Shelter in Place

The damn COVID-19 pandemic threw all of all our lives into a surreal twilight zone horror show and although my story is unique to me I'm sure there are plenty of similarities to yours as far as upheaval and change goes.

For me, after weeks of drama and increasing peril, my parents forced me to abandon our home in New Rochelle as New York City was about to become the epicenter of the virus's wrath.

My dad is an ER Doctor and my mom is a trauma nurse and I really didn't appreciate what they did until the reality of the virus hit.

I was one of those self-centered clueless teenagers who (at first) saw the Coronavirus as an inconvenience. I was appalled when they cancelled school just as we seniors were getting ready to experience the final months of glory before graduation. I was also annoyed when my social life was affected with such arcane and draconian measures as business closings, social distancing and shelter in place.

I was stressed and annoyed and (I'm ashamed to admit that) I went off on them when my parents made me leave town for my own welfare and safety. They knew New York City was going to be ground zero treating and caring for seriously ill patients and they didn't to put want me at risk because of their close contacts with the ill.

They didn't want to worry about me left at home alone with them working so much and although I was insulted at being treated like a kid, in hindsight – as the death numbers soared - I was glad they made me leave, although I was scared for my parents and everybody else in the city.

My mother's friend Evelyn Walker lived in Riverside, Massachusetts. My mom and Evelyn went to nursing school together and they remained close through the years. I met Evelyn and her son several times when we'd stop to visit on our way to or from our Vermont second house.

I tried to pitch the idea of letting me stay at the Vermont house on my own but my mother didn't think me being alone was a good notion so I grudgingly agreed to the Riverside compromise.

Truth be told, I wanted to get away from the greater New York City area because of all the drama going on.

Since school was being conducted on line for the rest of the semester, it really didn't matter where I was. In the end, I didn't want to add further trauma to my parents' life by being a whining complaining spoiled jerk so I packed my bags and headed for New England.

I acted all calm, cool and collected when I left New Rochelle so my folks would think I had it under control, but the truth was I was scared shit-less for them. The news was already reporting on the potential for unimaginable death counts and the lack of masks and other protective gear for hospital workers.

I was glad my parents allowed me to drive myself to Riverside. Taking a bus or train would have been riskier and I wanted my own wheels at the Walker place even if I couldn't technically go anywhere. The GPS got me to Riverside with ease and I recognized the house when I got on the right street.

Evelyn greeted me at the door with a smile but she said it was better not to hug. She was cool with me which was one reason why I didn't mind staying at her house. It was a three bedroom one story ranch, probably built in '50s but it was well maintained.

Evelyn was around my parents' age but she didn't have their metropolitan look. Why would she living in a hick town like Riverside? But she was attractive in her own way with brown hair to her shoulders although she probably could stand to lose a few pounds.

She showed me to the guest bedroom and told me to make it my own. It was a comfortable room with a large bed, a desk, a tall dresser and a couple of chairs - homey enough for a captive's stay. I brought my laptop which was really all I needed.

"Reed!" Evelyn called down the hall. "Come say hello to our house guest Quinn!"

I heard a door open and a moment later Reed appeared in the doorway.

"Been a while," he commented, giving me the look-over as I placed my duffel bags on the bed.

"Maybe a couple of years," I acknowledged.

Reed was around my age but we didn't know each other all that well. He took me for a pizza once during a stopover and we watched a video another time while our parents visited, but other than that we just sat around listening to the adults talk whenever my folks stopped in Riverside to say hello.

"Sorry you had to leave home," Reed remarked before disappearing from my view.

"A man of few words," Evelyn said sarcastically.

"He doesn't want me here?" I worried.

"No, it's not that," Evelyn assured me. "He's just bummed that baseball season was cancelled. He'll snap out of it, don't worry."

Evelyn left me on my own to put away my clothes and settle in. It occurred to me that I was going to be prison mates with Reed and it was going to be a long sentence if he didn't want me around. He was a good enough guy from our previous experiences together - friendly and polite, although not a big talker. He never hit on me or said or tried anything inappropriate either.

Reed wasn't drop dead handsome or stone cold gorgeous but he wasn't hideous either. He was just a normal guy, athletic looking but now that I thought about it he was never the most outgoing guy during our visits. Maybe he really didn't want me around!

I settled into my new temporary abode and established a routine – both within the house and my own. I was constantly hooking up with my friends back home on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, text, Facetime and Zoom (for school) so I wasn't feeling as distant as I otherwise might. My mom checked in by phone or text when she could, assuring me everything was fine but I knew she'd lie to protect me even if something was wrong.

I found it ironic that Evelyn was gone a lot too, working as a nurse at the Blue County Care Center. I wasn't sure what the point of sending me to Riverside was if Evelyn was never around either.

Evelyn worked first shift most days so she was home by four. She didn't talk much about the work (Blue County Care Center is a long term nursing home for people with mental illness also struggling with physical issues) but I could tell that she, like everybody else in the health care profession, was stressed out about their own personal safety while at the same time wanting to properly care for the patients.

So it was basically just me and Reed during the day. That was okay because we were doing our own school work in our separate rooms – either scheduled class time on Zoom or some other interactive platform, or working on assignments passed down through the school website.

Reed usually went for a run early in the morning (I never bothered getting up that early!) and also sometimes in the evening after we ate dinner. He said he needed to keep in game shape just in case. Sometimes I'd see him out in the back yard hitting fungos or catching a rubber ball he'd throw against the side of the garage.

But we didn't talk or hang out all that much. Our paths might cross in the hallway and sometimes we'd eat lunch together in the kitchen if our schedules hooked up but I didn't see all that much of him because we were both doing our own school thing.

The same phenomenon that happened to most everybody else also happened to me during the weird social distancing/shelter in place order: I'd forget what day it was and what time it was. I wouldn't bother changing out of my jammies or sweats for days. I let myself go as far as hygiene and make up went. I wasn't exercising and I had to force myself to go outside in the backyard for a breath of fresh air.

I was eating too much junk food and binging on Netflix when I wasn't doing school work or communicating with friends back home. I became memorized by the cable news – watching as the death count mounted each and every day and listening to some of the heartbreaking stories about loved ones lost to COVID-19.

Evelyn was mostly burned out and exhausted when she got home so while she often cooked a quick meal (or brought something home with her) she wasn't up for a whole lot of interaction either so the three of us seemed to be living alone together in our own self-imposed isolation boxes.

I made myself one of those cloth masks from one of my bandanas and a couple of hair bands and wore that when I went anywhere – which wasn't very far because I didn't know where I was or where to go. To the 7/11 for a Slurpie or Dunkin Donuts for a coffee or to the grocery store was about the limit of my excursions.

After about three weeks of that torture, I was ready to go bonkers and it occurred to me that it was pretty stupid to be ignoring Reed even if he was trying to avoid me. I decided that I was going to make it a point to talk to him every day.