As we left the car a single thought kept coming up again: “Do you really need to go inside?” I knew the answer was no, but my mom had missed our shopping excursions that we so frequently used to go on together. I tried to calm myself, thinking “Cases have been relatively low. We are wearing masks. I won’t touch anything unnecessarily. I will keep my distance.”
When my mom and I entered the CVS we immediately navigated our way through the store, unexpectedly teeming with people. We thought the fact that it was Easter would mean many people were at home celebrating the holiday, trying to find a shred of normalcy in traditions that could be carried on in some fashion this year. Everyone else must have had the same line of thought.
The lifeless looks on the faces of the people in line said it all: “I’m tired of this.” They seemed to be questioning whether or not any of these inconveniences to their lives were worth it. People stood idle, three feet apart, not taking the guidelines seriously.
I made a beeline for the nearest vacant aisle, losing my mom instantly. I was acutely aware of every person I passed, how far away they were, if they seemed to be over 65. I saw pairs of people shopping together like my mom and I, and I wondered how seriously the stay-at-home order was being taken. I felt guilty as charged.
I veered toward parts of the store I knew fewer people frequented, trying to distract myself with toaster strudels and teriyaki burgers. I took deep breaths. I awkwardly walked. Paused. Let people pass.
I noticed that the Top 40 tunes over the loudspeaker were on hold for now. Playing instead was generic Hawaiian music that is both tourist-cheesy and completely comforting to any local. I guessed the decision was purposeful since people needed something familiar to hold on to in these very unfamiliar times.
Growing up in Hawai’i, I have always felt that our geographic isolation led to an insular community consciousness. I have tried reasoning that living in a place as idyllic and remote as Hawai’i may lead to a contentment that generally leaves people happy with the way things are and not necessarily concerned with issues beyond our shores.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases here lingers above 600. People have begun to feel more comfortable with the low odds of getting the virus––I figured at least by the way people whisked past me taking no precautions.
I took another deep breath and tried to not give anyone a dirty glance, although all I was feeling was frustration and a lack of control. Aside from the foolish decision to go inside the store with my mom instead of going in her place, I have limited all of my activities to the bare necessities.
As I neared the end of the toiletry aisle I was reminded why. There stood an eldery man, maskless, using all of his energy to prop himself up against his shopping cart so he could make out what was left on his grocery list. I stopped in my tracks, took a deep breath, turned around, and told myself that was all I could do. I didn’t have a mask to give him. I didn’t have the number of an organization that could deliver groceries to his home.
I turned around and I thought of all the people I care about in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts––where the situation is much more dire. Where I imagine that precautions are taken. Seriously. And perhaps it’s simply a matter of necessity, not one of community awareness like I see it here at home. Nonetheless, all I wanted to do was tell the elderly man that he should try to find a mask, if he can.
As my mom finished up, I stood staring at amber bottles of essential oils wondering if the calming lavender could really help me sleep through the night. As we left she asked if I was ready to go to the supermarket and I mustered the courage to tell her I didn’t think we should both go. That I would be more comfortable if I went alone or if she did. She looked exasperated and said “I don’t get it! If one of us gets sick then the other one will anyway! Whatever, I’ll go.”
I sat down in the passenger seat to wait for her, opening my phone to find some distraction. Something that would make me forget what little control I have over the wellbeing of the people I care about. Over people I don’t even know. I took another deep breath in the car and told myself that the best I could do in that moment was exactly what I was doing. And then I listened to Brendon Urie tell me “don’t give up, it’s a little complicated.”