“Say your name, favourite ice cream flavour, and something you’re scared of… Tru, you start.”
Youth group. 11:00AM on a Sunday morning.
“I’m Trudy. I like cookies and cream. And I’m afraid of…”
Global chaos. Pandemic.
“…birds. I’ve always found them freaky.”
The youth group laughs. My mum laughs, she knew what I would say. I grin, fighting past the odd sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Especially emus- ugh.” A dramatic shudder. Move on to the next person.
As each person around the circle gives their responses, my mind wanders.
The concrete floor chills my legs despite the stifling humidity. My hands feel grotty as I pet my dog. When was the last time I washed them? Not that long ago, but still.
Coronavirus. It’s dominating my life, news feed and conversations at the moment. It hasn’t even come to my town yet.
I’m not scared of the virus, per se. I’m not scared of catching it, or it affecting my family’s health. I don’t wonder if it will wipe out humanity.
But there’s something about it that causes a mob of emus to pound around in my stomach.
It’s the fear.
Fear breeds fear. Panic breeds panic.
Glancing down the aisle at Woolies, I see the same scene that’s going viral on social media. Bare, empty shelves. Two lonely packs of toilet paper waiting to be snatched up. It feels surreal to see it, in an odd, insignificant way. I mean, I’ve seen the milk shelves bare when the truck from down south is delayed. But there’s something different about this. Maybe because it’s the same around the world. Even Darwin hasn’t been left out of the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020.
I wonder when school will be closed. Assembly has been cancelled for today: they’re trying to limit large gatherings. They can’t stop the crowds in the stairwells and hallways though. If we’re going to spread the virus anywhere, it’s there. Everyone packed together like sardines. You barely have to move a muscle- you just let the tightly pressed crowd carry you. If someone had to sneeze or cough, they would have trouble doing it into a tissue. So much for no physical contact.
People seem to have mixed opinions whether closing schools would help or not. We’re being told to make sure we have all our assessments at home, just in case.
It’s this weird feeling of foreboding. Waiting. Waiting to see if school will close or not. Waiting till COVID-19 comes to my city. Watching and waiting. Knowing it’s going to come. Not fully knowing how bad it will be.
It feels kind of awkward slipping into the bathroom just to wash my hands before I eat. Funny- that’s a rule at home, even before the pandemic. But at school, I generally wouldn’t. Is that bad? At least this is encouraging good hand hygiene.
I feel like I must today. Everyone I follow on social media, all the news sites, my parents: they’ve all been sure to remind me to keep washing my hands.
“I’ve got hand sanitiser!” My friend holds up the precious little bottle like it’s baby Simba. Hard to come by these days, those little gems.
I accept the squirt of cold gel: just in case.
I’m lying on my bed. Exhausted. Wiped out. Sick of this.
My parents are both in the medical field, and I’m watching them run themselves into the ground with work. Trying to get ready.
Mum’s a nurse: she’s been taking swabs of people, testing them for coronavirus. The procedures are insanely methodical. She must be careful: wearing the protective gear, following instructions, looking after every little detail. She usually works part-time, but she’ll have to work longer days to help out.
Dad’s an infectious diseases paediatrician. He works in research and lab development overseas, in Timor-Leste. I thought his phone went off a lot already. It’s been constant as he tries to help prepare Timor-Leste for the outbreak and sort out his work at home. He’s going back to Timor soon. When he comes home, he’ll have to self-isolate for two weeks.
The tension has been ridiculously high, at home and everywhere else. Someone snapped at mum in the shops the other day; she thinks everyone is wearing a bit thin.
Q&A is on the telly. I can hear it from the other end of the house. It’s impossible for me to go anywhere without being reminded of the pandemic. I’m not the only one with these fears. I’m not the only one feeling like we’re getting mixed messages about the severity of the virus, and how we are supposed to respond.
I can’t wait till it’s over. Till we can stop worrying. Stop fearing. Stop waiting. Stop hearing on the news of the impact it’s having around the world. Till we can visit our grandparents safely. Till we stop spreading it.
How am I feeling all of this, when it hasn’t even reached where I live? The fear is building. Is it fear? I can’t even tell. But the sinking feeling in my stomach, and the aching in my heart is so different. It’s not the same kind of worry I’ve felt before. Not the same kind of concern. Suddenly, it’s inevitable it will come to my city, just as it’s gone everywhere else. As my dad said, “it would feel like a miracle if it didn’t have a really bad effect here”.
We’re waiting for an invasion. I don’t know what to make of it.
Thank you for reading this. I wrote this as a narrative piece for school, but it is a very honest description of how I’m feeling at this time. I just wanted to reassure people that I am ok. ? For anyone else who is feeling the same as I am, it’s ok. I think it is good for us to be honest about how we are feeling, and it is perfectly reasonable for us to feel confusion during this time. I also think it is good for us to not let any anxiety overwhelm us. So let it out. Talk to someone. Write it down. And breathe.