems beneficial short-term, but what will the bill be like long-term? Let’s say, sixty days from now, all businesses re-open. What, then, will happen to those who haven’t been able to pay their bills? Will the accruement of months of unpaid bills stack up to be more financially devastating than the idea of paying during the outbreak? If I can’t pay my rent for two months, will my landlord be expecting 3 months rent next time I have to pay?
Ultimately, the issue becomes one of clarity. Nobody really know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks or months. Those of us who have jobs which can’t be worked from home don’t truly know when we’ll be able to go back to work, nor do we know our employers’ plans to help us, if they have any at all. The Federal Government has been generally responsive to the outbreak, but the future remains unclear.
How much worse will this get?
Right now, we are facing a small period of isolation, of quarantine, and of social distancing. We are only mandated to quarantine for the incubation period of the Coronavirus: two weeks to determine whether or not we are infected. We haven’t been told of the plan after that two weeks is over. I’m not sure if there even is one.
And these are only the tangible, real world effects of the Coronavirus. Behind this, there are loads of articles being written about protecting our mental health.
So, here’s what little advice I can offer.
This, above all others, is a time to remember that, regardless of political, racial, economic, or national divisions, we are all vulnerable members of the human race. Many people are frightened, many more are in danger. They feel threatened, abandoned, and lonely. If someone reaches out to you, don’t ignore them.
Subsequently, don’t be afraid to reach out to others. Should you use this as a time to reconnect with an ex you miss? Absolutely not. Some things are better left in the past, but the most notable thing we can gain from this situation is empathy.
I’m not writing this to make people feel bad for me. I’m not writing this to play the victim or act like I have it worse than anyone else. I’m writing this to say that, right now, we should treat this situation as a call to action. We are facing an opportunity in which we can choose to be angry or empathetic, where we can choose to riot and feed into our anxiety, or seek genuine human connection, and I’m urging that we do the latter.
I’m terrified. I don’t know where this all leads. I don’t think anyone does. The best thing we can do is be there for one another.
And wash our hands.