The pandemic has changed life for so many people in so little time. New relationships have been forged out of necessity, curiosity, proximity or by accident. My new pandemic friend is a 79 year old who looks 60 and can act like a 16 year old with me. I was willing to do just about any errand to get out of my house during lock down. If I had a good mission, I could move freely about the world while everyone else is cowered under their beds. I was reluctantly going to the grocery store one day, so I asked my new quarantine best friend if she needed anything. Her regular shopper was sick. My friend has pulmonary issues. She was frightened, and rightfully so, to go out in the early days of the pandemic. She had a concrete rabbit on her front porch where I would leave the groceries. She would leave me the money along with a beautiful rose from her garden.
One day, she sent me a list of items that included “small potatoes bag”. I was about to get on the checkout line that by now was like being sent to the Bataan Death march. I hated everything about this new pandemic way of shopping and wanted out of the store as fast as possible. I asked myself, thankfully not out loud, if she wants a small bag of potatoes or a bag of small potatoes. I texted her, got no answer so I called. What kind of potatoes do you want, I asked. Oranges, she says, I need oranges. And make sure they are the 99 cents a pound ones. She hasn’t left the house in 20 days but she knows the exact price of oranges today? Shaking my head, I put the potatoes back and headed for the orange aisle. I liked shopping for her. Besides the money and flowers, she would leave me these little chocolate bottles filled with whiskey. They are really helpful during a pandemic.
We took to talking every day on the phone and laughed ourselves silly. One morning, she frantically called saying her dog’s eye pimple was bleeding and she had go to the vet. She managed to forget to open the garage door. Now not only does she have to leave the house for the first time, but she has to let a man in to repair the door. A week later, her washing machine broke and now she had to let the Home Depot guys in to replace it. Then while pruning her tree, she swung from a branch and bruised her foot. I was rolling on the floor with laughter by now. She won’t even open the door when I deliver groceries, but now has a parade of strangers coming through her house. The thing about this pandemic is that there were really no reasonable explanations, just lots of TV talking heads all contradicting themselves. They were experts, though, at blasting fear and panic 24/7.
On the night of my April 2020 birthday, a friend and her 23 year-old daughter organized a drive-by birthday “party” for me. This replaced the old drive-by shootings during the pandemic. The caravan included my musician friend, who jumped out of his van with a guitar singing happy birthday. I was taken by surprise and had no mask on when my son told me to come outside for a minute. Neither did my friend’s daughter when she leaped out of her car and bestowed a birthday necklace on me. No kissing, no hugging, she just leaned over and put it on me. My son had videotaped a snippet and the next day I sent it to my lockdown best gal pal. I didn’t send this to anyone nor did I post it on social media; way too many Corona cops in the world and I didn’t want the hassle of a lecture.
She sent me a text saying how fun it looked, but how shocked she was that I had let that girl hug me. By now my patience with people who thought I just roamed around without the common sense to bring the supplies of a MASH unit with me, was wearing thin. My reply was a bit harsh, but things rarely get done with a hint and a whisper. She did NOT hug me, I said, she just leaned in to give me the necklace. I told her I will respect her fear, but she must respect the fact that I will not climb in there with her. My text was met with silence. Boy, you reamed me good, she replied the next day. Then she did an extraordinary thing that most humans won’t do. She admitted the unvarnished truth that she was envious and wanted to be at the drive-by too. She said she wished she was as brave as I was. No one is as brave as me, I told her. She laughed. Later that day, I had to return cupcake ramekins she had given me when I last delivered groceries. She came out to pull her garbage pails in. She had no mask on. Do you want to come in and see my plants, she asked? She loves to garden and has a yard filled with beautiful plants, flowers and trees. Sure, but go put on a mask, are you trying to kill me? She showed me all the blooms she was so proud of. She brought out the little chocolate liquor bottles that I’ve come to love so much. We giggled, chatted and toasted the pandemic. She invited me to dinner Saturday night. We sat outside in her lovely yard, ten feet apart, as I always added a few extra feet for good measure.
I told her some of my own pandemical analysis. It gave her some new perspective. Does she still watch the news every night and the talking heads? Yes, but she also knows now that not everyone is walking around like a COVID time bomb and that you can take good precautions and still go about your life a bit. She even goes shopping for herself now. She lives alone. This kind of isolation is not good for people. She is a social creature and this little bit of human contact once a week did us both good.
We had so much fun as quarantine buddies. It’s always perspective that changes your outlook when true facts are so hard to find. And there has not been an event in recent memory where the information is so poor, so flawed, so skewed that only reason and research could provide some respite from this nightmare. May we thank our lucky stars for those so bold as to forge new alliances to share our pandemical time and perspective with.
Maddalena Bowers is a former wife, Federal manager and PTA President, current mother, music impresario, contact tracer and fledgling writer. She has had her work published in The Grit and the Grace Project, Grand Dame Literary, Inside Wink, Harness Magazine, BobDylanPage and The Monologue Podcasts. She was born in Italy, raised in New York and calls Los Angeles home along with her two sons.